Showing posts with label Gay Art. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gay Art. Show all posts

January 10, 2019

Biggest Ever LGBT Asian Contemporary Art Show Coming To Bangkok

“Spectrosynthesis II” is the expanded second edition of a similar exhibition that the Sunpride Foundation co-presented at Taipei’s Museum of Contemporary Art in 2017.
Patrick Sun Kai-yit, the founder of Sunpride, announced today that the 2019 exhibition will be held at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre from November 23.
“Thailand is a natural choice for us because Bangkok, like Taipei, is another home base for me outside of Hong Kong,” Sun said. “The city has always had a reputation for being friendly to the LGBT community, now strengthened by plans for a bill to legalise same-sex civil partnership.”

The foundation was also pleased to find a partner in the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC), the city’s biggest contemporary art space, which promotes diversity and inclusiveness as part of its official mission, Sun added. More than 50 artists from various Asian countries will be included in the show, with works belonging to the foundation’s collection as well as loans. There will also be new commissions by artists such as Thailand’s Arin Rungjang and Jakkai Siributr.
Among the highlights will be photographs by the late Ren Hang, a young, gay, Chinese artist who left behind a series of striking portraits of his friends after taking his own life in 2017.
Enid TsuiEnid TsuiA Hong Kong-based charity that uses art to fight sexual-orientation discrimination is taking the largest ever LGBT Asian contemporary art exhibition to Bangkok in November

Sun compared Ren to Lionel Wendt, a Sri Lankan photographer who also died young.
“We will also be showing Wendt’s works, which were avant garde at the time and remain influential even though camera technology has improved a lot. Ren was also doing something nobody had ever done before when he documented his generation in China. I believe his work will live on,” he said.
The foundation will also bring selections from an extraordinary series called “The New Pre-Raphaelites” by India’s Sunil Gupta that it acquired recently. Gupta, who is HIV-positive and a vocal LGBT activist, borrows from Greek myths and Pre-Raphaelite ideals in his portrayal of same-sex couples in India, where there is very limited home-grown iconography that can be borrowed.
Other artists at the exhibition will include Dinh Q. Le, Maria Taniguchi, Ming Wong, Danh Vo and Samson Young. 
“Spectrosynthesis II is a project rather than just an exhibition,” said Pawit Mahasarinand, director of the BACC. “We are also planning, with many local partners, film screenings, stage performances, talks, forums and symposiums at our centre and at other venues. As we’re exploring these issues socially, culturally, politically as well as historically, we’d like to make sure that the public engage in this dialogue.”
Sun believes art can play a role in bridging the divide between policies and public opinion.
“That such a gap exists explains why in Taiwan, a referendum rejected the high court’s ruling that same-sex marriage ought to be allowed. The path to equality is never smooth, and art and culture may help change people’s views and encourage social acceptance,” he said.

The exhibition includes LGBT artists who may or may not make their sexuality explicit in their works, and heterosexual artists whose works feature LGBT themes.
Sun said that an artist’s sexual orientation is relevant to his or her art because all art reflects something about its creator.
“Even if artists don’t think their sexuality is relevant, their identity will still come through their work, I think. Also, the audience may find a fresh way of interpreting a work when it is shown in an LGBT exhibition. For example, Samson Young’s Muted Situation with the silenced choir may be seen in a different context here than when it was shown at the Venice Biennale,” he said. 
The word “spectrosynthesis” merges the words spectrum and photosynthesis, thus shining a light on the LGBT community’s rich and diverse history, he added.

Heading to Bangkok

  • Spectrosynthesis II will be held at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre from November 23
  • More than 50 artists will feature, including Sunil Gupta, Arin Rungjang, Maria Taniguchi, Hong Kong’s Samson Young and the late Ren Hang

December 11, 2018

All The Evidence Tells Leonardo da Vinci Was Gay, Here is Some More

A new TV series about Leonardo da Vinci that portrays the Italian artist and thinker as a gay outsider has reopened a long-running debate about his sexuality. 
The eight-episode drama, entitled Leonardo, was co-created by Sherlock writer Stephen Thompson and is due to premiere next year to coincide with the 500-year anniversary of da Vinci’s death. Each episode of the series, commissioned by a coalition of European broadcasters, will revolve around one of his masterworks, reports The Times. 
Asked about the decision to depict the Renaissance polymath as gay, Thompson told entertainment magazine Variety: “It’s certainly a feature but it’s not the main pillar on which we are hanging it.”
All the same, the question of da Vinci’s sexuality has been discussed at length by countless historians.
The artist never married and although his writings “do not disclose any specific romantic interests, most recent biographers have concluded that he almost certainly had same-sex desires”, says The Times.
As Kandice Rawlings of Oxford University Press notes, “there’s no way of knowing Leonardo’s sexual orientation for sure” but “scholars’ opinions on the issue fall along a spectrum between ‘maybe’ and ‘very probably’”.
US historian Walter Isaacson’s biography Leonardo Da Vinci, published last year, portrays the artist as “a comparably modern figure”, says The New Yorker. Da Vinci is “not merely ‘human’, as the author likes to point out, but a blithe societal misfit: illegitimate, gay, vegetarian, left-handed, easily distracted, and at times heretical”, the magazine adds.
Accusation of sodomy
The only historical document concerning the painter’s sexual life is an accusation of sodomy made in 1476, while he was a student at the workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio. Da Vinci and three other young men were accused of sodomising Jacopo Saltarelli, an apprentice goldsmith and male prostitute, but the charges were later dismissed.
However, accusing someone of sodomy in 15th-century Florence “was not an infrequent tactic used to cause someone else trouble”, says ThoughtCo. Da Vinci was anonymously accused, and “it’s quite tempting to speculate that the accuser was a lesser-talented artist”, the educational website adds.
One of the few references that Da Vinci made to sexuality in his notebooks states: “The act of procreation and anything that has any relation to it is so disgusting that human beings would soon die out if there were no pretty faces and sensuous dispositions.”
But in his book, Leonardo: The Artist and the Man, historian Serge Bramly argues that “the fact that Leonardo warns against lustfulness certainly need not mean that he himself was chaste”.

