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Caleb Cole’s installation “In Lieu of Flowers,” in their show “Collective Feelings” at Gallery Kayafas, is made from roses. The artist lines the walls with 88 anthotypes, a photograph that uses a plant-based emulsion, muddled with roses from the artist’s garden. They’re selfies of trans people murdered in the United States since February 2020, such as Jahaira DeAlto Balenciaga, a trans activist and ballroom drag artist stabbed in her Dorchester home in May. Her eyes are wide and gentle.

A Caleb Cole anthotype, "Draya McCarty." Anthotypes are made from rose petals and measure 4 inches by 5 inches. They are developed in the sunshine, often for days at a time.
A Caleb Cole anthotype, "Draya McCarty." Anthotypes are made from rose petals and measure 4 inches by 5 inches. They are developed in the sunshine, often for days at a time.

Anthotypes aren’t fixed; they disappear. Like the roses, they are fading.

Cole looks at the fugitive nature of queer identity. They examine the history of a people often unaccepted by society, and ask, how do you draw the family tree? How do you make the links if much of the story is hidden, ephemeral, or just plain fluid?

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"Lovers" by Caleb Cole, 2021. Collected found photographs.
"Lovers" by Caleb Cole, 2021. Collected found photographs.

The answers are heartfelt and, queerly, sideways. Cole employs found objects and photographs, each with their own histories and implied meanings. “Lovers,” which features old snapshots of men, easy and happy and lolling on beds, draws attention to the loving gazes of the photographers. The piece hums with warmth and shared intimacy.

"Ties that Bind," 2020. A secondhand blanket, padded base wrapped in secondhand leather jacket, leather strips, rivets and hardware.
"Ties that Bind," 2020. A secondhand blanket, padded base wrapped in secondhand leather jacket, leather strips, rivets and hardware.

Textiles evoke comfort and family heirlooms; the artist wraps that message with LGBTQ references. The ties in “Ties that Bind” include bondage gear, as Cole secures a small, crocheted blanket — an emblem of grandmotherly love — with leather straps and rivets.

Glittering nods to drag and disco dress up the exhibition’s earnest undercurrent. The artist uses altered and collaged found photographs in a sacramental way, honoring loss and summoning light. Surely “Being Alive,” all sunny balloons and upbeat signs, is an image rooted in the AIDS crisis.

"Being Alive" by Caleb Cole.
"Being Alive" by Caleb Cole.

We often carelessly treat the lives of people in marginalized communities as expendable. The Reagan administration turned a blind eye to, and even made light of, the mounting death toll from AIDS. More gender-nonconforming people were murdered in 2020, according to the Human Rights Campaign, an organization promoting LGBTQ equality, than since the agency started keeping records in 2013.

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Cole has called making the anthotypes a devotional act. The whole of “Collective Feelings” is devotional, stirring grief and love, and making space for the complicated, tender history of a people for whom it takes courage to love whom they love, and to be who they are.

CALEB COLE: COLLECTIVE FEELINGS

At Gallery Kayafas, 450 Harrison Ave., through Dec. 4. 617-482-0411, www.gallerykayafas.com


Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.