LGBT History Month: Reflecting on Queer Art

by Jamie (he/they), JCR Equalities Rep, Winkworth House, West Village

Photo credit: Jamie; art displayed on his corkboard.

This year’s LGBT History Month theme was ‘politics in art’. I wanted to write this short piece to focus on my own queer experience in Bristol, and how queer artistry has shaped that.

I came to Bristol knowing I wanted to get more involved in the queer scene here. I knew there was a lot to explore, and I started that exploration from the comforts of my new room. At my accommodation, we have a fairly big corkboard, which I spent a couple weeks intricately filling with iconic queer artistry, whether that be a painting of St Sebastian, a photo from a Gay Liberation Front march, or the more sombre ‘Perfect Lovers’  (1991) by Felix Gonzalez-Torres: two clocks that started in synchronization, but slowly drift apart due to batteries running out, representative of two lovers falling out of sync as one passes from AIDS.

I also came to Bristol knowing I’d gotten LGBT accommodation. A couple of people have asked me why that was something that mattered for me. I’d say it’s mostly about being able to relax. Especially as a trans person, there’s a lot running through my mind when I meet new people, and I wanted to make sure that coming out and wondering whether my flatmates were okay with ‘the whole trans thing’ wasn’t something I’d have to think about in my first week living away from home. I lucked out. I have an amazing group of friends in my flat and the flat below, many of whom are trans.

To mark the end of LGBT History Month, I finally succeeded in pestering some of them to watch Pride (2014). This iconic film is probably the most foundational piece of queer art to form part of my identity, and I share it with everyone and anyone I come across. It helped me navigate my identity, and become more aware of the community that being queer welcomes you into. It’s highly political, and despite being set in the 1984-85 Miners Strike, the messages still hold power today, showing both the progress we have made, and the progress we have yet to make. It’s also just very fun to watch. As you’re hit with the raw emotions of some scenes, others make you cry out laughing, or repeatedly hum the tune to “every woman is a lesbian at heart”.

A badge I wear often says, “everything is art, everything is politics”. I feel like that’s especially true for queer art. When our livelihoods are deemed a ‘political issue’, or a ‘hot topic’ that can be debated on live TV, expressing ourselves through art also becomes a political act, often of rebellion, and of course, of pride. While many people immediately recognise or associate Keith Haring’s art with his radiant baby figure or the small barking dog, much of his focus was on activism, such as his ‘safe sex’ and ‘crack is whack’ campaigns. A significant portion of his art was also a visceral depiction of erotic queerness, a hugely political angle considering the backdrop of the AIDS crisis.

I love the university’s queer community. I love how active our trans network and LGBTQ+ society are. I love being able to live as queerly as I dare, and discover drag artists beyond the array of Drag Race superstars, and dance all night in clubs to a set of songs more camp than Eurovision.

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