It’s a beautiful thing to enter an era when queer art has seemingly gone mainstream. Every single weekend without fail you can catch drag queens, queer burlesque artists, and music for LGBTQ+ people pulsing through at at least one of the major venues in the Twin Cities. This is progress beyond a shadow of a doubt. Young or newly out artists and audiences alike don’t have the trouble finding community in the cities now the way they used to. When any subculture or movement goes mainstream though, it can and does water down the intentions and artistry of the movement. To the non-discerning eye it would seem that we are in a time where the truly groundbreaking art that questions everything we think we know about sexuality and gender has gone missing. It would appear that the dirty, revolutionary acts so popular in the ’80s and ’90s are but faint memories in our minds, or perhaps rumors of how things used to be before this moment LGBTQ+ art is having.
Those appearances are, of course, false. Patrick’s Cabaret regularly pushes the status quo as far as it can go. Small theatre companies regularly change character genders and identities or seek out only work that is as intimate as it is shocking. Rumors of a ball culture and avant garde art spaces run rampant in Minneapolis, in short, because those things do exist. Then there’s Queertopia, Intermedia Arts’ answer to rebelling against the corporatization and washing clean of queer arts culture. Queertopia defines itself as “A cabaret celebration of queer love,” and that short statement says as much about the event’s goal as the list of well-known radical artists like Hector Chavarria, Holo Lue Choy, and A.P. Looze does. Queertopia blatantly provides a place for the wild, the radical and the revolutionary — but it creates that space for love and celebration. This is a place for rebels and artists to speak their mind and do their work, but it is definitively meant to celebrate their identity and shower love on the most marginalized in our community. It is necessary, it is beautiful, and it is one of my favorite events I’ve witnessed in any state or community I’ve lived in.
This year’s Queertopia theme and subtitle are Revolting Bodies * Beyond Flesh and the line-up itself includes: A.P. Looze, Dana Ainra Njonjo, Hector Chavarria, Holo Lue Choy, Namir Fearce, Sami Pfeffer and Free Black Dirt with Duah Saleh and Katie Robinson creating performance art and films like you’ve never seen before. Visual artists this year are Akiko Ostlund, Blaire Moore, Chandler Daily, Jaffa Aharonov and Solomon Fletcher. This event is curated by Daily as well, alongside Rica de la Concha. MikeQueenz, Nastalie Bogira, Johnnay Leenay and Erin Sharkey. As you go through that list you’ll see names you recognize from acclaimed self-produced work, work that has been put on by renowned venues like Intermedia Arts and the Southern Theater, and names that just closed performances and displays at Northern Spark. You’ll also see names you’ve never heard of, even if you follow the queer art circuit pretty closely. This is another piece of genius about Queertopia: the vetting and curating process is one of a kind and offers opportunities to queer people in all stages of their career.
As the event gets closer, I was interested in what audiences could expect to see in more specific terms this year. Hector Chavarria (also known as “The Big Gay Mexican”) was kind enough to chat with me about his piece. “I will be performing a three part dance representing my journey of accepting who I am. I focus on accepting my femininity and accepting my body. For a very long time I was not comfortable in my own skin because I was raised and taught to think who I was was wrong. This dance celebrates my choice to live my life the way I was meant to live it, being free to be me.”
Playwright and filmmaker Sami Pfeffer was also willing to divulge some info about the film they’re screening at Queertopia 2017. “This film, like most of my solo film projects, features me! I make films about myself and my body to foster a better sense of self-empathy. I want to learn to love myself more. As a person both dysphoric and disassociative, I struggle to recognize myself as myself. Add to that the compounding traumas of a transphobic world, and I sometimes struggle to even believe myself cognizant enough to engage in recognition in the first place.” They go on to say “This film explores an act of recognition as well as the confluence of agency and consent I’ve experienced in the medical-industrial complex, specifically in the context of gender-confirming treatments. It features blood, nudity, and gloves.”
Because Queertopia welcomes artists at all stages, work doesn’t have to be totally new. The event embraces experimental and brand new work, but living pieces going through revisions are also seen. One of my favorite things to watch is a piece of art that changes over time and is performed at various intervals. Movement and performance artist Holo Lue Choy, fresh off of their Northern Spark performance of 3600 Cuts, is revising a well-received piece she’s been working on. “I am revising a solo exploring the expectations of femininity set upon trans femme bodies, and the exploitation of trans women in the sex work industry. This solo took form in a previous iteration at Minnesota Free Space last December, and has made a vast shift in aesthetic.” As Choy grows and as the queer community grows, so do several of their pieces and this latest iteration is sure to excite audiences.
Artists are attracted to events for all kinds of reasons, but Queertopia stands out even further to LGBTQ+ artists as a beacon of celebration and welcoming. Says Pfeffer, “I want more queerness always, and more expansive understandings of that word. I want to continue to move away from queer as something strictly defined by desire or attraction and move towards a queerness of place, energy, and openness. I think Queertopia approaches queerness in radically expansive ways.”
Chavarria adds “What I love about Queertopia is the simple fact that this is a show for the queer community performed by queer artists. I am very grateful for Queertopia because it is giving me and other amazing people, a voice, a presence, and a chance to express their art for the world to see.” He goes on to say “Queertopia is the best way to celebrate PRIDE, performing a piece of my queer history to a loving and welcoming audience.”
“Queertopia feels reaffirming as a queer artist, that there is place where art exploring identity and the intersections of queerness are valued, and there is a chance to engage with an audience who will appreciate the work which you are doing.” finishes Choy, summing up Queertopia 2017: Revolting Bodies * Beyond Flash in a succinct statement. Audience engagment, queer identity, and expansive art will be taking center stage starting June 21st at Intermedia Arts. You can find out more or snag your own tickets here.