The month of June is a time to celebrate LGBTQ communities. It’s a moment to reflect on the rich history and culture of the queer community, as well as more recent advances made in the realm of civil liberties. This year, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many queer individuals are navigating greater risks to their health, safety, and livelihoods.
Cognizant of the need to stay connected and elevate queer voices amid uncertainty, Hyperallergic is commemorating Pride Month by featuring one queer art worker per day on our website and asking them to reflect on what this time means to them.
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What’s your name?
Where are you based currently?
Describe who you are and what you do.
I’m a painter who paints people, mostly from the LGBTQI+ community.
Tell us about your greatest achievement or something you’ve done lately that you’re proud of.
A recent highlight has been having my portrait of prominent queer photographer Lola Flash being exhibited (virtually) in the BP Portrait Award show at the National Portrait Gallery London. I’m thrilled to be able to shine a spotlight on Lola and her work and to have this painting of a proud Black queer artist in this internationally renowned exhibition.
Favorite ways to celebrate your queerness and community?
I love to celebrate friends in the queer arts community and go to their performances, exhibitions, film screenings, and book launches, and to have these events be a reason for people to gather. My solo exhibition Queer Portraits took place last year and I really enjoyed seeing people interact with the work, and that the exhibition became an occasion for people to come together and celebrate queer creatives, artists, doctors, writers, gardeners, performers, and others in our community.
What’s been top of mind for you lately?
The Black Lives Matter movement has definitely been on my mind of late and I’m conscious that I really want to be a better advocate for our community and share whatever platform I might have with more people. I want to learn more about the ways in which I experience privilege as a white artist, how I have benefitted from inherently racist systems, how I am complicit. I come from New Zealand and so have always been very conscious of the ways in which the British Empire rode roughshod across the globe. I’ve always keenly felt the legacy of land taken, resources pillaged, lives lost, and communities and cultures decimated in the wake of colonialism. I hope to find constructive ways to address this in my work and to use the genre of portraiture to begin to redress this balance and amplify important voices.
Talk to us about your immediate queer community/support systems. (Feel free to shout out other folks or organizations you think are doing important work.)
I have an extensive network of queer creatives and queers in the corporate world in London and it’s noticeable how much we are all checking in with each other. Many of us live far from family by choice or circumstance and there has been a great upswell of support for those of us who are on our own or need extra support. I’ve felt very connected to people during this time.
How are you celebrating Pride Month this time around?
By painting! Not being able to gather and celebrate is certainly tough but my work as a queer portrait painter goes on and is really at its heart, a celebration of queer drive and success in its many varied forms. I am embarking on a new series of large queer portraits of campaigners in our community and am currently painting activists Peter Tatchell and Jonathan Blake.
Are there ways you think queer artists and art workers could be better supported?
Yes, absolutely. Queer art is important as is visibility and our communities face unique challenges. Institutions could prioritize queer art — in many instances it still remains niche and that is a problem. I would also love to see more mentoring programs develop so that young queer artists can have positive role models in their lives and we can make connections across generations.
In the communities that you’re part of, what are you hoping to see shift in the future?
Within the LGBTQI+ community there are many points of fissure and I just really hope we can all pull together to enact greater change. The current ‘debate’ over trans folk has really saddened me. Trans people are members of our community who are at the most risk and need not only our wholehearted support and solidarity but to be celebrated for who they are. We need to look to them for the things they can teach us and most importantly, we need to listen to their lived experiences.
What’s the first thing you’re planning to do when it feels safer to physically gather again?
I can’t wait to see friends here in London and would also love to head home to New Zealand to see family when it’s safe to do so.
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