 Freud's view
Many people believe Da Vinci was homosexual because Sigmund Freud said so, in a 1910 essay. In the paper, titled Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of his Childhood, the renowned psychoanalysis argues that the artist was celibate but was secretly gay, and that he sublimated these inclinations through a deep study of human anatomy.
“Freud pointed to a coldly clinical drawing of heterosexual intercourse among da Vinci’s notes, which shows the lovers standing up, like mannequins,” writes The Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones, who adds that “Leonardo drew many highly detailed studies of the anal sphincter”.
Jones believes Da Vinci was “almost certainly gay,” but points out that he was also “passionately involved with women  -  on canvas, at least”.
Canadian historian Elizabeth Abbott agrees that Leonardo was probably homosexual, and believes that the trauma of the sodomy case led him to follow a life of celibacy for the remainder of his years.
“To minimise or deny his homosexual orientation, he probably opted for the safety device of chastity,” Abbott writes in her book History of Celibacy.
The Week

September 18, 2018

Reimagining The Gay Gaze With Such Figures As These


LAST FALL, IN a tiny apartment in downtown New York, a 30-year-old gay physique model named Matthew Williams stood naked against a white backdrop in front of the gay artist John McConnell. “It’s liberating to be able to be comfortable in your body,” Williams said, barely moving his lips as he concentrated on holding still. The 33-year-old McConnell — boyish, equally fit — wore black jeans and a white T-shirt as he sketched on a letter-size sheet of paper with his blue ballpoint pen. “It’s important for me to capture the likeness and not just a body,” he said. 

The male nude is, of course, one of the oldest artistic fixations: The Riace bronzes, Greek sculptures cast around 450 B.C., depict naked, bearded warriors as exemplars of masculine strength and beauty; “Farnese Hercules,” a third-century B.C. marble sculpture of the mythical hero, once stood at Rome’s Baths of Caracalla. Over the next 2,000 years, capturing the naked male form became an essential artistic skill, one that reached its apotheosis in Western culture during the Italian Renaissance, when homosexual desire was subtly expressed in Donatello’s bronze “David” (circa 1440) and Caravaggio’s painting “The Musicians” (1597), wherein the traditional female muse is replaced with a band of boys, partially robed in togas, referencing a Greek and Roman period in which homoerotica was a part of society. The artist was playing “a little erotic game,” says the retired N.Y.U. classics professor Andrew Lear, 59, who now runs Oscar Wilde Tours, a company that offers excursions focused on implicitly gay art and history in major museums.

But while some old masters fetishized the male body in barely coded ways, the idea of an openly queer artist expressing his desires from a queer perspective was only born in the last century. The pioneering Works Progress Administration painter Paul Cadmus was among the first to introduce an explicit male-on-male gaze into contemporary art, often at the expense of his own reputation: A retired admiral wrote a letter to the secretary of the United States Navy claiming Cadmus had a “sordid, depraved imagination,” after seeing an image of his satirical painting “The Fleet’s In!” (1934), in which crew members fraternize while on shore leave. At the insistence of the Navy, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., pulled the painting from a planned 1934 exhibition (it wasn’t shown publicly until 1981). Indeed, criticism of works like Cadmus’s during an era in which homosexuality was still forbidden pushed many of these artists into the underground, from where they’re still being unearthed today. (It’s perhaps not coincidental that Alan Hollinghurst’s latest novel, “The Sparsholt Affair,” a gay retelling of Britain in the 20th century, includes a 1940s-era artist trying to pursue a classmate at Oxford by drawing his figure.)

Left: Louis Fratino’s “Tangerine” (2016), in colored pencil. Right: Jordan Mejias’s “Dare Me” (2017), in monochromatic watercolorCreditLouis Fratino, “Tangerine” 2016, colored pencil on paper, courtesy of the artist and Antoine Levi, Paris; Jordan Mejias, “Dare Me,” 2017, monochromatic watercolor on paper, from the book “Of Art and Men” (Photograph: Hans-Georg Pospischil) © Jordan Mejias



IN THE YEARS after Cadmus, other gay perspectives on the male body found their way into the visual culture, though they’ve typically been considered taboo or hypersexual. As vaguely pornographic, commercial pinup portraiture of women thrived in the 1950s, beefcake magazines such as Bob Mizer’s Physique Pictorial offered their own exaggerated celebration of the male body. And despite the “queer enlightenment” of the 1970s and ’80s, when Robert Mapplethorpe, the photographer Rotimi Fani-Kayode and others brought man-on-man sex into the museum, there remain few celebratory images of openly gay men in Western visual art. “Showing skin was something that was seen as slutty or wrong,” says Williams, the figure model. In turning his body into art, he’s trying to normalize its representation.
Williams’s afternoon session with McConnell, in fact, is part of a recent revival of male figure drawing among contemporary gay artists — including Kou Shou, Martin Bedolla, and Stephen McDermott — whom all specialize in stripped-down representations of largely young white men. They share their portraits primarily on Instagram, and although a few sell through brick-and-mortar galleries, the original drawings and merchandise based on them (prints, chapbooks, enamel pins) are mostly made available to collectors through the artists’ social media channels or websites. 
But even five decades after David Hockney first shocked viewers with depictions of his muse and lover, Peter Schlesinger, standing in the buff, the eroticized male nude still occupies a liminal space in art: Is it “real art,” or is it nothing more than a kind of high-minded erotica?


And yet the burgeoning community that has gathered around these illustrators suggests that the distinction no longer has as much meaning as it once did. Like more established queer artists and their muses — Francis Bacon and George Dyer, Peter Hujar and David Wojnarowicz, Mickalene Thomas and Racquel Chevremont — these figure artists tend to sketch people they find attractive, often sharing the same models. McConnell and Williams met in 2016 at the artist Mark Beard’s drawing salon, which now attracts a rotating cast of about 30 gay artists. “I support these younger artists any way I can,” says Beard, 62, who invites private collectors to purchase his protégés’ originals, and whose own works are in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Working under his own name — and as his mythic alter ego, Bruce Sargeant — his oil paintings place his subjects, such as those standing heroically in “Group of Men on the Beach,” in a turn-of-the-century setting, before the Stonewall riots, when queer men couldn’t openly be out or portrayed freely in art, clothed or not. These nudes “give gay people their history,” Beard says.

MACCONNELL STARTED SHARING his work online in 2012; soon after, amateur models began reaching out via Instagram to have their portraits made. These pictures — 130 of which are collected in his recently published book “Sketch Book Boys” — are sexy but not erotic, taking a softer stance than, say, Tom of Finland’s unabashedly pornographic midcentury drawings of leathered-out muscle daddies. Instead, McConnell, who wants to subvert the classical paragons of male beauty, draws realistic renderings of men who are fit but not overly buff. “Matthew & Giorgio” (2017), for instance, is a nude sketch of a 30-something couple cuddling in bed, gazing solemnly at each other. Outlined in his signature blue pen, it’s a tribute to the sorts of mundane gay moments that are rarely celebrated in art or popular culture.

Illustrations like this also upend the notion of the muse, that historically passive female figure once subject to the whims of heterosexual white male artists. The Nigerian-Canadian artist Oluseye, 32, likewise challenges this tradition with drawings of black men. “The black body is loaded,” he says, with “myths about the size of black penises.” And so Oluseye’s pastel and charcoal nudes mix Yoruba mythology and geometric abstraction, freeing the black male body from stereotyping: One drawing, “Floating Head” (2015), combines two versions of the same figure engaged in an autoerotic fantasy.


Paul Cadmus’s etching “Y.M.C.A. Locker Room” (1934).CreditPaul Cadmus, “Y.M.C.A. Locker Room,” 1934, etching, a gift of George Platt Lynes, 1940 (40.99.1). Collection: The Metropolitan Museum of Art © Jon F. Anderson, the estate of Paul Cadmus, licensed by Vaga, New York, N.Y. Digital Image copyright © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, N.Y.
Other gay figure artists are following in the homoerotic tradition established by Mizer, Finland and the artist Tom Bianchi, whose photographic nudes have seen a renaissance after he published “Fire Island Pines, Polaroids 1975-1983” in 2013. Bianchi, 73, started capturing his naked, frolicking friends in the mid-70s, while he was still a corporate lawyer. A decade later, he became known for his wildly sexual life-size drawings. If he has a modern-day disciple, it’s Jordan Mejias, whose pastel drawings recall the erotic romanticism of Bianchi’s early work while proving, as the critic Pierre Mouton wrote in the preface to Mejias’s 2017 book, “Of Art and Men,” that “queer is classically beautiful.” In “On Second Thought” (2016), the sitter’s muscular curves suggest early Roman statuary while idealizing gayness in the tradition of Cadmus’s fabulist etching “Y.M.C.A Locker Room” (1934), which depicts a scene of mostly naked men.

Yet in art, as in life, there’s little agreement as to what’s actually sexy. The emerging artist Louis Fratino, 24, believes that these images of beefed-up stallions are imported from straight culture’s idea of masculine beauty. “The really queer thing to do is make work that works against that,” he says, “where bodies are not hypersexualized.” Fratino tries to achieve this by drawing vivid, cartoonlike nudes of himself and his partner, Tristan Scow, sharing privately intimate moments. In “Ensemble” (2017), the couple’s norm-core bodies are shown spooning while they hold their own flaccid penises. In this, Fratino and these other contemporary gay figure artists share a philosophy, despite their different aesthetics: They’re all committed to reflecting the mostly unseen interior lives of the men they admire, and to celebrate a diverse set of subjects who, taken together, stand in opposition to a canonical history of art that has long ignored an openly gay view of the male body.

