Exhibition looks at past persecution of homosexuals to provide context for current gay culture

If you're going somewhere, you probably came from somewhere, and being able to look back and see where you've been can be helpful in charting your future course.

Columbus artist Lorenzo Doyle's “Keep the Ghost” is like this. The work for the exhibition, which opens with a Friday, Dec. 1 reception at the Vanderelli Room and continues through Dec. 18, is an outgrowth of Doyle's reading and viewing of memoirs and documentaries of the persecution of homosexuals, specifically during the Nazi regime in Germany but also in modern-day parts of the Middle East and Russia.

“They thought something was wrong with you, that it was a social disease, and there were a lot of horrible things done to [homosexuals],” Doyle said of the Nazi enforcement of Paragraph 175 of the German criminal code. “Chemical castration, physical castration… some were sent to camps of all women in hopes that it would cure them. It's scary all the stuff they went through, the torture they went through. … We have a long way to go, but we've come so far.”

Doyle, 29, said this history holds lessons for contemporary gay culture.

“I felt like there were a lot of people in my generation who … didn't appreciate these wonderful gay bars and why we're allowed to skip down the street and hold hands and kiss in public,” Doyle said in an interview in his Blockfort studio. “I needed my generation to understand that you're standing on blood, so to speak — that there was a cost. You have to pay respect to generations that came before, whether it's [what happened with] the Nazis or [in the] '80s with the AIDS epidemic. [Paragraph 175] was on the books in Germany until 1994, and there are places in the world now where that same kind of thing is going on.”

But this is not some academic exercise for Doyle. At first he wasn't sure he would make art in response to his new awareness of this sordid piece of human history. It was intimately, viscerally personal for the artist, who was 25 when he came out.

“It wasn't seeking for knowledge. It was more about what I can and can't do and who I am,” he said. “There's this weight of awareness you have to carry around with you: ‘Why do I feel this way? Why did it take me so long to arrive here?'

“I was afraid, of course. I didn't come out until I was 25. I would just ignore it. I would never go to a gay bar. I wasn't dating [men], so I had some kind of freedom. So for me, it's a matter of how I've arrived here and how I fit into culture. It's important for me to know. It helps me have a sense of pride in who I am and how I'm allowed to be. It also helps me openly embrace … my trans friends, to hold them a little closer and to celebrate them being them.”

This exploration found its way into Doyle's work. Color choices, material choices and content choices became part of a conversation Doyle wanted to have within the gay community and beyond. Doyle chose “Keep the Ghost” for this collection of 2-D and 3-D work to further that conversation.

“A ghost is a thing that follows you around, that haunts you,” he said. “You don't always see it, but you feel it, and I don't want to ignore it anymore. It won't go away or get better unless you face it.”

The need to face the ghost is not limited to places in the Middle East and Russia, Doyle said.

“The way things are with our government right now, the fact that there are so many hate crimes, the way the media talked about the Pulse [nightclub] shooting, with some outlets refusing to call it an act against gay culture…,” he said. “It's not an easy topic, but I hope there is a lot of conversation. It has to be talked about. You gotta start somewhere.”