Revolutionary Pride: New exhibition celebrates LGBTQ+ history at The Old Stone House

old stone house exhibit
‘Angelic Troublemakers, Tactical Deviants,’ a solo exhibition by David Rios Ferreira is currently on display at The Old Stone House.
Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

In honor of Pride Month, The Old Stone House in Park Slope is presenting “Angelic Troublemakers, Tactical Deviants,” a solo exhibition by David Rios Ferreira.

The exhibition, curated by Kathrine Gressel, showcases 13 bodies of work exploring the concept of “unportraits” — artwork that depart from traditional portraiture by representing subjects in a non-literal or abstract manner. Through his work, Ferreira seeks to amplify the history of the LGBTQ+ community by focusing on figures who were strategists, orchestrators and tacticians in their movements.

man at old stone house exhibit
“Angelic Troublemakers, Tactical Deviants,” a solo exhibition by David Rios Ferreira, is currently on display at The Old Stone House. Photo courtesy of David Rios Ferreira

The Old Stone House played a critical part in the American Revolutionary War and was the site of its largest and bloodiest battle. Ferreira’s exhibition was inspired by Baron von Steuben, a Prussian military officer who played a leading role in war. According to historians, Steuben was openly gay at a time when homosexuality was a crime, and the baron was dismissed from the Prussian military. But rumors about Steuben’s homosexuality didn’t deter Benjamin Franklin from recommending him to George Washington. Word has it that General Washington was also aware of Steuben’s sexual orientation.

Ferreira told Brooklyn Paper that von Steuben wasn’t a fighter, but more of a strategist who transformed the Continental Army into a disciplined force. During his research, Ferreira came across other gay or queer historical figures who played significant roles in their communities by protecting and empowering their people through thoughtful strategies.

“That’s when I realized, ‘Okay, the exhibition is going to be about figures like him,’” Ferreira explained. “That was the rule I gave myself looking for similar figures. Figures that were influential, not necessarily because they fought, but because they had influence over people and were respected.”

Besides von Steuben, the exhibition depicts figures like civil rights movement activist Bayard Rustin, an openly gay man who was one of Martin Luther King’s closest advisors on nonviolent resistance and the principal organizer of the March on Washington in 1963.

curator of old stone house exhibit
Kathrine Gressel curated David Rios Ferreira’s solo exhibition. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

The title of Ferreira’s exhibition is partly derived from a famous Rustin quote, “We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers.”

“I think there’s sort of an obscene duality in angelic — the subtlety of an angel versus a troublemaker, which is far more aggressive or grounded,” Ferreira explained. “Technical deviance was to orient the viewer and visitors [and] to understand that these were not necessarily just fighters. They were thinkers; they were influencers, and they were sought after for leadership.”

Ferreira, whose art has been exhibited in galleries and museums across the country and abroad, said that the exhibition during Pride Month served as a reminder that LGBTQIA+ individuals have been around since the dawn of time. 

“We played pivotal roles in our community, that we’re seen as respectable heroes and leaders and in some cases, especially some of the Indigenous figures that I focus on, were the bridge between the spirit world and the real world, and how that allowed us to have access to knowledge and power that others didn’t,” Ferreira said.

Ferreira’s abstract drawings, sculptures, and installations explore the past by merging historical etchings, 1930s political cartoons, and children’s coloring books, and aim to draw attention to the history of cultures silenced and eradicated by American colonialism. 

old stone house art
Ferreira explores the past through his multimedia works. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Another piece, titled “The Secret Order of Hulumanu, after Kamehameha III and Kaomi,” focuses on Kamehameha III, the third king of Hawaii, where homosexual or bisexual relationships were widely accepted before colonialism. Kamehameha III was in a same-sex relationship with a former Protestant minister, Hawaiian-Tahitian priest Kaomi. Kaomi influenced the king’s resistance to Western colonizers, and Kamehameha III established the secret order of Hulumanu, reviving native customs like traditional medicine, hula, and he’e nalu (surfing). 

“That was a very typical structure in Hawaiian royalty,” Ferreira explained. “It was just part of the day. It was just part of the culture. It was not questioned until Eurocentric ideals were brought to these territories.”

Gressel, the contemporary curator for The Old Stone House and Washington Park, told Brooklyn Paper that solo shows like Ferreira’s reflected institution’s history, bringing it into the present and creating new narratives. She said it was great to have the exhibition running during Pride Month alongside Arts Gowanus’ outdoor art show at The Old Stone House, “Pride: All Day, Every Day,” celebrating Brooklyn’s LGBTQIA+ community. 

“And then I think it’s a very important piece of history that a lot of people don’t know about that von Steuben, his history identifying as queer,” Gressel said. “I don’t think most of us learn about that in school when we learn about the Revolutionary War. So that’s a big part of our mission, uncovering those hidden histories and voices.” 

According to Kim Maier, executive director of The Old Stone House, the show offers an opportunity to take a new look at the untold narratives of history.

The Old Stone House. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

“Particularly figures of significant historical importance in terms of the work we do here around the American Revolution,” Maier said. “To know that through the ages, leaders have succeeded by thriving in all aspects of their personalities, and it’s great to be able to talk about those things so freely now.” 

“Angelic Troublemakers, Tactical Deviants” is on display at The Old Stone House through July 7. For information about the exhibit and exhibition opportunities, visit theoldstonehouse.org.