June 15, 2018

MRSHLL, South Koreas' First Openly Gay Artist

We're really starting to run out of "First Openly Gay" people. (That's a good thing). But just as American poet Cassie Ventura once declared, we've still got a Long Way 2 Go — especially as we shift our attention outside of the Western Hemisphere.

Over in the East, the push for LGBTQ equality is steady, but slow-moving. Within South Korea specifically, the concept of coming out is still regarded as mostly taboo — but attitudes are evolving, especially within the past decade. While there are no outright laws made against homosexuality, and one's gender can be legally changed, there's also no official recognition of same-sex unions of any kind. As of a 2017 poll, 41% of the general public approved of same-sex marriage. (By comparison, 61% of the U.S. population showed support in a poll from 2016).

Having out-and-proud pioneers in our communities is key in breaking down misconceptions and unfounded phobias in every part of the globe, especially in terms of pop stars. To date, however, the number of openly LGBTQ Korean artists can be counted on one hand.

When MRSHLL made headlines for being the "First Openly Gay" Korean musician a few years back, friends warned that the rainbow-colored cross to bear would be "social suicide."

But the world kept spinning. And over a year later — following the debut of Holland, an out-and-proud performer on the idol scene — MRSHLL is ready to exhale with Breathe, a collection of sexy, slinky electro-R&B infused songs about the various forms of love he's feeling in his life.

It's a set of songs that proves that while his very existence is vital in advancing the cause in a territory in dire need of visibility, MRSHLL's got plenty more to offer than just that title.

I'm heading up to Boston Pride right now. Korea's Pride is in July, I believe? Are you going to go to Pride this year?
Yeah, we're a month behind. They haven't released the details of who's going to be there, or the exact dates just yet, but I'm definitely going to go to the parade and all the different events that they have. Who knows? They may even hit me up for a performance. [Laughs]

Is Pride important to you? What does it mean to have Pride in Korea?
Pride is still very important to me. I think there are many parts of the world that are not so open to people of different genders and sexual orientations, and there are still a lot of countries where you can't live freely as yourself. There's still a lot of work to be done, although there's been great strides. Pride is still a very important event for people who may not know that we exist. Even in Korea, there are still people from my parents' generation who still believe that the LGBTQ community is more of a Western thing, and not really a global thing.

That's really interesting. And kind of horrifying.
Yeah. They think it's something that came about in the past 30 or 40 years.

Here in the West, we're lucky to have acts like Sam Smith, Troye Sivan, Hayley Kiyoko and MNEK making moves. Apart from yourself, do you see any other openly queer pop artists breaking in the East?
Not necessarily those who are completely out and open. There are some indie artists, but none that I'm aware of who are actually out and open, other than Holland and me. They either play with the concept or it's more of an artistic thing, or there's a music video concept where they toy with the idea, but nobody's really gone full force. They dress up in drag and wear makeup and heels, but nobody actually takes the extra step forward and says "Hey, I am... blank." Nobody actually makes a definitive statement. So, not that I know of!

You made headlines as the first openly gay Korean artist to debut, and then Holland came around as the first openly gay idol in early 2018. Can you talk about the "idol" concept for those unclear of what the distinction is?
In terms of the idol concept, I am still kind of figuring out what that exactly means. To my understanding, an idol is usually either in a boy group or a girl group, and they're kind of…what's the right way to say this? I don't want to say "manufactured," but it's kind of like the pop boy band factories of the 2000s, like NSYNC or Backstreet Boys, where they have songwriters and producers and stylists and makeup artists and people who create a concept and characters for each member and whatnot. In a way, the artists themselves don't really have a say in what their concept is. It's kind of given to them, which is in and of itself its own genre. People love it. I love it — it's fun! That's what I think the idol concept is, in my understanding.

Did you see his debut? If so, what did you think?
I think it's incredible that there's another artist who's catering to a different group of fans out there. I think the more the merrier! There needs to be visibility. With just two artists out there, it's not enough. There should be a Korean openly gay opera singer. There should be a Korean openly gay... country singer. Who knows? I'm all about it.

Public support from allies also seems to be getting louder in the East, with acts like Jolin Tsai showing support in Taiwan, Ayumi Hamasaki performing for Rainbow Pride in Japan. BoA was already performing at Pride stateside years ago. Are you seeing this represented in the K-Pop industry today? Do you think it's helping to shift public attitude?
I believe so, especially in the past few years. There's been a lot more support publicly from different artists in the K-Pop genre. For example, there's an artist Lee Hyori — she's one of the original K-Pop idol stars. She's been bringing awareness to the community. She had a song "Miss Korea" that she put out a few years back, and she used a lot of local drag queens in her music video. I believe when she was asked about it, she was very open about, like, "These are some of my friends, they're super loving and open and honest about who they are." There's also Uhm Jung-hwa. She's like the Korean Madonna. She uses a lot of dancers from the waacking community, which is a form of dance that's based in the gay community. She's super cool. And then there's Yoon Mi-rae. She's an artist on my label, and someone who is kind of legendary in the hip-hop scene out here. She's been very supportive of me — AKA, signing me to her label along with her husband Tiger JK, who's kind of like the Jay-Z of Korea. Just the fact that they're even behind me and supporting me in me being open about my sexuality in and of itself is a statement. I think more and more it's opening up, and hopefully in a few years, more people will be vocal about it, and not be afraid to be who they are be supportive of each other.
You told Billboard a year ago that your friends considered coming out "social suicide." How do you feel about it a year later? Has there been any significant backlash?
I mostly hang around with musicians and other artists, and they're more on the open side from the get-go. I haven't had any backlash personally within my social circle, but there are comments made about me. If anyone searches, you'll immediately see "MRSHLL, openly gay!" It's not hard to find that. But at least in Korea, the media hasn't really talked about me being the "first openly gay" — or anything gay-related — quite yet. They've only focused on the music, which is good I guess, because that's what I want to be known for. It's a part of my identity, but it's not all of who I am. I haven't gotten anything crazy so far, but who knows? As I get more known in Korea, I'm sure the question will pop up. Who knows what'll happen? I'm kind of gearing up for it, or preparing my heart and body for whatever's to come. But so far so good!

The more known you are, the more backlash you'll get regardless, so brace for it anyway.
So besides gay stuff, let's talk about the things you'd like to be known for beyond just that.
We love gay stuff, but onto the next! [Laughs]

We love gay stuff! I'd love to talk about the EP. How long did you work on it, and what does it sound like, in your own words?
I began working on it earlier last year. There was a different album that was supposed to come out that summer, but ended up being pushed back. I went through a bunch of different things and ended up creating more songs. I titled the EP Breathe because I was kind of trying to figure out when to release it, and ended up kind of just letting it go, like breathing. I had some really incredible conversations with my mom and some really close friends of mine. The songs on the EP encompass love in general, and the different types of love I've gone through in my experience, whether it be in relationships, or acceptance, or self-love. It's a little sampling of what I offer as an artist. It's just the tip of the iceberg for me, musically.

There are a bunch of collaborations! How did some of them come about, and why did you choose those artists?
Lydia Paek, pH-1, Sumin and Ja Mezz are all featured, and I also worked with different songwriters and producers — one of them being Lee Hi. All of these people that I worked with are people that I'm actually friends with and who I admire as artists in their own right. It was very organic... I didn't actually seek anyone out. There's a song called "Hold Me" that I wrote earlier last year with my friend Amy [Kuney] and my friend David. Amy and I attended Biola University, which is like a private Christian university. We both went through our own experiences with coming out. She's now writing for Kelly Clarkson, Akon, Tori Kelly — all these incredible artists, and she's had her own musical journey. It was just natural that we came together from experiencing similar things with our families and our faiths. Lee Hi and I have known each other for the past couple years. Lydia, I've known since like junior high. There's longevity to everybody. It was just so natural. I'm happy about how everything turned out.

You've hung out with lots of awesome acts, as evidenced on your Instagram. Any dream collaborations still on your bucket list?
Oh my God. I mean, you mentioned MNEK earlier. I love MNEK. I've been following his career since he was writing for Madonna and whoever else. He's just really incredible. I'm all about what he stands for, and I think his voice is just pure magic. I'd love to do something with him. I love the music that he loves as well, because it's the music I grew up on back in the day. I love Kehlani, I think she's incredible and her voice is wonderful. In terms of K-Pop, Dean and Crush are friends of mine and singer-songwriters and producers I admire. SOPHIE from the UK, who is one of the few openly trans female artists and produced for Charli XCX, Madonna and Vince Staples, and whose beats are just out-of-this-world. I'd love to work on a record with the legend, Miss Janet Jackson-if-ya-nasty. I'd love to get into the studio with Julia Michaels who, along with Justin Tranter, are literally the best in pop music songwriting right now. H.E.R. Her R&B vocals. The songs from her album earlier this year were, and still are, on rotation on my playlists. And since I grew up on pop music, I think Britney would be an incredible person to work with. One of my favorite albums from her is the Britney album from 2001. That album is when she was like, "I'm done with the 'Oops!...I Did It Again' and now here's my 'Slave 4 U' with Pharrell." And that, like, ruined me in the best way ever. She's a dream collaboration. There's so many — I'm open for business. Girl, I'm ready.

Glad that you referenced Britney. True stans know that's one of her cooler records.
We can talk about Britney forever. Her whole Blackout album — a dope-ass album. "Gimme More," all those songs.
Of course. Will you be heading out on the road to promote your music?
Summer's kind of the season where everyone performs at different universities in Korea, but I'd love to do a tour in the States or in Europe, that's definitely a possibility. My goal for 2018, for the most part, is to continually release music and get out all the actual meat of what makes up a tour. I want to get as much music out there to the people as I can, and then really focus on touring and performing next year. I still have different shows, parties and events that I'll be performing at for this year. I'm super excited to be out on the road, on the stage and getting my life for the people.

For the K-Pop fans who might have stumbled on you from their love of K-Pop in general, are you into any idol groups or singers? And for people who might not be familiar with other Korean acts, are there any Korean artists they should also know about that you recommend?
I really love this band called Hyokoh. They border more on the indie-rock side of things, but the lead singer's voice — his voice is just, it's like... husky, scratchy and reminds me of bluegrass, but with a rock edge to it. The songs that he writes and the music that he puts out with his band, it really hits a part of my soul that I'm like — oof. Guttural. He has a song called "Wanli," which actually is in Chinese, and the music video is in Mongolia and there's all these crazy horses — super epic stuff. In terms of the more mainstream stuff... I like BLACKPINK, sorry not sorry! I think they're beautiful, their songs are hella catchy and they can dance their asses off. They're fierce as fuck. I think they're fabulous. I love Lee Hi as well, obviously, but she's a friend of mine. Her voice is unmatched.

Bearing the "Gay Pop Star" title is difficult — I don't blame you for not wanting to be the representative of an entire community. How would you like to be known?
First and foremost, I want to be known for my music and my performance skills more than anything. Everything else is just an extension of who I am. The music is the most important. Otherwise, I'm just a gay person. [Laughs] I'm a musician, I'm an artist, I'm a performer – everything else is part of who I am. It's the many different factors that make up a person. I think I'm blessed enough to be in a position that I can make a positive impact on the world. Granted, I'm human. I'm going to make mistakes and say things I don't necessarily mean, but I'm allowed to make mistakes. I'm blown away by the different experiences I've had so far, and the talented people I've met. I can't wait for the next step and the next part of my journey. I can't wait to release new music, do crazier collaborations — Britney, MNEK, call me boo. I hope people are excited what I have to offer in the future, and I'm excited to show them what I can do.
Photography: Hannah Gweun

By Bradley Stern

May 28, 2018

Lebanon LGBT Scene Empowered Despite Crackdown

BEIRUT — It took him more than two months to prepare, coming up with the concept, assembling his outfit and rehearsing. Then on the big night, a five-hour session putting on makeup. The very last step, he slid on the red lace gloves with 4-inch (10-centimeter) red fingernails that he had specially ordered from the United States.

Elias was transformed into Melanie Coxxx. She was ready for her most important show: The largest drag ball in Lebanon.

Because this is Lebanon, where homosexuality and dressing as the opposite gender are against the law, he sat in the back of his mother’s car with darkened windows, a scarf over his head, for the drive from his home just outside Beirut to the club.

That didn’t unnerve Coxxx. Elias says his character, inspired by transgender actress and activist Laverne Cox, is “fearless.”

“She is the person that makes me more alive, more powerful,” Elias said. “When I put everything on… I take the courage (from her). (She is) guiding me to go out and just perform.”

Elias has come a long way. His journey was full of rejection, protest and finally limited acceptance. His larger family still shuns him, and he has lost a few friends. But his mother and father came to accept him, and Elias has been openly gay for six years. Last year, he had his first drag show. Still, he asked that his last name not be published out of concern for his safety.

Lebanon’s LGBT community has had a similar journey. For over a decade, it has focused on activism to combat discrimination and abuse, making startling gains and even opening some space in the mainstream. The community is the most vibrant and open in the Arab world.

But there is a constant dance between authorities and the community over lines and limits. Last week, it appeared to be a step too far when Pride celebrations were held in Beirut. The widely advertised events came just before the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. After a few events were held, including the drag ball, authorities reacted.

Organizer Hadi Damien was briefly detained. Authorities forced him to sign a pledge not to convene the remaining events or face prosecution for promoting debauchery and violating public morality. As a result, some public parties and events were cancelled. Other more low-key events went on, including workshops and readings, though under a cloud of fear of police raids.

Still, “we are moving forward not backward,” said Georges Azzi, a founding member of Lebanon’s Helem, the region’s first LGBT advocacy group.

“There is a feeling that we are getting stronger, and there is a backlash from the conservative organizations,” he said.

The crackdown reignited long-running debates within Lebanon’s LGBT community between those who want to celebrate Pride and those who say the focus is still needed on activism and protest to force change.

Since 2005, activists have commemorated the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia on May 17, mostly with protests, readings, workshops and cultural events. But the exuberant, highly public approach of the Pride celebrations seems to have drawn authorities’ ire, said Azzi. Last year, there was an attempt to hold a Pride Week, the first ever in an Arab city, but authorities forced some of its events to be called off, including a street parade.

After his release, Damien argued that “Beirut Pride is changing the discourse, taking things to another level.”

The approach, he said, expanded the circle beyond LGBT activists to include politicians, investors and even security officials and away from “attacking people in power.” The Beirut Pride Facebook page lists politicians friendly to gay rights.

But Damien got some heat from activists who said signing the pledge set a precedent, and amounted to cooperating with authorities. Critics also said Damien is ignoring their years of hard work.

“We can’t thank the system,” said Joseph Aoun, a member of Helem. He said the focus has to always be on the security and safety of the LGBT community, particularly the most vulnerable.

Since first raising a rainbow flag in a 2003 protest, activists and civil society have steadily raised the bar.

Law 534, which criminalizes homosexuality as an “act against nature” remains on the books despite efforts to abolish it. At least 76 people were arrested under it in 2016. But more and more often prosecutors release those arrested rather than sending them to court. Four times in past years, courts have refused to apply Law 534, giving defense lawyers a basis to have cases thrown out.

