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Queer Art: What is it and Why is it Important?


Man in White Dress Shirt Holding Red Bouquet
Photo by ALLAN FRANCA CARMO on Pexels

CW: This article discusses topics of homophobia that may be distressing to some viewers.


What do we mean by 'Queer Art'?


Queer Art is an umbrella term for a range of artistic forms and practices that explore the varieties and depths of queer identity (The Art Story). Originating from the Queer Art Movement, it has an extensive history that remains in its purview, as queer people continue to fight for equality and acceptance.


Whilst the term 'Queer' is regularly used to celebrate, embody and describe the varying experiences of the LGBTQ+ community, it was previously an oppressive and homophobic term, pointing to the early criminilisation of homosexual acts and the social stigma connected to homosexuality (The Art Story). During this time, Queer Artists employed coded visual language throughout their work that covertly denoted their identities, such as the green carnation or peacock feathers (Art Explora).


However, during the rise of activism in the wake of the Civil Rights protests and the AIDS epidemic that began in 1981, Queer Art became more overt, encouraging recognition of queer culture and highlighting homophobia.


"These artworks by LGTBQI+ artists are all balanced on this fine edge, respecting the persecution and suffering of these communities while also enjoying and celebrating the love, fun and freedom to be found within them." - By Bryony White on Google Arts and Culture


Whilst we've seen several improvements in the regard and acknowledgement of queer identities since then, with a number of advances in legal rights throughout the 2000s, the reality is queer people still face injustice, inequality and hate crimes in their everyday lives.


What does Queer Art look like?


So how do queer people advocate for themselves and celebrate their identities through their artistic practices? The answer is: in a myriad of wonderfully different ways. Queer Art does not encompass a set of rules that seeks to limit the artist's expression. Each artist will have a different perspective, a unique identity and their own distinctive style.


Take Claude Cahun, for instance: a French photographer, writer and political activist, with their performative works exploring the binary view of gender and fixed identities. Laura Aguilar: a Mexican-American photographer who sought to empower her community through the photographic depiction of a range of subjects and bodies that have been excluded from art history (The Art Story).


More recently, we might consider the likes of Claye Bowler, Christina Quarles or Jonathan Lyndon Chase. Alongside this short list of queer artists are a whole lot more whose work engages with a diverse range of processes, materials and subject matter.


So why is Queer Art important?


Queer Art doesn't just benefit the artist; it recognises queer identities and encourages their expression. Politically, it encourages visibility of the LGBTQ+ community, providing representation of marginalised groups as part of a cultural imperative. It points to the development from censored queer art to queer representation and does so in a way that is often joyful, thoughtful and powerful.


Additionally, it creates a safe space for other queer people, artists or art-enjoyers, to consider their own sexuality and feel encouraged and accepted as they do so. Importantly, it allows other queer people to see themselves represented in the art world (SDLGBTN). For allies, queer art can point to the lives, experiences and histories of LGBTQ+ people, raising awareness and providing thoughtful insight.


When we think about the importance of the arts in general; of its contribution to the economy, its tackling of social injustice, its positive impact on wellbeing and culture (Arts Council), we are also thinking about the importance of Queer Art. Whilst Queer Art has its own individual purpose, through its adoption of artistic processes, its benefits are akin to every other art form.


So, how can you support queer artists?


Firstly, educating yourself on queer history is always a good start (Asia Ewart on Shutterstock), and if you're interested in the arts, there is plenty of information out there on queer artists and their work through time. Keeping up to date with LGBTQ+ news is also a supportive way for allies to gain a sense of what might be impacting the lives of their queer friends and loved ones.


Show up to exhibitions that showcase the work of queer artists and support them simply by viewing, sharing and perhaps even buying their work. Social media in particular is a wonderful way of sharing queer art and demonstrating your support for the artists.


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