Auckland-based artist Shannon Novak is showing his Symplegma exhibition as part of Whanganui Pride Week, but his works aren't the only thing he's brought with him.
Novak, whose exhibition is showing at Sarjeant on the Quay, is the founder and director of Safe Space Alliance, a non-profit organisation that aims to help people identify, navigate and create safe spaces for the LGBTQI+ community worldwide.
The aim of Safe Space Alliance, now a global initiative, was to get to the core of particular issues that might be affecting a local LGBTQI+ community, Novak said.
"It's about tapping into the local community, consulting with them and finding out what's going on.
"Then we look to see how we can improve the situation, possibly by the use of safe spaces, which is one of many things we can do.
"People might say things like 'New Zealand's pretty liberal, you can get married, do we even need Pride and safe spaces?', and then I point them to stats around youth suicide and family violence being over double for the LGBTQI+ community, and the fact that there are beatings in public.
"Stats are telling us that something isn't right, and we're definitely not there yet."
In terms of the Whanganui rainbow community, Novak said added financial and professional support for places like Pride Whanganui would go a long way.
"Christina [Emery, Pride Whanganui trustee] is pretty much operating solo, so it would be great to have another resource she could use to do things, like counselling.
"Even just help sharing the sheer load. I've spent a week with her and you notice people going in and coming out and talking all the time, and it's a lot for one person to take in."
Novak said a spate of homophobic assaults in New Zealand highlighted the fact that the country still had a long way to go in terms of full acceptance of those in the rainbow community.
"There was one in New Plymouth very recently that happened in broad daylight.
"It was just two 14-year-old girls who were simply holding hands in public, and they got jumped by a gang of people and beaten up to the point that they had to go to hospital.
"It's really not just a small-town thing, it's a New Zealand thing, and the reality is it's still not safe for LGBTQI+ people to hold hands in public, and it's 2021.
"I don't expect to be attacked, but it's those other little things like people looking at me funny, or saying something under their breath.
"I certainly wouldn't hold my partner's hand anywhere in New Zealand."
Novak said a lot of the places he had talked at were "already safe, and had been so for years", so it was just a matter of helping them formalise it, make them visible and create a network around them.
"Again, the key is having them linked in with the local community, so Safe Space Alliance really tries to connect with local LGBTQI+ groups like Pride Whanganui to really understand what's happening on the ground."
Safe Space was an "umbrella organisation" which provided a visual identity and a network, and local LGBTQI+ organisations did the ground training in their particular area.
"They know their issues, and they know the people, and essentially that means it drives all the revenue and income to the local community, as opposed to the Safe Space Alliance itself.
"We are a registered charitable trust, with no intention to make money. We don't charge anyone to sign up to be a safe space or to be a partner."
As for the Symplegma exhibition, Novak said it was created to show the past, present and future of Whanganui's rainbow community.
Artworks from the Sarjeant's own collection feature in Symplegma and Novak said he had done some small installations or "artistic interventions" in places like the Whanganui Regional Museum.
"The 'present' features individual portraits of people from the LGBTQI+ community in Whanganui, and the roses symbolise how closeted or closed they are, or how open they are," Novak said.
"That came about just by interviewing and meeting with locals and talking about how they felt.
"There's always that range from 'I can't deal with it, there's no way I'd let anybody know', right up to 'yeah, there are challenges but it's okay'.
"The final part, 'future', is the window at the front of the Sarjeant.
"You can see Whanganui through it, it's bright and it's positive.
"It's a view to Whanganui being an awesome place for the LGBTQI+ community.
"Let's leave on a positive note."
For more information on Safe Space Alliance, go to safespacealliance.com.