Giving a voice to queer perspectives in the mythic West.


My name is Liv Hart, and while I may not be your typical cowgirl, I’ve got a knack for shooting straight, spitting truths, and I’m hellbent on illuminating stories of the West overshadowed by half-truths. As an artist committed to challenging historical omissions and elevating voices pushed to the sidelines, I’ve made it my mission to unravel the myths and stereotypes that have long clouded our understanding of this iconic region.

I moved to Bozeman after graduating college in the East. It was my first time living a life for myself, by myself. I was struggling to make sense of my place and direction in the world, as I was also confronting and coming to terms with my queer identity—something I had been shameful about for a time. But through creative projects and making, I was able to better understand myself and my voice as a person coming into a community of acceptance. I found my niche in design, and I knew I wanted to use this medium to tell stories, and to stand up for people like me—the kids who grew up with little to no mention of queer folks in the history books.

I left Montana’s sprawling mountains for the city skyline of Brooklyn to get a master’s degree in design two years ago, but I couldn’t shake the passion I had for the place I’d left behind. So, I’ve dedicated the majority of my time in this program to unearthing the hidden truths and secret lives of the West, the types where history books will say they were just friends, if you know what I mean.

The Wild West as we’ve come to know it, often glorified through Hollywood’s lens, has painted a narrow and exclusionary picture. From the rugged cowboy to the stoic pioneer, Hollywood archetypes have dominated our screens, leaving little room for the diverse experiences of those who existed beyond the confines of heteronormativity. That’s where my journey began.

My research dives deep into the rich stories of queer individuals who thrived in frontier spaces, beloved by their peers, and who contributed greatly to their communities—even if just on the basis of living authentically. Take Mother George of Idaho, for example. She was a cross-dressing Black woman who served as a midwife in her small town of Gray’s Lake, delivering hundreds of babies in her lifetime, or Evelyn Cameron, a fierce frontierswoman and documentarian of life in Terry, Montana, through a camera lens. Famous cowgirl Calamity Jane of the Black Hills often wore men’s clothing; Harry Allen of Seattle was a cross-dressing outlaw; and Charles Emerson was a queer businessman who found mining success in Colorado. The list goes on and includes colorful stories of lives that most people never hear about. In a time before the spectrum of queerness found its voice (I use the language of cross-dressing and queer to encapsulate their experience), their love stories and presentation unfolded silently, defying the confines of convention. Their identities, nameless yet resilient, remind us of a history untold, where authenticity transcended the boundaries of an era.

I found these life stories through sifting dusty archives of journal entries, recovering forgotten photographs and reading 19th-century scrawled love letters. I learned about current climates of queerness over conversations in coffee shops with historians and locals who pointed me further in directions of intrigue, and I buried myself in literary gems that unpack myriad angles of the Western myth—providing a well-rounded picture beyond my own topic of interest. I uncovered tales of resilience, community and rebellion that deeply challenge the mainstream narrative of the West. Addressing erasure by illuminating the voices of queer individuals, I’ve found that all this searching serves as a catalyst for exploring broader themes such as masculinity, capitalism, politics, perception and intersectionality within the American story. By breaking down what we know and implementing new perspectives, we can all become better educated on the diverse truths of our country.

At the heart of my thesis exhibition last fall was a massive piece (pictured): a billboard-sized poster masquerading as a vintage Western film ad. Carefully examining the bright- colored formula and design of a midcentury movie through a collage process, I dove head-first into the very DNA of Western cinema—dissecting the tired tropes and overworked cowboy clichés that have dominated our screens by remaking them, but with a twist. Knowing that typical cinematic portrayals of Westerns often reduce queer individuals to mere caricatures or erase them altogether, perpetuating harmful stereotypes, I wanted to make them the star of the show.

My poster depicts iconic figures including John Wayne and Dean Martin from the 1965 film The Sons of Katie Elder, evoking a familiar imagery of the genre. I chose this piece to incorporate into my collaged film poster because the two cowboys, along with two others, are backing up into each other with guns raised and pointed into the abyss—they are metaphorically protecting their precious archetype that’s been studio designed. But, upon closer inspection, viewers of the exhibition were invited to peel back sections of the poster layer, revealing the faces of queer people who walked these lands long before us. Suspended on a wall 3 feet from the ground, visitors ripped and pulled and tore back the film poster, titled The Great Take Down, uncovering an eye, or a mouth, or even a framed face of a queer Westerner. It was a journey of discovery, where each torn piece added depth and richness to the story. By juxtaposing Hollywood’s glossy visuals with the forgotten histories of queer trailblazers, my work challenged viewers to confront the erasure of these voices and rethink their understanding of frontier life.

My goal is simple: to spark conversations, broaden perspectives and champion the importance of queer representation in shaping our collective history. In an age where censorship looms large through political means, shedding light on this overlooked aspect of our regional history is not just a passion—it’s a necessity. Here’s to breaking barriers, one billboard-sized exhibition at a time.

Liv Hart is a Brooklyn-based designer and multimedia artist. She focuses her practice on activism and queer identity, folding her own life experience into her works. She also loves to sing, play guitar and ski.