ART News

QUEER IDENTITIES AT THE CENTRE

CHANGES IN REPRESENTATION IN NEW MEDIA AND ART

1st June 2022 | Guest Writer: Marianna Capelli
It's Pride Month! Our guest writer Marianna Capelli reflects on queer representation in media and art and introduces 3 LGBTQIA+ artists working on themes of intimacy and found family.
In the last few months, the LGBTQIA community has welcomed two outstanding new series, HBO Max's Our Flag Means Death and Netflix’s Heartstopper. They are very different products: the first is a romantic comedy reimagining the legendary lives of pirates Stede Bonnet and Blackbeard, whereas the second is a coming-of-age story following a group of British teenagers. What is striking about the two series is that they both distance themselves from the queerbaiting trend,[1] which is sadly typical of mainstream television. The characters, who are openly queer, naturally face obstacles and hardships, sometimes due to the expression of their sexualities or genders. However, their stories do not feed off trauma: writers do not reduce them to narratives of pain and loss, as an unspoken punishment for their identity (like in the bury-your-gays trope).[2]

People of the LGBTQIA+ community, as well as racialised individuals, have grown accustomed to accepting the bare minimum when it comes to representation. Such portrayals are inaccurate and heavily stereotyped because, as a rule, society encourages straight and white-centred points of view. However, proper representation can be vital to minorities: recognising your experience as something real and outside of yourself can bring comfort and validation. For instance, watching queer characters live out their lives can help save lives in the LGBTQIA+ community. A world where queer adults can thrive, even in their mundane routines, normalises queer existence: this way, teens can envision a future for themselves, which does not necessarily focus on trauma.

Untitled (All Kin is Blood Kin), 2020, Coyote Park. Courtesy of the artist.

It is also refreshing to see depictions of queer intimacy and tenderness, not exploited as means to over-sexualise or demonise non-straight relationships. It also introduces the concept of found family. Not particularly explored in media, chosen families play a crucial part in queer people's lives: they are sanctuaries in the community where to find unconditional support, comfort and strength. Featuring a variety of queer experiences, they centre queer characters as flawed individuals, neither perfect nor evil, without having their identity used for content. As odd as it may sound, LGBTQIA+ people are finally being represented as people.
This phenomenon is present in other media outlets: in the Arts, for instance, queer art and artists have historically been considered through their "otherness" as hypersexual, transgressive and exotic. It cannot be the single reality of public queerness: it erases the plurality in LGBTQIA+ identities and reduces a group of people to an idealised concept. In this same way, artists are increasingly reacting to the faulty perception of queerness in art.

By centring their stories (or the stories of their communities) in their work, these creatives show a new, personal point of view that is humanising, tender, and real.

Levis UK in collaboration with Queer Britain, Alia Romagnoli, 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

Alia Romagnoli (she/they) is an Indian-Italian photographer and art director. Focusing on fashion and portraiture, she draws inspiration from old Bollywood films, stills and posters from the 1970s-80s and Maharani portraits in Indian folk paintings.[3] Their photographs describe beautiful scenes of intimacy and mesmerize the viewer through their rich, bright hues. Themes of identity and representation are central to their work: “I never saw fat bodies, mixed-race individuals, the LGBTQIA+ community the way we wanted to be portrayed”.[4]

After joining the LGBTQIA+ South-Asian community in London, her found family, she started embracing queerness in their life and art production. By inserting queerness in a pre-existing cultural context, Romagnoli reclaims her tradition and cultural identity and writes herself back in the narrative.
Collaboration with Henna company Huq That, published by VICE, 2019, Alia Romagnoli. Courtesy of the artist.
Coyote Park (he/they) is a 2Spirit (Korean, German and Yurok Native, indigenous to Northern California) visual artist from Honolulu, Hawai’i, now based in LA. They are a transgender multidisciplinary artist (photography, writing, performance, painting, producing, creative direction) exploring themes of chosen family, rebirth and intimacy. In the ongoing (2020-current) series All Kin is Blood Kin, he explores family – chosen and biological l- sexuality, intimacy, representation of bodies and love. Capturing snippets of domestic life, Park documents the concept of home in a queer context through pictures of their interactions with partners, friends and chosen family members.

Untitled (All Kin is Blood Kin), 2020, Coyote Park. Courtesy of the artist.

“There are endless possibilities for us in these lifetimes: possibilities of happiness, intimacy, growth, exploration […]. My community is powerful, beautiful, and important. Love is and always will be the message.”[5]

Untitled (All Kin is Blood Kin), 2020, Coyote Park. Courtesy of the artist.

Clifford Prince King (he/him) is an artist and photographer living and working in NY and LA. His intimate photographs capture moments of tenderness between queer Black men. Stepping away from the over-sexualisation of Black individuals, he places his subjects in familiar, ordinary scenes. In this way, the people photographed are very recognisable: they could be our friends, lovers, or ourselves. His work shows “Black people in an everyday setting, in the way we see ourselves”.[6]

Safe Space,  2020, Clifford Prince King. Courtesy of the artist.

King explores Black men's queerness sensitively seeking a non-voyeuristic approach, showing vulnerability and affectionate love, to an extent we rarely see portrayed. Thus, he refuses the racially motivated expectations that present Black men in exclusively hyper-masculine roles, intentionally featuring individuals expressing their masculinity in a diversified and healthy way.

Growing Each Day, 2019, Clifford Prince King. Courtesy of the artist.

Accurate representation can make a significant difference in the public understanding of queerness. Creatives from the LGBTQIA+ community reclaim their identities through their work by being honest with themselves and their viewers. By giving space to themes of domesticity, family and intimacy, they strike conversations on identity that do not concentrate on hyper-sexualisation, trauma or suffering.


In this way, the realistic representation of queerness in new media and art can be a healing tool for both the creators and the consumers, who see themselves in the final product.
References:
[1] Queerbaiting is a marketing technique in which creators hint at –but then do not include- queer relationships, romance or other LGBTQIA+ content.
[2] The bury-your-gays trope refers to the normalisation of suffering and death as the main theme of LGBTQIA+ characters, who often are killed off by the end of the film/series/book.
[3] Maharani indicates either the wife of the Maharaja (Sanskrit title for a “great ruler”) or also a woman ruling without a husband.
[4] Extract from the interview by Shado Magazine. Published July 27th 2019. Last viewed 29/05/2022.
[5] Julia Kai Fink’s interview on Intersect Magazine. Published January 14th 2022. Last viewed 29/05/2022.
[6] Edward Siddons’ interview on The Guardian. Published October 27th 2021. Last viewed 29/05/2022.

About the Writer
Marianna Capelli was born in the middle of nowhere, Northern Italy. She moved to London in 2015 to study Asian Art History and Mandarin Chinese at SOAS University of London and fell in love with the contemporary art world.

Temporarily back to the provincial life, she spends her days burying her nose in a book (or multiple books, mostly). The rest of the time, Marianna likes being opinionated about things and writing about art, culture and everything queer.

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