On January 7th, 2023, Nashville’s FEMME Art Gallery hosted an opening to unveil their first public location at 100 Taylor Street. Brooke Hoffert (they/them), the founder, director, and curator of the gallery, created FEMME as one of the first openly queer art spaces in Nashville, Tennessee. Pursuing their curatorial passions, Brooke chose photographer Emily April Allen (she/her) to be the exhibiting artist. I had the pleasure of attending the opening, which I can proudly say was a smashing hit! Lines formed and wrapped around the inside of the building for at least a couple of hours. Nour Nashville collaborated with Palestinian and queer artist Ali El-Chaer (they/he) to collect period products in exchange for art prints honoring Palestinian lives. Mikayla Elias (they/them) sold their own poetry and books to raise money for Abortion Care TN. Hoffert and Allen collaborated to bring the Nashville queer community together in a way that hasn’t been done before, and I was able to interview both of them to get some more insight about what made this particular gallery opening so special.
Interviewee: Brooke Hoffert (they/them) Interviewer: Hannah Einhorn (she/they)
Hannah Einhorn: Hi Brooke! Can you begin by telling me a little bit about when and why you founded FEMME?
Brooke Hoffert: I founded FEMME years ago as an Instagram page but I turned FEMME into what it is today during a hospital stay in November 2021. Our first FEMME show was Bridget Bailey’s SWEET HEART EMAIL THREAD in March 2022 and since then I have curated five exhibitions with FEMME. I created FEMME mainly because of the lack of opportunities. I felt like I was not going to find a curatorial position in Nashville where I could put my skills to use so I thought, why not create my own opportunities not only for myself but for artists? I wanted to be able to work as an independent curator while also supporting and triumphing queer artists.
HE: FEMME’s physical location originated in the spare bedroom of your Nashville apartment. Have you noticed any impact on the purpose or function of FEMME now that you have both the apartment location and a public location at 100 Taylor Arts?
BH: Now that I have the public 100 Taylor location, I think FEMME’s function has branched out into different subsections. I’m focusing on making art accessible for everyone in the new public space and focusing more on making my apartment space more focused on art writing and in-depth discussions around the exhibitions shown there. I’m sure as time goes along both spaces’ functions will continue to evolve.
HE: What drew you to Emily April Allen’s (she/her) photography? Why did you choose her photos for the grand opening of FEMME’s public location?
BH: Emily April Allen’s practice is critical in many ways. The documentation of a queer community in the United States South is shown in a way that celebrates the queer community is remarkable. We are so used to seeing images of the queer community that document struggle, oppression, or resistance. We rarely are shown images where joy, celebration, and an overall sense of happiness can be seen in the community. Through creating this portrait photo series, Emily has created an archive of visual activism that allows not only the people she has photographed to be remembered but as well as brings to attention the community as a whole. That sense of community is what drew me to Emily’s work and what made me decide that it was the perfect exhibition to have as the opening exhibition for the public FEMME space.
HE: Not only did you showcase queer photography at the opening, but you included artists such as Ali El-Chaer (they/he) and poet Mikayla Elias (they/them). There was also a period products exchange with Nour Nashville. From your perspective, what role do art institutions such as FEMME play in supporting community as a whole?
BH: I think art institutions should always include and reflect the community around them. Being a queer non-binary person running an art space it is extremely important to me to include as many people especially queer people as I can. Collaboration is important to me as well. The more people I can include the better FEMME and my whole curatorial practice will be. Working together is what makes things happen.
HE: FEMME has noticeably grown in the past year. What direction do you see it moving in the future?
BH: This is a tough question for me because I have so many dreams and ideas. FEMME is bigger right now than I ever thought it would be so I’m having to really think about my next moves. I would love to be able to curate FEMME shows internationally and get queer artists into as many spaces as I can. That is something that I am currently working towards.
Interviewee: Emily April Allen (she/her) Interviewer: Hannah Einhorn (she/they)
Hannah Einhorn: Hello Emily! The first question I want to ask is about your subjects. The range of models showcased in your photography is remarkable. Can you give insight into how you choose people to photograph? How did you choose which photos made it into the opening with FEMME?
Emily April Allen: I wouldn’t say I choose people to photograph – rather that we find each other! Most of the photos in the exhibit are from projects folks reached out about, and several others were from collaborations with folks I’ve developed creative relationships with (and resulting friendships) over the years. I’ve made such special connections through photography, which is probably my favorite part of this work. Occasionally there will be someone who I’ve connected with online, or perhaps at an event, who really inspires me and I’ll suggest we collaborate. It’s always fun to create just for the sake of creating. But in most cases, folks have found my work through a friend and reach out to work together. I appreciate this, because I feel like having a shared connection builds trust and strengthens the sense of community before we even start photographing. I love hearing everyone’s individual journeys and their reasons for wanting to be photographed, and working off each other to create beautiful imagery. It’s truly a collaborative experience.
