Photo of Gwen and “Girl Party Wallpaper” series, courtesy of Gwen Shockey
After 49 people were killed in a mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016, New York City artist Gwen Shockey gathered with queer people at the Cubbyhole and Stonewall Inn to mourn. The tragedy made Gwen think about the importance of lesbian bars and safe spaces for this community. She began talking with her friends, interviewing them about coming out and navigating NYC’s queer community. This laid the groundwork for Gwen’s 2017 “Addresses” project, a digital map marking more than 200 current and former queer and lesbian bars across the five boroughs. Using information from interviews she’s conducted and from police records and newspapers, Gwen found each location and photographed what sits there now.
“It felt like a secret pilgrimage, going to each location and looking for a site that was more or less invisible to everyone else around me,” she told us. And with just three lesbian bars remaining in NYC today, the need to preserve the memories of these places seems more apparent than ever. Through her project, which is ongoing, Gwen realized that although the number of lesbian bars in the city is dropping, there are “huge shifts occurring in the queer community toward inclusion not based on identity categories but based on who needs safe space now and who needs space to dance, to express their authenticity, and to be intimate.” Gwen shared with 6sqft the process of tracking the lesbian bars of NYC’s past and lessons she’s learned about the city’s LGBTQ history along the way.