Gold Rush-era San Francisco was a town without a lot of ladies, so if men wanted to get down at a square dance, they needed to boogie with each other. In order to know who would lead, a code developed: The man wearing the blue bandana took the male part, and the man wearing the red bandana took the female part. This hanky code was updated in the early ‘70s as a subtle way for gay men to indicate preferred sexual desires, what kind of sex was being sought, and whether one was a top or bottom. The code continues to this day, and its variations include all the colors of the rainbow and beyond.
The Queer Ecology Hanky Project, organized and curated by Vanessa Adams, Bekezela Mguni, and Mary Tremonte, uses the hanky code as a jumping-off point to showcase a diverse array of artistic responses to Queer Ecology—an area of inquiry that unites the study of biology, environment, and sexuality with a framework of queer theory.
The traveling exhibition features over 125 artist bandanas from across North America and will be exhibited at Women’s Studio Workshop in Rosendale July 12—October 30. An opening reception and socially distanced queer dance party will be held on Friday, July 23, from 6—9pm. Additional curatorial assistance for the Women’s Studio Workshop exhibition was provided by Andrea Narno and Eriko Hattori.