Aug 17th 2022

I want you to know my story presents recent photographs from St. Louis-based artist Jess T. Dugan’s ongoing Every Breath We Drew series. The artist writes, “My creative practice centers around an exploration of identity – particularly gender and sexuality – through photographic portraiture. Drawing from my experience as a queer, non-binary person, my work is motivated by an existential need to understand and express myself and to connect with others.” The exhibition title is excerpted from a creative text Dugan wrote to accompany these photographs in their newest book, Look at me like you love me, self-described as a “visual poem.” Additional passages from the book are installed throughout the exhibition as a poetic current flowing under the works.

Although Dugan began their Every Breath We Drew series in 2011, this exhibition focuses on photographs made since 2019, particularly those created since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Citing a period of “heightened self-reflection” during the pandemic, Dugan told a PhotoVogue interviewer that they were “thinking about what is lost when we’re not in relationships with other people personally or communally.” Through still lifes, portraits of individuals and couples, and self-portraits, the artist addresses relationships, connection, love, loss, aging, and more. In Red tulips, a white bottle filled with eight unopened flowers sits atop a solitary wooden table. Sunlight from a nearby window rakes across and creates a shadowy ghost of the cut flowers. For Collin at sunset—which was also on view at University Galleries during the summer for the Teen Art Group-curated exhibition, In Living Color —one of Dugan’s frequent collaborators looks directly at the camera while casually reclining in a lush field of violets. Meanwhile, in Self-portrait (mirror), the artist faces a mirror while turned away from the viewer. Their iris-tattooed arms are folded overhead, obscuring part of their reflection. The works share aspects of Dugan’s story while remaining open enough for interpreting collective experiences of connection.

I want you to know my story is the focus of multiple educational programs. Jess T. Dugan will give a public artist lecture and meet with students. University Galleries’ staff will lead professional development workshops for educators and art-making workshops for ISU students, families, K-12 students, and community members. University Galleries continues collaborating with the Children’s Discovery Museum for Art Around You, a series of virtual exhibition tours and workshops for children ages 7 through 10. Free virtual and in-person curator-led tours are available by appointment for the duration of the exhibition. Milner Library has compiled a reading list inspired by Dugan’s work.

Jess T. Dugan: I want you to know my story is organized by Kendra Paitz, University Galleries’ director and chief curator. This exhibition and programming are supported by University Galleries’ grants from the Illinois Arts Council Agency and the Alice and Fannie Fell Trust.

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