LGBTQ people are often excluded from the hockey world — this art makes the invisible visible

Adrienne Crossman wants us to rethink the straight white male-dominated narrative of our national sport.

Adrienne Crossman wants us to rethink the straight white male-dominated narrative of our national sport

Adrienne Crossman, a professor, curator, and interdisciplinary artist. (Graham Isador)

Adrienne Crossman is a professor, curator, and interdisciplinary artist. Their work explores queer representation in media and the tension created through the constant evolution of that representation. While that description can feel dense, Crossman's art uses these ideas in a playful way. A running theme in their work has been parsing pop culture imagery to point out the queerness that's already present in day-to-day life, but lost to heteronormative frameworks. For example: a recent piece used a silhouette of Spongebob Squarepants as a jumping off point for conversations about gender binaries.

"I view popular culture as both a mirror that reflects where a society is at politically and culturally," said Crossman. "But it also has the ability to influence and shape the views of those who consume it."

By addressing the latent homosexuality underlying some media, Crossman encourages viewers to confront the way they interact with their entertainment. The artist also notes who is and isn't depicted in media, and how that changes our viewpoints. They hope to make the invisible visible.

There is a very obvious exclusion of the voices of anyone other than straight white men in the mainstream narrative around hockey.- Adrienne Crossman

Crossman's latest piece appears in an exhibit called Power Play: Hockey in Canadian Contemporary Art. For Power Play curator Jaclyn Meloche wanted to show that hockey has more diversity than the hyper masculine, violent, stereotypes associated with the sport. Crossman used that prompt to explore several issues. They wanted to examine how the competitive aspects of academia can feel like rooting for rival sports teams. They wanted to look at the people left out of hockey's narrative. Crossman also aimed to examine why the societal importance of the sport trumps the value Canadian's put on other things. Why does hockey rally thousands of viewers in a way that art rarely can? Why - from an early age - are we taught about the game's importance? What does that importance say about Canadian ideals?

"There is a very obvious exclusion of the voices of anyone other than straight white men in the mainstream narrative around hockey," said Crossman. "It seems in recent years increased attention has been paid to the national women's team, but in general the history of indigenous people, women, queer people, and people of colour feels absent….the lack of diversity is symptomatic of the much larger issues of colonialism, heterosexism, and the patriarchy."

For their piece in Power Play Crossman put together three separate designs. A black and pink hockey jersey with the words "NO FUTURE" screen printed across the chest, a small mirror engraved with a botanical illustration of violets, and an oversized felt pennant that reads "DEVIATE". Their art plays with the other pieces included in the exhibit, which runs until May 12th at the Art Gallery of Windsor.

Crossman comes from a self-described hockey family, who - despite disagreeing about many things - care deeply about the NHL, more specifically about the Toronto Maple Leafs. Though the artist recognizes hockey's ability to bring people together and create community, they are not always sure the rallying is a good thing. They worry that the social and nationalist implications associated with fandom could lead to violence, as shown in the 2014 Vancouver riots. Crossman wonders if that same energy could be used elsewhere.

"When I see the country united in acts of solidarity by putting hockey sticks on their porches to mourn the victims of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash I am both moved but also saddened that targeted acts of violence on marginalized communities don't receive similar responses."

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Both the art and conversation that come from Power Play aim to spark important - and difficult - questions about hockey as a part of Canada's national identity. Crossman and her peers in the exhibit use the sport as launching pad for larger ideas. By engaging with hockey they hope to attract a public outside of the typical gallery-going audiences.

"I view the exhibition as an invitation to folks who may feel less comfortable engaging with art on a regular basis to come to the museum with an open mind and to rethink the assumptions they may hold about the sport and its surrounding culture."

A national tour of Power Play, along with an accompanying publication, was planned for later this year. Unfortunately the Art Gallery of Windsor recently pulled the tour without giving an explanation as to why. For Crossman the cancelation is disappointing on several levels. Mostly they see it as a missed opportunity to open up dialogue and extend a cross-country examination of Canada's favourite sport.

"I feel honoured to be included in an exhibition with such a diverse range of established Canadian artists tackling the theme of hockey from so many different perspectives...I hope [the exhibit] can be a catalyst for much needed dialogue."

Adrienne Crossman will be giving an artist talk on the exhibit May 2nd. Details can be found here.


Graham Isador is a writer and theatre creator based out of Toronto. He trained as a part of the playwright unit at Soulpepper Theatre. Isador's work has appeared at VICE, The Risk Podcast, and the punk rock satire site The Hard Times, among other places.