The Importance of Queer Art and Performance


Barbara Barreto | Contributor

Featured image courtesy of Barbara Barreto

I remember my first Janelle Monáe concert. It took place in Toronto’s City Hall at the closing ceremony for the 2015 Pan Am games. She was wearing a black and white, funky suit, and, while she was singing and dancing, I was right by the stage, mouthing the lyrics to Q.U.E.E.N and waiting for the part that goes “Am I a freak because I love watching Mary?”

That moment was really meaningful to me because I grew up with straight women like Madonna, Cher, and Britney Spears representing queer people in pop culture. Performative ally-ship was important and revolutionary in the 90’s to 00’s, but what about actual queer representation? It might not seem like a big deal, but ally-ship and queer representation are indeed different things. It was okay to be an ally, but it was not okay to be gay.

I’ve always been passionate about art because it allows me to express my identity; it liberates the great turmoil of feelings, and organizes the abstract mental images of my head. It’s something so magical, it can’t be defined. Art is welcoming of every form of self-expression, and that includes our sexuality.

Queer art is not a new concept. In fact, homoerotic artifacts existed since Ancient Greece. From the Classical Antiquity period with Sappho of Lesbos, the first writer of lyric poetry, to Netflix original series Sense8. Queer art and performance has come a long way. Yet, much of that history was censored, or erased throughout the centuries by the perversion of the queer identity concept. It was always something that ‘children should not be exposed to,’ and ironically, if I had known about my queer identity as a kid, I would not have gone through such a painful process of self-acceptance.

Although today we have acquired some presence in the media, the situation is still far from ideal. The characterization of queer characters in TV series, and movies written and produced by straight people, has resulted in fabrications based on stereotypes. It’s executed either with the exaggerated, comedic tone, or the over-sexualized encounters. Real representation is still rare, and should not depend on the liberal conformity of ‘pink money’ and ‘queer-baiting’ to stay alive.

As a community, we must continue to honour the revolutionary chants of the Stonewall riots, the historical reclamation of the word ‘queer’ in the 80’s, and continue the fight for  our visibility and representation in every way possible, especially in art. After all, queer art and performance was never only about the graceful aesthetic of art itself; it was always something more: A statement that screams, ‘we exist’.

Queer Artists at York





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