Queertopia curated for Daata Editions by Gemma Rolls-Bentley, features artists: Holly Blakey, Rindon Johnson, Zoe Marden, Rashaad Newsome, Hannah Quinlan & Rosie Hastings, Jacolby Satterwhite and Puck Verkade.
The artists included in Queertopia straddle London and New York, two cities at a pivotal moment in their queer history. In 2017 the UK's most historic cultural institutions marked the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales by hosting exhibitions and projects that explored the LGBTQ+ experience. In 2019 New York City marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising by staging the city's largest pride celebrations to date, the reverberations of which will be felt around the world. These anniversaries provide an opportunity to reflect on a 50 year period of change, and in some places rapid progress, to consider the world before these landmark moments and perhaps most importantly, to engage with queer siblings around the world that still fight the same wars our queer icons waged generations ago that we tricked ourselves into believing had been won forever.
Looking back in order to look forward requires a searching and deep excavation, a reframing of the past and a veneration of our own historical spaces, so often excluded and erased from mainstream preservations of history. Those of us existing within queer society today, benefiting from the struggles of our ancestors, have a responsibility to discover and preserve those histories, construct new museums and monuments, share those lived histories and grant access to those authentic experiences for future generations. The artists of Queertopia review the existence of queer communities and their spaces -- both real and mythological, memorialising those lost and building environments and landscapes to nurture new radical possibilities.
Whether it's the UK's last remaining gaybars; their empty forms, flashing lights and ghostly soundtracks captured for posterity, in Hannah Quinlan & Rosie Hasting's UK Gaybar Directory, the ornate baroque backdrops of Rashaad Newsome's Knot and L.S.S. Kassandra Ebony or the sparse intimacy of Holly Blakey's stage design for GRLS DUET; this work lays solid foundations for the construction of new queer spaces. Zoe Marden's Little Lo Ting and Rindon Johnson's I First You both take their explorations underwater; their respective voyages to capture the myths, legends and family histories that shape their own beings. From under the ocean to above the sky, Jacolby Satterwhite's En Plein Air Abstraction and Rashaad Newsome's Variant adopt futuristic celestial constructions, echoing the structure of Hannah and Rosie's empty gaybars, as the set for their pioneers and visionaries of queer culture.
The icons, monuments and geography of queertopia present an opportunity to explore future structures of identity, intimacy and legacy. With a degree of celebration, commemoration and at times mourning we look to our ancestors and their journeys to inform how we understand our own selves and our position within society. Puck's films, Breeder Episode 1 & 2, ask what is our history, who is narrating and to whom does our legacy belong? Using archival footage of Boy George, Episode 1 celebrates the unapologetic acts of bravery of one individual, acknowledging and remembering the dystopian political landscape of a post HIV/AIDS crisis world in which queer identity was vilified and mocked, in stark contrast to today's mainstream acceptance of drag.
Rindon's film presents a stark reminder of the fragility of these progressive strides. Like a flag planted on the surface of the moon, these new frontiers so easily come under threat again and we are catapulted back into a society riddled with fear and terror, whether it's the repeal of Prop 8 or the election of a transphobic pussy-grabbing president. Here we have no choice but to take solace in the safe spaces that we self organise and the families that we choose to create. We turn inward and outward together; our queer diaspora. The intimacy that we experience in Rindon's monologue, that we observe between Holly's dancers and Jacolby's queer bodies; that human connection and deep intimacy holds a power so strong that it cannot be mapped or occupied by outside forces. Queertopia; a transcendent geopolitical space we create wherever queer people gather, flee, love, dance, riot and remember. To use the words that Rindon uses to close their film: "Let them come for us, we will step out of the way.
Gemma Rolls-Bentley works closely with artists, collectors and galleries to explore new ways of creating, presenting and discovering art; her specialist interests include queer culture, gender equality and community engagement. Gemma is Associate Director, Consumer Marketplace for online arts platform Artsy, where she leads the European Auction & Collector Relations teams. Gemma also works as an independent curator, most recently her work has been presented at Somerset House London, Palace of Fine Arts San Francisco, Art Night 2018 at BFI London and the National Portrait Gallery London. Gemma wrote the monthly queer art column ‘Art Hole’ for Gay Times Magazine throughout 2017 to document the exhibitions being hosted around the UK to mark the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales. Gemma was a member of the board of trustees at SE London charity Deptford X from 2014 - 2017, in 2011 she launched the arts arm of the Fawcett Society’s East London branch and ran their 2012-2013 Art Audit campaign and in 2006, along with Than Hussein Clark, she founded Polish Art Scotland. Gemma holds an MA in History of Art from both the Courtauld Institute of Art and the University of Edinburgh.