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Pride is well underway in the Bay Area, as June is a monthlong celebration of LGBTQIA+ culture and history. Local Pride events include park gatherings, film viewings, dance parties, Castro pub crawls and the San Francisco Pride Parade, slated for its in-person return to Market Street on Sunday. And, with anti-LGBTQ legislation recently brought forward in states such as Florida, Alabama and Kentucky, visibility of the queer community — being out and proud — is unquestionably important right now. 

Visibility is a key component of the art gallery Liminal Space SF, which opened on April 29 in San Francisco’s South of Market District. The gallery — the first of its kind in the city — puts transgender artists and their work front and center. 

Liminal Space SF founder Sam Claude Carmel says, “I realized that there’s really not any opportunities for trans artists in the Bay Area. People will come around during Pride Month and be like, ‘Oh, we have these openings and these offerings we could do.’”

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But, as Carmel assessed, that’s not enough. Trans artists need their own stage, their own platform — their own space — to showcase their pieces.

As they explain, “I looked at who’s represented in the major galleries in San Francisco and the amount of trans people — I mean, you’d be shocked. There’s maybe three or four people I know who get regularly shown, and even people who get regularly shown, it’s like, who has a gallery behind them?”

As a trans person working in the arts, Carmel gave thought to how much they had been tokenized themselves when deciding to create a trans-focused gallery.

Liminal Space SF’s grand opening on April 29 featured performers such as Fiera Ferari, seen here holding roses. (Photo courtesy Niko Storment/Liminal Space SF)

They comment, “A lot of institutions will use us for diversity points but are not really doing anything to promote our culture and our advancement in the arts. So I decided I wanted to take it upon myself to go and do what I could with the small space I had.”

Carmel — who is also a team member of Queerdome, a queer-centered, psychedelic harm-reduction space in Burning Man, and the co-founder of Transguard, a queer and trans community providing security and support service — describes setting up the gallery as a construction project. Housed in a former fabric factory, the space was initially in a state of disrepair, requiring a considerable amount of work.

Says Carmel, “The space hadn’t been tended to for many years, so I started this year-and-a-half-long renovation project where I fixed up the small studio I had and turned it into a white-wall gallery.”

Situated in the middle of SoMa, and in proximity to San Francisco’s Leather & LGBTQ Cultural District and Transgender District, Carmel notes that the gallery is in a prime location. 

Edward Mordak is one of the artists featured in Liminal Space SF’s first show, “SENSOR.” According to Liminal Space SF founder Sam Claude Carmel, Mordak made this 5-foot-tall “death mask,” along with others, of his friend, James. Says Carmel, “It’s just this incredible piece of San Francisco AIDS art history. Edward Modak isn’t very well-known. I think, around the community, people knew of him … he was part of the gay community out here. But as time goes on, people kind of forget.” (Photo courtesy Niko Storment/Liminal Space SF)

They share, “The door that opens up our studio complex faces out to Victoria Manalo Draves Park, which is the only park in SoMa. So it’s really kind of this wonderful little hidden away space that is host to a really beautiful part of the neighborhood.”

The complex also has a 35-seat theater that Carmel has access to and is actively using for Liminal Space SF’s first show, “SENSOR,” for video artist Texas Tomboy’s work.

Says Carmel, “We don’t market it necessarily as a ‘theater theater.’ It’s more like a screening room.”

Also featuring the artwork of Orlando, Edward Mordak and Jerome Caja, Carmel plans for “SENSOR” to continue for at least another month and a half, showcasing these standout trans artists’ pieces, as well as others. 

Shares Carmel, “I’m getting more and more different works that people are bringing to the door and being like, ‘Hey, I have this piece.’ And as I find stuff that actually is in conversation with the show, I’m adding it to it as well. Because I really don’t believe in having a stringent ‘This is who we are showing’ [policy]. When I get work that enters the radar that actually is in conversation with the other pieces, I’m open to including it.”

Carmel seeks for their trans-centering art gallery to exist as an alternative to San Francisco’s queer nightlife scene. Alcohol isn’t available for purchase in the space, as the focus is more on experiencing the art featured and having conversations about it.

Says Carmel, “If somebody wants to go get a drink, they can happily go down the street. I’m not stopping anybody if they’re walking in with a can of beer. But at the end of the day, we’re trying to create spaces that are safer and that aren’t so focused on selling substances and that are open to anyone — especially people who are younger.” 

While “SENSOR” has erotic content, Carmel doesn’t want to put an age restriction on who can enter the gallery and see the art.

Trans March 2022

San Francisco’s Trans Pride March returns in person this year on Friday, starting at Dolores Park at Dolores and 19th streets in San Francisco. The schedule of events is as follows:

For more information, visit https://www.transmarch.org/.

They comment, “If somebody is coming in with parental permission, I don’t mind. I had a friend of mine bring in his 16-year-old kid, and we just talked about it beforehand, like, ‘What are your expectations about what you’re going to see?’ But I don’t also think that we should bar youth from being able to access these really interesting and complicated art spaces.”

They add, “In our future shows, I’m trying to make it accessible to all ages of our trans community, so that somebody who’s 16 and wants to see what the arts are about can come in and not feel intimidated or feel overwhelmed. I felt like that was something that held me back from experiencing the arts in San Francisco and the East Bay when I was younger.”

Going forward, Carmel plans to show more of Jerome Caja’s work — some previously unseen pieces — in July. They also have two shows on the roster and are in the process of figuring out which one they want to do first. 

Says Carmel of both shows, “They’re going to be kind of incredible.”

There’s “Psychedelic Queens,” with a focus on trans-specific and queer psychedelic art, ranging from the 1960s to contemporary work, made by folx in the Bay Area. The other show, “Key Party,” considers the current club and nightlife scene as well as what a more inclusive and extensive space for trans people in the Bay Area, especially in San Francisco, might look like.

Liminal Space SF’s representation and recognition of trans artists is significant in and of itself, as is having a designated space to view these artists’ work.

As Carmel explains, “We’re trying to get artists compensated, we’re trying to sell work, but it’s also about bringing the community in and providing a space for people to gather and to also just experience art.”

Both during Pride Month and beyond, visibility matters, as does a space in which to be seen.

Liminal Space SF is open 1-7 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays at 16 Sherman St., San Francisco. To support Liminal Space SF, go to https://www.gofundme.com/f/liminal-space-sf-our-trans-centering-gallery.

“Texas Tomboy Deep Dive,” ​​a closer look into “SENSOR,” will show new selected works from the Texas Tomboy collection from 7 p.m.-midnight Thursday at Liminal Space SF. Suggested donation is $5-$15, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds. For details and more information, follow the gallery on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/liminalspacesf/.