News from campus and beyond

Kylie Fisher and Alex Aradas ’26 elevate LGBTQ+ art

Kylie Fisher, assistant professor of art history (left) and Alex Aradas ’26, study a mural by Ninja Picasso at the Triune Mercy Center.

Last updated June 28, 2024

By Tina Underwood

Kylie Fisher (she/her), an assistant professor of art history at Furman University, is a storyteller at heart. Through her work with the Queer Arts Initiative (QAI), a movement of the Upstate SC LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce, she wants to ensure more stories are told about and by members of the queer community.

Fisher, a member of the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program, saw an opportunity to expand conversations beyond campus. This summer, she secured funding for an undergraduate research fellow, Alex Aradas (she/they) ’26, and together they’re collaborating with the QAI on several goals:

  • Create a database of queer-friendly art venues and locate additional and larger spaces for accommodating diverse art forms,
  • Curate art for a joint QAI/Furman juried exhibition in Furman’s Thompson Gallery titled “Found Family: Queerness and Community in the South,” set for mid-September through mid-November, and
  • Establish an inventory of Upstate murals and their representations and identify opportunities for LGBTQ+ artists.

“I feel like this project was made for me,” said Aradas, a politics and international affairs and studio art double major who came out during her middle school years. “I’m passionate about the advocacy side of politics, and I think this project is really grounded in that.”

two white women study mural

Kylie Fisher (left), assistant professor of art history, and Alex Aradas ’26 study a mural by Eric Benjamin.

Fisher said Aradas’s identity and her background in the social sciences and studio art made her the perfect choice for the fellowship, giving Aradas a chance to build on her skill sets and network with the community.

Just a few weeks into the research, Aradas said the work has revealed some startling realities about the LGBTQ+ art landscape in the Upstate.

“I was really surprised by the lack of queer representation in Greenville’s murals. There are hundreds, but not a single one was dedicated to a queer space or had anything to do with LGBTQ+. That was a little shocking to me, and it didn’t feel right,” said Aradas. She eventually discovered a queer artist who had crafted murals in Greenville and nearby Travelers Rest, but none depicting LGBTQ+ themes. She and Fisher are hopeful about having the artist’s input for the QAI project.

In the classroom, Fisher uses socially engaged art history to disrupt traditional silos and narratives found in academic or museum settings and bring them to a broader public audience. Her QAI work does the same. A big believer in art as communication, she hopes to build empathy and understanding in the region.

She wants to characterize and amplify the queer arts scene to focus on lifting those historically marginalized voices. She hopes the QAI/Furman exhibition will spark discussions about identity and community and move Greenville’s diversity from the fringes to the center.

Fisher said the belief is that Greenville doesn’t have a queer arts scene at all. “But that’s not true,” she said. “We just lack a central hub where that work can be showcased.” She explained that apart from Modal, a downtown boutique hostel and coffeehouse, she doesn’t know of another venue dedicated to LGBTQ+ art in the area, but it’s an important start toward furthering QAI’s mission toward providing queer artists outlets for their work, a way to promote themselves and sell their art.

Meanwhile, Aradas is grateful for the chance to be mentored by Fisher who, Aradas said, embodies the very best of Furman and makes the university a better place. “She’s constantly working, volunteering or researching something new.” Fisher’s energy knows no bounds, she said.

Aradas loves every minute of the research fellowship and is thrilled about its direction and future.

“It might be cliché to say this, but representation is so important,” she said, recalling a visit to a downtown Greenville mural by Ninja Picasso that focuses on the homeless.

“It’s called ‘seen-heard-valued,’ and it reminded me that this project is important because it challenges some of the narratives and stereotypes about queer people,” Aradas said. “This work is about making queer spaces in the community so that everybody feels valued. Because everyone deserves to feel like they have a space where they can exist.”

Contact Us
Clinton Colmenares
Director of News and Media Strategy