Selecting the photos for the opening of FEMME was a real challenge. Every photography session is a shared, intentional space between myself and the people in the photo, which is something I really value. I didn’t want anyone to feel left out if they were hoping to see their photo on the wall, and I wish I could’ve featured even more – but printing and framing really adds up! I wanted to show photos that represented a wide and fluid spectrum of the Nashville queer community, and I wanted those viewing the photos to feel seen, to feel themselves reflected in the photos. With that in my mind, I also selected photos that I was really proud of compositionally/artistically, featured folks who had stories they were excited to share (either through words or through their imagery) and comfortable sharing publicly, and folks who I’ve formed meaningful friendships with over time through photography who I’m very inspired by. Again, I could’ve selected so many more! I also wanted the set to be cohesive and flow well, and strongly represent who I feel I am as a photographer. Strong eye contact, dreamy natural lighting, powerful stances, and connecting with nature, colors, and others in the photo are all elements I’m drawn to.
I would like to say that one of the pieces features a remarkable person named Jackson, who passed a couple of weeks after the gallery opening. Having that photo in the exhibit has extra special meaning to me now.
HE: The turnout at the opening reception for FEMME was outstanding! Did the experience of having a wildly successful gallery opening impact your perception of your own work? What kind of feedback did you receive from guests at the opening?
EAA: I don’t think I was mentally prepared for the turnout! I always overthink social interactions, so navigating the opening was definitely out of my comfort zone, but of course I was thrilled and honored by the turnout. I’m still processing it weeks later! I would say that it impacted the perception of my work in that it caused me to stop and be present and appreciate the journey thus far and the community I’ve connected with through this work. The opening felt like a family reunion of sorts. I’m always so forward-thinking, concentrating on what’s next, that I don’t give myself enough opportunities to savor the present. The opening definitely did that. It also reiterated how important it is for queer folks to see themselves represented in imagery. It’s healing, and I hope that was felt by those in attendance. It was also so beautiful to see my work displayed in a tangible form! I show most of my work in the online space, whether on my website or social media, and having the opportunity to experience these images in person, with other people, was very special.
I received very positive feedback, and I’m just very grateful that people trust me to do this work with them. I can’t say that enough! I wish I could remember more of what was said at the opening, but it all feels like a blur. There was a very beautiful moment when a couple whose wedding I photographed shared that seeing their photos empowered their perceptions of themselves. That was some of the most beautiful feedback I could have received.
HE: What led you to create queer-centered photography? Why photos, as opposed to other modes of documentation such as painting or videography, for example?
EAA: Queer community feels like home to me, and that drives my work. I’m the middle child of three queer kids, and my family is a built-in queer community that has shaped so much of who I am. We grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, in a progressive and Jewish home in a mostly Christian-centered, conservative environment, and it felt like my siblings and I were constantly explaining ourselves to others. When I would meet other queer folks (which didn’t happen very often until college), I felt like we could just skip all that – I felt seen and connected. I’ve carried that with me to this day, and I feel like there’s a collective exhale when you’re sharing a space as intimate as the photographic space with another queer person. You don’t have to explain yourself, you can just be you.
I stumbled upon photography while working at a school and was asked to photograph students for the website. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I felt instantly drawn to photography and set out to learn as much as I could. I’ve never felt more connected to an activity in my life. I realized that I could use this medium to create with my queer friends and document different aspects of their journeys. Over the years that evolved into the portraiture and documentary projects that are so important to me now. I come from an artistic family, and never considered myself to be an artist like they were — but photography feels different to me. I’ve always been an observer, a people-watcher, and photography gives me the lens to do that while also connecting with people on a very personal level. Queer identity is very fluid and can evolve over a lifetime, and I feel like making time to capture the energy of how a person feels in their skin in that moment through an image or series of images is so powerful. I love how everything can come together in one frame, how can there be so much movement and vibration in the stillness of a photo.
HE: As an artist documenting queerness, what message would you like to send to other artists choosing to focus on subject matter that deviates from the mainstream? Do you feel like showcasing queer art in the south is different from showing it in other regions of the United States, or even other parts of the world?
EAA: I’d encourage other artists to trust in who they are, and if it feels good, keep doing it. If you love it, it will show. Your viewpoint matters, and it’s crucial for others to see the world through a wide range of perspectives.
Being visible as a queer person in the south can unfortunately come with a risk, and of course I’ve kept that in mind with showcasing my work. However, I think that adds to the sense of freedom that comes with being visible and seen as queer in a photo — it’s vulnerable and raw and freeing and beautiful and there’s a liberation in that. And there’s a liberation in seeing others feeling empowered in that way in a photo. That’s what makes an art show like this a collaborative, community experience. Especially in the south, it’s important to keep reminding yourself and others that queerness deserves to live loud and open and seen. We might be made to feel like a hindrance, an anomaly, but we are human and vibrant and here.
HE: Has working with Brooke Hoffert (they/them), the director and founder of FEMME, been beneficial? Would you recommend that other artists get involved with FEMME?
EAA: I’ve loved working with Brooke! Their love for what they do is so palpable, and I feel like my passion for photography is the same, so it felt like a great burst of energy when we were together collaborating on our visions for the exhibit. FEMME is such an important opportunity to create community and connection through art, and I couldn’t be more honored to be the first to show in the new experimental space. Any chance to bring queer folks together in a shared supportive environment is a beautiful one, and I’m grateful to Brooke for creating that space. I’d highly recommend other artists to get involved with FEMME!
To learn more about Emily April Allen and Brooke Hoffert, visit:
Emily April Allen
Brooke Hoffert and FEMME Art Gallery: