Queer Arts Festival announces Indigenous LGBTQ+ theme

Explorations of two-spirit identity will take forefront at annual event this year.

Two-spirit perspectives that aren’t often heard will be featured at Vancouver’s annual Queer Arts Festival this summer — and its curator hopes it will open the door for more work of the same theme to be shown across Canada.

In many Indigenous communities, the term “two-spirit” is used to describe a gender, sexual and spiritual identity that often encompasses all LGBTQ+ people, but it’s something that has been stifled by colonization.

The Queer Arts Festival announced earlier this month that its 2017 event called UnSettled will focus on reclamation in the two-spirit world, featuring performances and an art exhibit curated by Blackfoot artist Adrian Stimson.

“It really means that one body, both genders exist. It comes from a more spiritual space,” Stimson said. “These two-spirited people have the ability to stand in both worlds.”

Stimson said when he was first asked to curate the festival last August, the general theme was about residential schools and reconciliation.

“I thought to myself, that is an important part but it shouldn’t be the premise of the exhibition,” he said.

“Indigenous artists have been dealing with those themes for years … I decided to drop the reconciliation part and look at the history of the two-spirit art movement and queer Indigenous theory.”

It’s something Stimson has explored academically, as well as in his own art. He occasionally performs with a gender-bending altar ego called “Buffalo Boy,” who sports a buffalo g-string, disco cowboy hat and fishnet stockings.

Since he is curating art in the festival, Stimson said he won’t be performing as Buffalo Boy. But he has chosen 17 artists whose work relates to the contemporary, two-spirit Indigenous theme.

The artists from across Canada will include Cree painter George Littlechild and B.C.-based artist Raven John.

Stimson said he had a hard time choosing artists, because there are so many who he believes deserve recognition.

Walking Stick by Adrian Stimson.

Walking Stick by Adrian Stimson. COURTESY ADRIAN STIMSON

That’s why, after the festival is over, he plans to look into creating more two-spirit focused exhibits across Canada.

“Part of my purpose in curating this is to actually broaden the scope a bit,” he said.

“Individual artists get recognized and that’s great but I want to, through a series of exhibitions, open it up because there’s a lot of two spirit artists out there.”

The Queer Arts Festival will happen at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre in late June.