"Which Way Out" at Studio 18 in Pembroke Pines: Intriguing Exhibit About Keeping Secrets

While "coming out of the closet" is associated with the LGBT community, everyone — gay or straight — has secrets. And the energy needed to keep a secret can take its toll. Bottling up the truth can be like a personal prison — a madness that's hard to escape.

A new art show explores this struggle. "Which Way Out — Personal Thoughts Made Public" opens Friday at Studio 18 in Pembroke Pines. The reception lasts from 7 to 10 p.m. Seven artists — Nestor Arenas, Randy Burman, Jacqueline Gopie, Donna Haynes, Philip Ross Munro, Lori Nozick, and Sara Stites — examine the show's theme.

Nozick constructed an interactive sculpture, Secret House. The piece is six feet by four feet and has one point of entry on the side. Though the structure of a house offers the illusion of privacy, this one is made of transparent materials. The public is invited to write secrets and drop them into the house. As the house is filled up with secrets, it suggests that eventually all secretive information will come out. Nozick believes that people ultimately do want to reveal their secrets.

Burman, a married Miamian, reflects on the sense of isolation in his Discrimination Seating installation. It consists of 20 standard gray metal folding chairs set up in four rows of five chairs each. He covered one in vibrant yarn and left the other chairs bare. The yarn-bombed chair sits confined within barbed-wire enclosure. The result creates a stark juxtaposition and challenges the view's physical boundaries. "I think someone can internalize the message," Burman says, hinting at social oppression and internal conflict.

"I want my works to have a strong impact," he says. In his Family Portraits, he takes the literal approach. Each family photo has one or more of the members' faces obscured. He explains the intention is to mirror the unique social isolation and ostracization from families that's often experienced by LBGT individuals.

"I think everyone has some issue," he says. "They think they're ugly. They're dealing with sexual identity, or it can be something else.

"I had my own identity issues growing up," he admits. "I tend to think of myself as antiestablishment, questioning authority, especially in the 1960s," says Burman, now in his 60s. "My basic philosophical understanding is that life and understanding is a paradox. If someone says something, my general rule of thumb is to question it. I remember being 8 years old in Hebrew parochial school where I felt totally isolated. Why am I sitting here? I would draw pictures on my papers and not understand why I wanted to do artwork."

"We all have something that we choose to share or keep private," says the show's curator, Jill Slaughter. "The LGBT community is often faced with the decision on whether they want to go public or not. In the gay youth community, if they don't share their orientation, incidents of mental health risks rise," says Slaughter. While gays run the risk of rejection from conservative friends and family members, keeping a secret can be equally damaging, she says. Holding out on saying "Yes, I'm gay" or "Yes, I'm bi" can result in depression, eating disorders, ­substance abuse, and risky sexual behaviors.

In addition to the seven artists showing at "Which Way Out," students from the Gay-Straight Alliance group at Pembroke Pines Charter High School will contribute poems and short stories. Also, the high school students created background themes for a photo booth where attendees can snap takeaway pictures. A $3 donation is suggested, and proceeds will benefit the school group.

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Andrea Richard