As queer printmakers, artists, and nature freaks, we began the Queer Ecology Hanky Project as a way to bring together our many interests. Inviting artists to explore queer ecology—an area of inquiry that unites the study of biology, environment, and sexuality within the framework of queer theory—has given us windows into divergent possibilities for gender and sexuality, models of resilience and resistance in a world that feels increasingly bleak. In recent years, queers of all genders and proclivities have expanded the definitions of the original gay hanky code—which emerged in the United States in the early 1970s, as a means for gay men to subtly communicate sexual desires—to include different bodies, identities, and activities. We love designing, printing, and distributing bandannas as wearable artwork, and as a means to continue the queer communication of flagging, of finding affinity with plants, animals, mycelia, and each other.
In seeking artists and art for the project, we reached out to our intersecting networks of printmakers, artists, ecologists, zine makers, and herbalists, hoping the call for work would spread like mycelium growth. We created and shared a digital flier, and were fortunate to have the project amplified by a few online platforms with a wide reach. This resulted in a nice mix of artists we actively recruited and new-to-us strangers. The full collection, of which seven hankies are reproduced here, speaks to the diversity of queer experience.
We were pleased by the number of contributions that look at pleasure in the natural world, such as Corrine Teed’s exploration of salamanders’ same-sex summertime trysts. We were also intrigued by the overlapping and diverging investigations into interdependence—like Andrea Narno’s hanky, which looks to the intimate and integral relationships between the yucca and the yucca moth, snails and the snail-pollinated plant Volvulopsis nummularium. Several hankies explore interesting examples of relationship longevity—including Bekezela Mguni’s swans. Many artists used plant- and earth-based materials to dye their fabric, weaving the meanings and aesthetics associated with natural pigments into their hankies.
One of the most exciting things about this project is that it is artwork intended for activation. We hope these hankies will accompany walks in the woods, accessorize outfits at queer dance parties, bundle up foraged mushrooms, and start conversations.
—Vanessa Adams & Mary Tremonte