No Soy El Sol Que Quema by Andrés Garzon
Good Sport Gallery
August 20th – Sept 3, 2022
By Adi Berardini
No Soy El Sol Que Quema by Andrés Garzon is an exhibition reflecting on religion and internalized homophobia, looking at his role as a brother and a son. Further, it’s a reflection on hiding versus living as your authentic self. Growing up as Jehovah’s Witness in a family that immigrated from Bogotá, Colombia, Garzon’s relationship with religion is a complex one—he felt isolated by the need to hide his true self and the internalized homophobia this created. On the other hand, Andrés explained that the community his family found through Jehovah’s Witness helped him retain his language since the Kingdom Hall he attended and the literature he read was in Spanish. Although it created hurt and divided him, it also created a connection for him and his family to other recent immigrants at the time.
Having a complex relationship with religion is a narrative that many queer people know well. Religion can be like an externalized force, a voice in your head that nags you and tries to convince you that the way you are is somehow inherently “wrong.” An invisible weight that pulls you down. I grew up in an ex-Catholic household—Although my parents aren’t religious, my grandparents were pretty Catholic. Even though it was at a distance, religion and its influence always seemed to have its grasp on me. Enough to want to push my feelings down and repress myself. And I pushed them down further and further. I pushed them down so far that I couldn’t push them down anymore, and they came flooding up. Although to this day, I feel like I’m still chasing the years I lost to denying my feelings and experiences I could never quite reach, at least not solely in my dreams.
Andrés explains how the exhibition is also closely tied to dreams as a form of escape. When he felt he needed to hide himself, he became interested in lucid dreaming and his dreams were like an escape from a reality that often seemed like a nightmare. Andrés is a friend and hearing him say that dreaming was solace from reality was hard to hear. I was upset that someone I care about felt that his dreams were a welcomed escape from reality. But then I realized I’ve been there before, as many other queer people have. The pain and stress of hiding your true self is a weight that no one should bear.
The accompanying exhibition text Mi libro de historias de Amor (My Book of Love Stories), consists of a mix of former dream logs, poems, and journals from 2015-2021. Its cover references a childhood bible story book, nostalgic for its iconic design and the memories attached to it. The first half is in English, and the second half is in Spanish, translated by his older brother, Diego. One of the texts recounts a time when his mother looked into his eyes and saw nothing—she just wished for him to find a sense of joy. It made me think back to when I moved from Vancouver and experienced losing the affect in my voice due to an overwhelming sense of dread. I was going through a tough time since I had lost the sense of community that I had before. My mother also realized that something was blocking my happiness. My friendship with Andrés and other relationships in the queer art community here in London eventually alleviated the pain I had felt and brought warmth, much like the sun in Andrés’ paintings and drawings.
Another theme in No Soy El Sol Que Quema is the power of familial love. The imagery of the sun/son is prevalent throughout representing a symbol of safety and home in sunny Colombia and his role as a son. As Andrés explains, the drawing El Hijo Escondido / Hidden Son depicts the hurt that he felt while trying to hide from his family. Andrés explains that in Jehovah’s Witness, being gay is considered shunnable. He feared that by coming out, he would potentially lose the approval of his family that had sacrificed so much for him growing up. The sketch depicts a self-portrait archetype of Andrés curled up, hiding from the world. Conversely, El Hijo Escogido / Chosen Son depicts the figure basking in the sun with joy and fulfillment. When Andrés came out to his family, his family chose him and had left Jehovah’s Witness, their religion for the past 20-so years. As many people in the LGBTQ2S+ community know, there’s also power in chosen family. The drawing celebrates living authentically and the triumph of love over fear and shame.
In Loving In The War Years I two figures are wrestling together with long, dark hair (a signature of Andrés’) and arrows in their legs. The name is a nod to the text of the same name by Mexican feminist Cherrié Moraga, chronicling her coming of age as a lesbian at a time wrought with censorship in Mexico. The arrows are a reference to Saint Sebastian, the shapeshifter of the bible, oscillating from masc to femme depictions in the art historical canon, and one Andrés resonates with. Against the navy blue of night, the figures are reminiscent of Matisse’s La Danse. Andrés says that these figures represent the two archetypes within himself that struggle against one another. The struggle represents the fight toward self-acceptance and the complications of external factors such as religion and the pressure of family acceptance. The painting on the adjacent wall, Loving in the War Years II, depicts the two figures peacefully embracing, with bright yellow stars forming a halo around them, divinely protected. The two paintings also reference night and day—and the stark difference that finding peace and self-acceptance can bring.
Just as the sun can bring warmth, religion and a relationship to God or a higher power can bring peace and comfort. Although just as easily, the sun burns, and religion as an institution has brought pain and toxicity to many. Its force over peoples’ lives has been used as a tool of oppression to gain power (I mean, colonization). No Soy El Sol Que Quema explores finding a relationship with God after leaving organized religion. Personally, tarot has become a spiritual tool that I turn to, engaging with it as a daily ritual.
Andrés explains to me how his mother was the family breadwinner before arriving in Canada, while his father kept track of the family finances, and how his parents always made sure food was on the table for him and his siblings. El Que Sabe Lo Que Tiene, Sabe Lo Que Debe (Knowing what you owe, is knowing what you have) consists of bright yellow porcelain coins placed on a plinth, resembling the pentacles of the tarot deck. With permission, I pick them up and they are smooth to the touch, like a rock smoothed from the waves of the ocean. Scattered in between these pentacles are seashells and snail shells, some from nature and some from garage sales. I recognize the golden ratio spiral in a few. Andrés explained that the yellow pentacles are modelled after a pendant given to him by his mother, with the same indent that he would often run his fingers over. The pentacles reference the sacrifice his parents have given him and his siblings through their hard work and determination.
After engaging with Andrés’ exhibition No Soy El Sol Que Quema, I think of how queerness itself is sacred. Although it can be painted out as a sin by religion, it’s what has brought me peace and community when I needed it the most. No Soy El Sol Que Quema is a love letter to Andrés’ family and chronicles a journey of self-discovery, with both queerness and spirituality, but on one’s own terms. Andrés’ paintings and drawings are a stark reminder that healing is possible when love is chosen over fear.
 Garzon Espitia, Andres. Mi libro de historias de Amor. 2022 . p. 18.
Check out Mi Libro de Historias de Amor (My Book of Love Stories) by Andrés Garzon Espitia. You can also find a digital copy here.