I had no clue what to expect when I logged online for the Queer Spectra Arts Festival. Usually, I am not able to fully experience art safely without banishing one or most of my identities to the netherworld of exclusion. To my surprise, Queer Spectra was an explosion of inclusivity and excellence. The 3D virtual gallery could be explored like a real museum exhibit. It was an amalgamation of dance, poetry, song, paint, and sculpture. There was no implied definition of what art should or shouldn’t be. So often, queer and minority art are not allowed to be vague and experimental, nor too political or too gay, nor even too present at all. But here was a welcoming, in the unrefined and imperfect; an allowance for the art to be truly honest and undeniably human at its core. Every piece was significant, and it was all beautiful.
Ivana Steponabitch Presents the Roller Derby was quirky, cute, full of humor and absolutely relatable. Deus Homo Deus, through three lucid photos, vividly captures and humanizes transmasculine men in different points of their transitions. As a trans man, it’s not often I see aspects of my transness represented in media. But these photos caused me to reflect and see myself – where I was, where I am now, where I may be. In Burrow, Tousle it felt like I was seeing snippets of life, memories at the periphery that stay planted in your mind as they fade on and off the screen of memory – akin to a dream that wants to last forever but is beginning to change. This calm weaving contrasts nicely with the other works in the gallery that live in warmer colors. Bedroom Stories fills the audience with warmth and happiness as it shares a celebration of the journey towards self-love and womanhood. Olive Juice is lighthearted and wholesome as it takes viewers on a ride, literally and figuratively. (The mystery is whether or not a confession of love was meant for one of the characters, or for a jar of olives.)
As I immersed myself in the gallery, I didn’t feel the usual unease of having to leave my queerness, my Asian-ness, or my disabled-ness behind to enjoy the art. I could safely wander and become consumed by emotion, get lost in the immersion of vibrant pinks and blues and murky greens and purples that embodied the queer experiences being exhibited. Instead of feeling like an outsider, I felt like I belonged in this space. I felt like I belonged in this world. The void between the art and the audience grew nonexistent – the festival welcomed a reality of acceptance and visibility for all. I encourage you to visit the gallery as it stays open for a bit after the festival has ended!
Beyond the gallery, various workshops and panels encouraged the audience and artists to further engage in the festival. The first workshop was a dive into queer re-writing of classic fairytales. Before I knew it, I had come to a surprisingly complex reimagining of the Little Mermaid as an LGBT+, sci-fi, dark fantasy wuxia. The second workshop was a guided movement exploration that was stress-free and cultivated excitement and fun. We were encouraged to connect with our bodies and explore the movement, working in togetherness instead of alone.
Panels were held between events that continued to connect and humanize both artists and audience alike. In the phenomenal keynote presentation, Timothy White Eagle spoke of giving thanks and the sacredness of human connection. In an inspirational dialogue, he told us that we belong and that we will transform the world into a better place. White Eagle goes beyond normalizing queerness to proving that it’s divine – both historically and presently.
The Queer Spectra Arts Festival is a radical reimagining of what art has the potential to be. It left me feeling hopeful and at ease. I was free to experience the visceral emotions of the art, whether they be rage, fear, sadness, pain, hope, joy, melancholy, happiness, euphoria or satisfaction. Rarely have I ever felt so safe to indulge in these emotions without a dissociation of my identities. There is a deep harmony between the art, the artists, and the audience, and it fosters a world where everyone has a place to be themselves.
This article is published in collaboration with loveDANCEmore.org.
You can still experience much of this year’s festival at Queer Spectra’s website.
UTAH’S ART MAGAZINE SINCE 2001, 15 Bytes is published by Artists of Utah, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.