Arts & Humanities

Celebrating Pride: Photographing Queer Couples in Utah

To celebrate Pride Month in June, Utah State Today is highlighting university employees and students who are conducting research, academic pursuits and other projects related to or that benefit the LGBTQIA+ community.

Fazilat Soukhakian:

Assistant Professor in the Department of Art and Design

  • Area of study: photography

Why is this work important?

“This is intended to be a community engagement project promoting inclusion and equality. … Hopefully this initiative can impact a variety of communities and help toward increasing tolerance and acceptance both locally and beyond.”

Summary of project:

Queer in Utah, by Fazilat Soukhakian, is an interdisciplinary photography project that combines photographs of LGBTQ+ Utah couples with stories of individuals from across the state. Following statewide exhibitions, the artist plans to publish a book featuring the art and the narratives. Soukhakian is an Iranian artist, photographer and scholar. She received her undergraduate degree in photography from the University of Tehran in Iran, her master’s degree in Fine Arts and her PhD in Architectural History and Visual Studies from the University of Cincinnati. She considers herself a visual storyteller who observes and records her concerns regarding social and political issues that surround her as a means of social change and justice. Her work reflects on important issues concerning gender identity, gender segregation, and the loss of national identity. Her photography projects have been shown nationally and internationally, and she has received a multitude of awards and recognition.

Fazilat writes on her exhibit website that in contemporary times, it is peculiar to still witness people being discriminated against because of their sexuality in developed countries such as the United States. An example of this can be found in Utah, where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is omnipresent. Here, the new generation of LGBTQ+ Mormons is changing the course of its historic struggle between their sexual identity and the conflicts with their religious beliefs, by publicly acting on their sexuality while some of them still practice the faith.

Despite the Church’s strict teachings, these individuals are determined in their pursuit of love, each taking their own path by either enduring through the scrutiny of their surroundings or taking a step away from the Church. Generally, the social framework of the LDS Church has resulted in a path of dilemmas and self-doubt for many people looking to make the hard decision whether or not to act on their desires. This project aims to help normalize the LGBTQ+ community in the conservative setting of Utah by portraying these couples in affectionate poses and in a local outdoor setting, similar to the dominant imagery found framed in the households of heterosexual couples.

View the project here:

Learn more about Soukhakian:

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