Queer Arts Festival: DECADEnce
When: June 16 to 28, various times
Where: Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre and other venues
Tickets and info: queerartsfestival.com
The 2018 Queer Arts Festival marks 10 years of presenting an annual showcase for boundary pushing work which raises the profiles, voices and work of diverse creators in a society that still has a long way to go in recognizing them.
The multi-disciplinary summer celebration, titled DECADEnce will also honour Pride in Art’s 20th year as an artist-led organization dedicated to exhibiting unique art.
Among the highlights of the summer festival is the world premiere of Lesley Ewen’s work Camera Obscura (hungry ghosts), a 30-year retrospective concert honouring Barry Truax’s three decades of trail-blazing musical experiments and the local debut of operatic tenor Jeremy Dutcher’s performance of traditional Wolastoqiyik songs from his highly buzzed-about debut release Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa (Maliseet Songs).
Artistic director SD Holman says that the Queer Arts Festival’s evolution into the event it is today wasn’t without challenges, but now the event is both better and bigger.
“I always said I wanted the event to keep getting better, and to keep bringing more innovative, adventurous and cutting edge artists to Vancouver,” said Holman. “That didn’t have to mean getting bigger, but this year we have opened a gallery so I guess that means bigger too. Ultimately, I just want to give artists exposure because I’m an artist first, not an arts administrator.”
Holman said that events such as the Queer Arts Festival and Pride in Arts Society are key in giving support to artists that haven’t really found a place for their art in the mainstream.
Holman’s photo-based artwork in projects such as BUTCH: Not like the other girls challenges traditional gender roles and the highly limited range of women depicted in mainstream media and has toured North America. With the opening of the SUM gallery — in the Sun Wah building in the heart of Vancouver’s Chinatown — not only does the festival have a permanent home but there is now a year-round space available for use in Canada’s only permanent space devoted to exhibiting queer art.
SUM takes its name from the fact that the fourth floor space in the Sun Wah building on Keefer Street was originally intended for use as a dim sum restaurant but was never occupied. The inaugural exhibit is a solo show of video works by Karin Lee curated by Paul Wong and Holman. Holman is also the executive director of SUM.
“SUM is one of the very few spaces of its kind in the world and, here where it is so expensive to have a home, we have had to move every few years,” said Holman. “This is the land of festivals for that reason, because a permanent space is next to impossible to secure, and now we have a place to do work year-round when the artists are available rather than under the mandate of a set time event.”
Right from its roots, the Queer Arts Festival has always been on the cutting edge of inclusion.
Founded by artists Robbie Hong and Jeff Gibson, the event has tackled such challenging topics as UnSettled (2017), curated by Two-Spirit and queer-identified Indigenous artists; Stonewall Was A Riot (2016) and Trigger: Drawing the Line (2015), which looked at the increase in “trigger warnings” placed on art to alert viewers about the potentially disturbing material long before the term became a hot topic.
Both exhibits and performances at QAF aren’t shy about taking on challenging subject matter in fascinating ways.
“I’ve been working towards getting more and more recognition of those kinds of subjects, and Camera Obscura (hungry ghosts) gets into our lonely specificities that are set about by these larger systems of oppression and marginalization,” said Holman. “It’s almost 10 years in the making and having it for our anniversary is quite special. Paul Wong, who inspired the play, is a Governor General Award-winning Vancouver-based artist who has been with us for a very long time, both featured in exhibits and as a curator.”
Despair, death and being haunted by the past all turn up in this latest piece by Lesley Ewen which is being co-produced by QAF. QAF commissioned a theatre work earlier. Leslie Uyeda and Rachel Rose’s lesbian opera, When the Sun Comes Out, was groundbreaking. Holman says it’s deeply satisfying to participate in this kind of creation as it is “work that needs to be done.”
The artistic director takes inspiration for the hard work that goes into these sorts of collaborations from a quote by new music titan Barry Truax. The composer receives a 30-year retrospective titled Skin & Metal: Homoerotic Music Theatre Works By Barry Truax at this year’s festival (June 24, 7 p.m.).
“He says “if art is meant to mirror society and you look in the mirror and see no reflection then the implicit message is that you don’t exist,”” said Holman. “Our event challenges that view and it’s exciting to me every year to see our reflections in big deals such as our signature art show, DECADEnce, which has always set us apart from most festivals.”
Among the famous works on display will be AA Bronson’s Felix Partz, a giant vinyl print of the famous painting from the Whitney Gallery collection of the departed artist Partz depicting him right after his passing from AIDS. The 14 foot print on loan from the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen’s University took four conservators to hang.