Caleb Cole exhibition explores issues of queer identity and belonging

Publication Date

Works by the interdisciplinary multimedia artist Caleb Cole are now on view at the Crowell and West galleries in the Feigenbaum Center for Visual Arts.

“Caleb Cole: Present Absences,” featuring selections from two bodies of the artist’s work, explores ideas about queerness, presence and absence through the expanding medium of photography.

The exhibition, sponsored by the Department of Visual Arts, was curated by David Ogawa, associate professor of art history and department chair, and Aylin Ergun ’26.

Fall '23 Exhibit Present Absences Poster

An opening reception and artist’s talk is set for Friday, Sept. 22, 4:30-6:30 p.m.

In the selected works from their “Odd One Out” collection, the artist has digitally modified vintage photographs of families and groups acquired from thrift stores, flea markets and estate sales to draw attention to the figure in each photo who does not appear to fit in with the others.

“The work makes the twin senses of otherness and erasure concrete, transforming the source photographs into meditations on group portraiture, social convention and belonging,” Ogawa said.

The selections from “In Lieu of Flowers” come from an ongoing series of portraits of transgender people who have died as a result of transphobic violence and neglect in the U.S. and Puerto Rico since 2020. This project uses social media selfies that have been transformed into anthotypes – unique photographic objects made with pigments extracted from roses grown in the artist’s garden.

“The pictures bear witness to the violence perpetrated against those whose challenge dominant scripts of gender and sexuality by being themselves,” Ogawa said. Added Ergun: “We mourn these lost lives, yet as we look at the pictures, they are fading. This ephemerality invites us to consider the photographic traditions of remembrance and legacy.”

In addition to considering questions about queerness, identity, otherness and belonging, Ogawa noted that the exhibition invites “a consideration of the queerness of photography as a medium whose images and objects both continue to resist categorization.”

A Midwestern native who exhibits regularly at national venues, Cole is based in Boston. They have held solo shows there as well as in New York City, Chicago and St. Louis, among others. Their work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Newport Art Museum, Brown University Art Museum and Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art, New York.