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Art Exhibit Explores Code-Switching Through a Queer Modern Lens

Art Exhibit Explores Code-Switching Through a Queer Modern Lens


<p>Art Exhibit Explores Code-Switching Through a Queer Modern Lens</p>
All images courtesy Don Hershman

All images courtesy Don Hershman

After recent work honored a lover lost to HIV, artist Don Hershman’s latest collection examines "code-switching" as a means of survival.

While he’s been a successful working artist — and podiatric surgeon — for decades now, Don Hershman’s artwork in recent years feels more invigorated and inspired than ever. His last sold-out show in New York, "Donald and Victor: Under The Influence," was a thought-provoking and loving tribute to his former partner who passed away due to HIV-related complications in 2001.

Hershman was back in NYC to unveil his latest collection of 21 paintings entitled “The Art of Code Switching.” The exhibition, which was recently displayed at Salomon Arts Gallery in Manhattan’s Tribeca district, explores both our conscious and subconscious need to code-switch simply to help us navigate a world that forces white-patriarchal “norms” upon us. Ten percent of proceeds from the exhibition's sales was donated to The Trevor Project, a nonprofit focused on suicide prevention among LGBTQ+ youth.

Artwork by Don Hershman

“When I began my formal residency training in the early ’80s I had to relocate to the South, forcing me back into the closet,” Hershman explains. “Creating these new paintings took me on a journey back to a time where there was no political correctness or recourse; easily fired or shunned if it were revealed that I was gay. After residency, I relocated to San Francisco and worked as a podiatric surgeon in an atmosphere engulfed by the AIDS epidemic, where young men often were not only hiding their sexual orientation, but their HIV status as well. They were constantly code-switching without even knowing it.”

Merriam-Webster defines code-switching as “the switching from the linguistic system of one language or dialect to that of another.” But Hershman’s work pushes beyond that concept — examining how women, people of color, and queer and trans people often have to change much more than the way they speak in order to avoid discrimination, persecution, and violence on a daily basis. And it couldn’t be more timely, considering the relentless cultural and legislative war the far-right has waged against LGBTQ+ people over the last few years.

Artwork by Don Hershman

Still, the artist insists there is a beauty to code-switching, which is why Hershman wanted to create imagery that also felt joyous for this collection. Indeed, the vivid colors and brushstrokes of the paintings seem to leap off the canvas and into one's heart and mind in a truly visceral way. “The flip side of code-switching is going back to your home…going back to our families, going back to our friends, and being able to be and speak and act as who we really are.”

Read our complete interview with Don Hershman in The Advocate’s upcoming November/December 2023 issue.

Artwork by Don Hershman

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Ryan is the Digital Director of The Advocate Channel, and a graduate of NYU Tisch's Department of Dramatic Writing. She is also a member of GALECA, the LGBTQ+ society of entertainment critics. While her specialties are television writing and comedy, Ryan is a young member of the LGBTQ+ community passionate about politics and advocating for all.

Ryan is the Digital Director of The Advocate Channel, and a graduate of NYU Tisch's Department of Dramatic Writing. She is also a member of GALECA, the LGBTQ+ society of entertainment critics. While her specialties are television writing and comedy, Ryan is a young member of the LGBTQ+ community passionate about politics and advocating for all.