Nova Scotia

New LGBTQ2+ art installation in Halifax celebrates visibility, kinship

A new art installation was unveiled in Halifax this week. The piece by artist Margot Durling celebrates the city's LGBTQ2+ community and honours kinship.

'Seeing yourself reflected in the built environment is a very powerful form of validation,' says artist

Halifax artist Margot Durling with their new art installation on Monday. (CBC)

A new art installation that celebrates the kinship between LGBTQ2+ people and brings more visibility to the community has been unveiled at the Halifax Common.

Addressing a physically distanced crowd at the Citadel Gateway on the North Common Monday, non-binary, transgender and queer artist Margot Durling spoke about the importance of public art and queer visibility.

"Seeing yourself reflected in the built environment is a very powerful form of validation and belonging — especially when you've lived most of your life not seeing yourself reflected in the world," said Durling. 

"There is a significant difference between 'all are welcome' and 'this space was created with you in mind.'"

The piece, called Chosen Family, can be seen at the Citadel Gateway on the North Common. (CBC)

At first glance, the colourful symbols at the top of the poles may resemble the glyphs traditionally used to represent the male and female genders — but as Durling explained, they've been mixed up and abstracted to represent a vast spectrum of gender identities.

"There's too many brilliant, majestic gender identities to even count. This art is an explosion of those markers," Durling said.

"Each symbol deconstructs and defies gender norms. It is not meant to be an exact translation, it is meant to be whatever you see. Hopefully, a bit of you is expressed somewhere in there."

The symbols are meant to represent a spectrum of gender identities. (CBC)

The installation is titled Chosen Family, a term frequently used in the LGBTQ2+ community to describe "the kinship of unconditional love, from people who not only accept you fully, but know how to honour and celebrate that in ways that are so, so deeply magical," said Durling, who uses the pronouns they/them.

"There is a deep and irreversible trauma that happens when you are not accepted by your family," they said, adding that they came out twice: first as queer, then as transgender.

"It was hard and there were times I didn't know if I wanted to exist anymore," said Durling, their voice trembling with emotion. 

"I am deeply grateful for my chosen family for getting me through these times, many of whom are here in front of me today."

Durling said they imagine the installation to be the backdrop for rallies, marches, parades, queer performance and first dates. (CBC)

Durling said they hope the art installation will bring hope to the world and remind people of the LGBTQ2+ community's continued fight for justice.

"I saw this becoming the backdrop of future rallies, marches, parades, maybe even first dates and queer performance — imagine what you can do with these poles!" Durling said with a laugh, before becoming serious again.

"It was important to me and to our community that these reflected our joy and also our pain. For that reason, I made them bright and colourful, but also upright, like flagposts with heads held high, bringing honour and dignity to our community and to those we have lost."

The moment the new art installation was unveiled. (CBC)

Carmel Farahbakhsh is the executive director and support and advocacy co-ordinator for the Youth Project, an organization offering support and services to LGBTQ2+ youth in Halifax.

Speaking at the unveiling Monday, Farahbakhsh said the new art installation will have an immeasurable impact on the young people who see it.

"Chosen family is heart, future, home for so many. I know that youth will see this art and feel a reverberating resonance and feel seen," they said. "This is so fully exciting and so deeply moving to me." 

Latest art installation unveiled

Kate Moon, a community developer with the Halifax Regional Municipality, said the art installation is the latest piece of the North Park Intersection Redesign.

Moon said Durling's installation is the third installation to go up at the common's three gateway plazas. The first was Mi'kmaq Universe, a community art project etched in concrete by artist Teresa Marshall at the Creighton Fields Gateway, which was unveiled in 2017.

Then last year, the city unveiled Concrete Legacy, designed by local artist Marven Nelligan, which the Halifax website says "represents the past and present of African Nova Scotian communities, as well as a vision for the future."

Kate Moon, left, and Mayor Mike Savage, right, during Monday's event. Savage said the new art installations 'truly make our city more beautiful and engaging.' (CBC)

Mayor Mike Savage said during Monday's event that these art pieces are "testaments to the diversity of artistic talent" in the region.

"Public art has such an important role to play in creating these strong, welcoming communities where people want to make a home," he said.

"And pieces like this one truly make our city more beautiful and engaging and a better place for everybody to live."

As part of the redesign project, the city also unveiled the Our Common Wood project in 2017, which transformed trees felled on the common to make space for the new roundabouts into art.