Yes, we are
Dancing in Nightclubs,
gender-bending and thrusting
your girl boy token friend
always your funny friend
It is true:
Our public displays of affection,
Loudest voices in the room,
The limp wrist,
the clenched fist,
THIS IS THE REVOLUTION
This body of work is an investigation into intimacies that carry meaning without spectacle; it is a creation that declares no individual identity, but gives the characteristics of many; it is a hope for the future and a sharp intake of breath for what is the now.
When we unpack the popular conception of queerness: the loud, confident, proud and entertaining queer, we are left not with an empty closet, but with the baggage suppressed beneath – curiosity, intimacy, vulnerability, and somewhere within that, ordinariness. And it is so seldom unpacked or appreciated. This is why when we, as members of the queer community, do not present or perform in the desired manner, we end up ourselves, asking “am I queer enough?”
This body of work exists to remind us, remind me, of the complexities of queerness. That that there is no ‘too queer’, ‘just right’, or ‘queer enough’, that we exist on a spectrum.
The term ‘quiet queers’ itself, may need a particular definition for some. As a society, we have been conditioned to compartmentalize, to place things, terms, people, into boxes. However, the name ‘quiet queers’ would do an injustice to the very reason that I began this project in the first place. The place that the ‘quiet queers’ exist is a fantastical place of safety in which they require no definition – a concept that directly de es that which we have been conditioned to do.
In 2019, the moment into which this work is born, the only acceptable form of homosexuality in mass media was that which ticks all the boxes, full of the stereotypes, and entertains the heterosexual audience. White bodies, able-bodies, slim bodies. Same race couples. Confident, happy, proud, and successful couples.
Couples are preferred, monogamy is mandatory but picks a side, bisexuality is too ambiguous. You can flaunt your gayness so long as your parts “match” your pronouns. Don’t confuse the audience. Unless you’re trans, of course, then it is acceptable to mix up your pronouns. But keep it simple, nothing in between. You can choose masculine or feminine. But pick a side, gender non-nonconformity is too ambiguous. You are precisely the diverse face we’ve been looking for.
The queer community has become somewhat accustomed to the ideals set about for us by heterosexual society – without noticing, myself included, we indulge in little tastes of so-called ‘normality’. I married my partner last year. Some may say this is a privilege that many queer-identifying people in other parts of the world have been denied. However, to mark the act of marriage as a privilege would be to support the idea that it is a privilege to be able to participate in a heterosexual custom. Although I choose not to see it this way. It is undeniable that there was also a part of me that wished to give all of myself to my partner, an act that, I believe, surpassed heterosexual ideals associated with marriage – we seek to make it our own.
There are unwritten rules about what an ‘acceptable’ queer identity must look like: what is ‘queer enough’ and what is ‘too much’.
Through my work, I aim not only to challenge the lens through which queer people are represented in the media but to challenge queer people themselves to take accountability for their own understanding and actions. What society wishes us not to know, is that there is no too much, there is no enough.
Where the Quiet Queers Are is composed of images that differ in intent and therefore in visual language. While some photographs purely want to document. Space or a patch of light; portrait of a discarded object, others are intended to transport the viewer into an ethereal, otherworldly dreamscape—something to lose yourself in and feel completely safe within. Or at the very least to recognize that the subjects of the images feel this way.
The third ‘category’ of the image that makes up this body of work falls somewhere between the two aforementioned. With one foot in the realm of documentary and the other in that of the constructed. The realm of poetry.
Take my Untitled Diptych, 2019, for example. The figure (above) appears frozen in a moment of confrontation with Jesus, possibly unaware of being photographed. The other figure (above) acts as a shadow to the one on the left. Somehow mimicking the composition, but transforming the posture and thus the language of the diptych as a whole. The figure’s stance, wrapped in the curtain and warm, dark hues leads us deeper into the cocoon – an Alice in Wonderland rabbit-hole effect. Thus, this body of work is a hybrid of the real and the fantastical, the transparent and the obscured. It creates a unique set of circumstances that mimic a place that the ‘quiet queers’ can exist where ‘just right’ is not a prerequisite.
Where the Quiet Queers Are is situated in a moment where queerness is openly celebrated, almost normalized, in some parts of the world, yet it is still punishable by death in others. Although the audience it will reach is most likely to be one predominantly situated in the art world, in Cape Town, and therefore more likely located in an environment of the previous description, the work remains a relevant topic for exploration.
My feeling is that it is still a highly necessary body of work, for both the community it represents and the community that it is being ostracized from. It challenges hegemonic ideals about queerness, cast in stone by the mass media, and it aims to challenge the viewer to look deeper into the surface of the image. What has been covered up, removed or overturned?