Police stations and doctors have barred the use of anal exams for arrested gays after a public uproar following a mass arrest in 2012.

After lobbying by activists, five lawmakers in the newly elected 128-member parliament have vowed to support LGBT rights and called for decriminalizing homosexuality, Azzi said. The debate over LGBT rights has become part of the mainstream, featuring in TV shows and media reports.

Since Helem’s founding in 2005, there are now at least a half-dozen other active LGBT advocacy groups. Lebanon boasts openly gay bars and clubs. Its activists are proud to have introduced, in collaboration with Palestinians, a new, positive Arabic word for homosexual, “mithli,” to replace the more common, derogatory term, “shazz,” or “deviant.” Lebanon also created an Arabic equivalent for the acronym LGBT: “The Meem Movement,” from the letter ‘M’ in Arabic, which begins the words for homosexual, transgender, bisexual and questioning.

Lebanon’s relative tolerance emerges in part from its sectarian and ethnic diversity. Despite tensions, no one group is strong enough to impose its will, and people are forced to recognize others to a degree. That has made for greater freedom of press, expression and activism than elsewhere in the region.

It is a dramatic contrast to other Arab nations, where even discussing LGBT rights is beyond the pale and media relentlessly demonize the community. Last year, Egyptian police arrested dozens after fans unfurled a rainbow flag at a concert in Cairo by a Lebanese band whose lead singer is openly gay.

Lebanese police have avoided such heavy-handed mass sweeps since 2012. Pressure has forced authorities to stay within “mainstream red lines,” said Sahar Mandour, Amnesty International’s Lebanon researcher.

But the security forces find other ways. Forcing Damien to sign the pledge was a new method, for example, aimed at making the cancellations seem voluntary.

And there are signs police are tightening the reins in other ways. Recently two night clubs were temporarily shut down — one because dancers performed partially nude, the other because a dance song featured a Quranic verse. Two popular TV talk show hosts were charged with insulting the judiciary and the president because of material on their shows.

Elias was dismissive of the divisions in the LGBT community. More straight people are accepting now, he said, and it’s the authorities who are “just afraid that it will boom more.”

“I don’t feel that anything scares me,” he said. “To be accepted is simply freedom.”

Elias came out to his mother, Valerie, when he was 18. A relative was taunting him, and suddenly Elias burst out at her: “You know I’m gay. If you have a problem with that, don’t look at me.”

Valerie said she was shocked. At first, she couldn’t look at her son. She and Elias’ father sent him to stay with his grandparents in the mountains, took away his phone and laptop and cut him off from friends they blamed for his sexuality.

It took her two years to come to terms. What finally tipped her was her family’s treatment of Elias. They said he was sick and needed treatment, or was possessed by demons and needed an exorcism.

“They made me sick. They didn’t help me,” she said. She also feared for Elias’ safety. She keeps close to him.

“He didn’t choose to come to this world. He didn’t choose his religion. He didn’t choose his gender. He didn’t choose his society or home,” she said. “Should I also deprive him of the right to choose how to live his life?”

Valerie’s larger family has not yet accepted Elias. At the launch of Pride week, she joined him at an event bringing parents who support their LGBT children to meet society and the media.

As Elias prepared for the ball, Valerie was there, helping him dress. She wore a “Proud Mama Coxxx” T-shirt to the show.

He says his drag show is as political as it is artistic.

“It is a big in-your-face to society that you can be whoever you want,” he said.

One of the ball’s four judges was Vivacious, a drag performer from RuPaul’s Drag Race. Coxxx mesmerized the audience in full splendor with a red furry coat and red cap. To cheers, she pulled off her cap for her big reveal: dark painted veins running over her skull, painted with help from a professional makeup artist. She strutted up and down the runway in her high heels and displayed her long, brilliant red nails. Coxxx won second prize in the “Club Kid” category.

Then with a change out of the Coxxx persona, Elias was back on stage for the lip-sync category.

In torn jean shorts and a blond wig, he rocked the room with a performance of Kelly Clarkson’s “People like Us” — specially chosen for its empowering lyrics.

“Keep your head up, nothing lasts forever. Here’s to the damned, to the lost and forgotten,” he lip-synced.

He raised a banner reading “Queer Power.” The crowd erupted.

