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‘Love: Still Not the Lesser’ exhibit explores relationship bonds at Museum of Contemporary Photography

Nakea Love
Photographer and nonbinary parent Jess T. Dugan’s Family Pictures series (2012-present) hangs in the “Love: Still Not the Lesser,” exhibit showing at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, at 600 S. Michigan Ave., through Dec. 22, 2023. Dugan, a Columbia College Chicago alum, explores the visibility of queer parenting through photography.

Due to loss of physical and emotional connections during the COVID-19 pandemic, the theme of Columbia’s current exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Photography expands on the theme of societal relationships using photography by 12 international artists.

The exhibit is a follow up to the MOCP’s prior “Beautiful Diaspora/You Are Not the Lesser Part,” exhibit, which allowed viewers to think about modern art as central to the theme of human love.

“Love: Still Not the Lesser’s” theme extends this concept by breaking human love into various states of being such as parenting, caregiving, romantic union and life and death.

Nathaniel Smith, a senior photography major, enjoys the work of Japanese artist Mari Katayama. “I specifically am really drawn to the frame because the frame has rhinestones glued on to it so when you walk around the piece it shimmers almost. A lot of what Mari does is very shimmery and reflective,” he said.

Katayama’s photos depict the ability to embrace living with the skin she’s in as a way of re-affirm self-love as an amputee, said Smith. He considers her amputations to be a “badge of honor.”

Smith said the importance of the exhibit is that many contemporary art exhibits can be hard to understand and “Love: “Still Not the Lesser,” speaks to serious issues in a “light-hearted, happy way.”

Karen Irvine, chief curator and deputy director at the museum, works with a team of curators, including associate curator Asha Iman Veal, who conceived the idea for the exhibit.

“Usually there are a few ideas being considered,” Irvine said. “This one was just so great that I said ‘Yes, you should run with that.’”

Iman Veal’s idea for the exhibit was top of Irvine’s mind, she said.

“We do so many exhibitions here that are very socially and politically minded that oftentimes address difficult subject matter,” Irvine said. “We like to have a balance and tone and ‘Love’ was just such a positive message at a time when it felt like people were craving a more optimistic topic.”

Irvine felt it would be good to do a show that felt joyful and intrinsically human.

Senior arts management major Molly Brennan is partial to the work of artist Jorian Charlton, a Toronto-based photographer. Charlton’s photos center around the idea of Black and queer couples’ sensuality and relationships as they relate to love.

“I just love Jorian’s work so much,” Brennan said. “They came out to the opening for this exhibit, and they were just one of the kindest people, so it made their work so much better.”

From an aesthetic standpoint, Brennan enjoys Charlton’s expression via color and that they photograph queer and Black people. They believe it is amazing to see that kind of representation.

Irvine agreed, noting that the current political climate does not recognize all types of relationships. She said it is important to have an exhibit that voices and validates every kind of love.

“Love: Still Not the Lesser,” is showing at the Museum of Contemporary Photography at 600 S. Michigan Ave., from Aug. 17, 2022, to Dec. 22, 2023.

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About the Contributors
Robin Sluzas
Robin Sluzas, Former Senior Reporter
rsluzas@columbiachronicle.com   Robin Sluzas is a senior journalism major, primarily covering the School of Media Arts. She has also covered politics, and arts and culture stories. She worked for the Chronicle from August 2021 through December 2023.   Hometown: Chicago, Ill.
Nakea Love
Nakea Love, Former Photojournalist
nlove@columbiachronicle.com   Nakea Love is a senior photojournalism major, minoring in Cultural Studies. She covers art exhibitions and both campus and metro events. Love joined the Chronicle in August 2023.   Hometown: Schwenksville, Penn.