This weekend saw the opening of Two-Spirit, Indigenous (Yurok) Korean-American transgender multi-disciplinary artist Coyote Park’s (he/they) stunning debut solo photography show—I Love You Like Mirrors Do—at New York’s Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art, running until Sunday, July 16th, 2023. I Love You Like Mirrors Do explores Coyote Park’s deep bonds—between loved ones, lands of origin, diasporas, and queer, trans, and Indigenous kin—powerfully creating spaces of togetherness and liberation. The exhibition inaugurates the Museum’s Interventions series which intends to engage LGBTQIA+ artists and cultural producers in building new narratives and fresh interpretations of their archive of more than 25,000 works acquired over five decades.
Alongside Park’s own work are pieces from the Museum’s collection that Park drew inspiration from such as a print by fin de siècle Prussian photographer Wilhelm von Gloeden, an erotic drawing by twentieth-century Japanese artist Goh Mishima, and the celebration of Black queer love in a photographic triptych by contemporary South African artist Zanele Muholi. The show also includes a film by Park, which they describe as “a living organ of many voices” and “an ephemeral experience of memories” between themselves and the loved ones depicted in their photographs including Tee Jaehyung Park, River Gallo, Kaliko Aiu, Em Grotton, Ke’ron J. Wilson, Hercules Goss-Kuehn, and Bones Tan Jones.
Coyote Park spoke exclusively with The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann about their journey to photography and self-portraiture, their influences and the impact they hope to create with their work.
James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: how would you say the artist in you first emerged, how did it manifest in your life?
Coyote Park: “I was always a really imaginative kid. I was playful and excited about folk stories. I was always getting into different characters and performing and I was into acting as a kid, which continues into my work now with filmmaking. It wasn’t until later on in my life that I started exploring photography as a medium. It was with disposable cameras at first, then learning about film processes in high school. That was when I really started diving into it and making images with the people that were in my life.”
How has turning the camera on yourself enabled you to explore your own identity through your work?
“I started making self-portraits after my top surgery. Before that, I was doing a lot of portraits, nightlife photos, editorial and fashion. I was documenting and uplifting other artists. It wasn’t until I started feeling a bit more comfortable in my own skin that I began with self-portraits. I wanted to create a moment in time with that. I was like, there’s only one time in my life that I see myself getting this specific procedure. I was held in so much care by my chosen family and one of my first images is called “Healing with my Brother Nassim”, where my trans brother is holding me as they tend to my wounds from top surgery.”
“It became this moment where I was like, ‘I don’t see myself anywhere. I don’t see other Two-spirit people in photos and movies. What are ways that I can do that for myself, rather than always waiting for there to be that?’ That’s what started that journey for me.”
What can you tell us about your current exhibition at The Leslie-Lohman Museum?
“I Love You Like Mirrors Do is a show that’s all self-portraits with my chosen family; specifically past, present, and ongoing lovers. I am polyamorous, so a lot of the photos are with my wife, my sweetie, my boyfriend, and with past lovers that are now really close friends. They are images that show that connection, when you find people in your life who truly see you, and how that goes beyond words.”
What were some of the inspirations behind the work that you selected for the exhibition?
“Most of the work is inspired by the archives of Leslie-Lohman because this is a part of the Intervention series which I’m the inaugural artist of. Interventions isn’t only photographers, but the Museum will be continuing it with any kind of culture creators, so they’re also working with writers and others who are exploring the archives and creating ongoing conversations with them.”
“I was looking at what it means to see my body as an archive. What does it mean to look at queer art histories and see that there’s this huge lack of trans people, but not just see it as a gap but rather as this ongoing conversation. I was looking at photos in the archives to find parts of myself in them. That’s how I started looking at the images I made with Em, who was the first person that I created these very homoerotic trans gay images with of the two of us together. I was thinking about what it means when I look at movies or shows or paintings of gay men and see myself and my loved one in them, but wanting to envision it with our trans bodies depicted, present together and loving on each other. The ways that I was integrating my work with the archives is by asking how do I see the trans love in my life in reflection to these queer couples that are in these art histories.”
What do you hope that queer, trans, or Two-Spirit people who come to the exhibition might take away from seeing your work?
“I feel like my work has always been really public in online spaces. I’m always sharing it because I think a lot about accessibility and the ways that these are images that I really needed as medicine. Images where I could see love is a possibility, where I could see myself and the trans people around me, really thriving in these versions of ourselves that we’re growing into or that we’re understanding about each other. I really wanted this space to be something where other trans and queer people can move through and feel that love and that pleasure is all around them. To feel that it isn’t just a potential, a possibility, this far off thing that we’re trying to find or grow towards, but that it’s within us and it’s always in our corner.”
“What brings me back to the self-portrait work is exploring what it means to make my body a home. What does it mean to find that self-love? That’s what brings you to people that you have a reciprocity with because you’re able to share that light with one another. I want people to come into this space and feel that with all that’s against us, with all that we’ve been experiencing, with all the shame and with all of the things that make us feel less worthy of love and care, that at the same time we can still rest in the bed of a lover and that we we are capable of experiencing that.”
Is there an artist working in any medium who has particularly inspired you?
“So many artists. For photography, I’ve been inspired by Momo Okabe who photographed a lot of her relationships with trans men in Japan in the early 2000s. Just seeing the ways that she showed her lovers’ transitions and specifically gender affirming surgery and care inspired me. I’m also inspired by the people in my life. My boyfriend Bones, who’s in the Leslie-Lohman show, they’re a really amazing multimedia artist and performer. The way that they work with emotions and that they’re able to cultivate this environment where people can come in and feel like, ‘Oh, I’m around my people’ is so magical. My wife is a filmmaker and we’re collaborating together. I’m always moved by the people that are around me like my best friend, who isn’t in this show but has been in my earlier work, like the image of holding me during top surgery. They’re a tattooer and seeing the ways that they make people feel comfortable in their skin and the way that they’ve done that for me as well inspires me. All the artists in my life, I see them as alchemists and something that really keeps me going is knowing those people and it really channels into my own practice as well.”
By James Kleinmann
Coyote Park: I Love You Like Mirrors Do is on view to the public until Sunday, July 16th, 2023. The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art is located at 26 Wooster Street in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City. Open Wednesday, 12-5pm, Thursday – Sunday, 12-6 pm. The Leslie-Lohman is a home for queer art, artists, scholars, activists and allies, and a catalyst for discourse on art and queerness. The suggested donation to visit the Museum is $10. You may make a donation upon arrival or online before you visit here. The nearest accessible subway station for multiple trains is Broadway-Lafayette St. off the B, D, F, or M trains, approximately .6 of a mile away from the museum.