September 13, 2017

A Chinese Farmer and His Exclusive Gay Art

{{This is a page from the BBC news blog}}
Artwork by Chinese gay farmer XiyadieImage copyrightXIYADIE
A gay Chinese farmer who found emotional release by depicting his suppressed erotic fantasies in traditional Chinese paper cuttings is part of an exhibition of gay Asian art in Taipei. The BBC's Cindy Sui traces a story that began with self-denial and frustration - and an exhibition that reflects Asia's changing attitudes towards gay art. 
Some readers may find images in this article explicit.
The first time Xiyadie's artwork was exhibited in mainland China, police raided the private gallery. They confiscated the other artists' erotic works but left his alone.
"They said my artwork was pretty good," said the 54-year-old artist, chuckling.
Had they looked closer, they would have noticedthey were some of the boldest gay artworks, revealing the troubled psyche of China's homosexual community. 
Now, more than 50 works by diverse artists from across Asia have gone on display at Taipei's Museum of Contemporary Art (Moca). It is billed as the first public exhibition of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) themed art of its kind in Asia. 
Xiyadie's work is easily masked as traditional Chinese paper cuttings of village scenes - red brick courtyard homes, flowers and birds. But look carefully and one depicts him so tormented by his desire for his male lover that he sews up his penis with a needle and thread.
Another depicts his wife holding their son inside their home while he and a man have sex outside, with facial expressions both painful and blissful.
"At that time in villages, if you came out of the closet, your family would scold you and you wouldn't be able to live there anymore," said Xiyadie.
"Even though I really wanted to be with the man I loved, I was afraid to. I thought I had a sickness… I felt very very painful, but also happy. So I did my life in paper cuttings."
The Taipei exhibition, called Spectrosynthesis - Asian LGBTQ Issues and Art Now, aims to chronicle and showcase the artistic inspiration and achievements of ethnically Chinese artists like Xiyadie.
Artwork by artist Shiy De-jinnImage copyrightSHIY DE-JINN/NATIONAL TAIWAN MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS
Image captionThe exhibition includes works by the late Taiwanese painter Shiy De-jinn, who often painted young men to express his love
The works span decades and are by artists from Taiwan, mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore, the United States and Canada who explore their desires, predicaments and their own sexuality identities.
"When it comes to gay art, Western work is commonplace, but there are far fewer Asian gay art and artists," said Patrick Sun, the founder of Sunpride Foundation, a non-profit art promoter co-sponsoring the exhibition.
"In Asia, the most difficult part for us is to find out about the older generation of artists… because people of that generation do not actually come out of the closet," said Mr Sun. "They don't want to be stigmatised."
Chief curator Sean Hu says unlike the older generation whose art is subtle, these days young Asian artists confront gay issues more directly. "They're more willing to express themselves freely," he says. 
One photograph by a young artist depicts a gay household - a naked man lies on a sofa with his two male housemates nearby. Another artist made a photo series of his nude body.
Photograph by artist Tzeng Yi-HsinImage copyrightTZENG YI-HSIN
Image captionThis photograph by Tzeng Yi-Hsin shows a rainbow version of the Taiwanese flag
Regardless of their age, many of the artists have suffered periods of isolation and turmoil.
Singaporean artist Jimmy Ong's works explore gay people's desire to have a family. One shows two men lovingly holding a little boy.
"It's like I'm saying that we're not any different from straight people, we have the same hope [to have a family] and the same grief, pain or sadness," he said. 
Artwork Image copyrightJIMMY ONG/MOCA
Image captionOng's artwork Heart Sons depicts two men holding a baby
Mr Ong's artwork has never been displayed in a public museum in Singapore, where gay sex remains illegal.
No other museum in Asia had agreed to host the exhibition, but Moca's director Yuki Pan said she was not afraid to do so, and even set up a protest area for critics.
Taiwan is considered the most accepting place in Asia for homosexuals; its highest court in May became the first in Asia to rule that same-sex marriages should be legalised.
Ms Pan says museums have a duty to reflect the gay community. "After seeing the exhibition's works, I feel sad," she said. "Their inner life is very lonely and helpless."
"I really hope everyone can see gay artists' feelings so they can be more empathetic and not just hear the pro-and-con debate."
Image copyrightWANG LIANG-YIN
Image captionWang Liang-yin's painting The Wanted Ones - The Sweet Afterlife is also on display
For Xiyadie, it's been a long journey. 
Growing up in a traditional village in northern China's Shaanxi province, he was attracted to men at a young age, and fell in love with a former male classmate he had a brief romantic encounter with in his family's apple orchard. 
But he thought there was something wrong with himself and suppressed his love.
Instead, he married a woman because he felt he had to. Torn by his love for the classmate and subsequent affairs with a second man, as well as his guilt toward his wife, he nonetheless stayed married to her because they had to take care of their invalid son. 
It was during the years caring for his dying son and living with this turmoil that he made his paper art about his life and love.
"We were all in pain. When I was with my wife, I thought of the man I loved, but did not dare to find him," Xiyaidie said. 
"My wife was also in pain. It's not easy being her; she gave her life to our marriage. … I felt sorry to her. I not only cut myself [on paper]; I also cut her."
He eventually moved to Beijing, where his art was discovered when he visited a doctor, who also happened to be gay.
"I asked him what medicine he could give me to stop me from thinking of the man I loved. The doctor said: 'You don't need to change yourself; you're so healthy. I've even come out to my mother!'" Xiyadie recalled. 
"He said 'In Beijing, there's an art exhibit for comrades [gay people], why don't you show your work?"
People in the local gay art community then saw his art and "said 'Oh my god! You are so brave. You're a real gay artist'," he recalled. 
They convinced him to post his works on a website and promised to protect his identity. Xiyadie is a pseudonym. 
His paper cuttings have since been exhibited and collected by overseas museums. China also made them into stamps last year, in a big step towards acceptance.
With the art he has sold, Xiyadie paid off the debts from his late son's medical bills. He's still married, but has come out to his wife and is dating a man.
"When I was young, I struggled with myself... I kept trying to change myself. In the end, I didn't change myself, because natural forces cannot be changed. That beauty can never be killed by me."
"I hope my art will bring everyone happiness."

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