Why gay-friendly Taiwan is a creative haven for LGBTQ art

Written by Oscar Holland, CNN

Around this time final yr, Taiwan was gearing as much as host Asia’s largest ever Pride parade having simply change into the primary place on the continent to legalize same-sex marriage.

More than 4,000 homosexual {couples} have since taken benefit of the landmark laws. But past with the ability to tie the knot, the island’s LGBTQ communities are feeling the constructive results of the regulation in varied different methods.

For Taiwan’s LGBTQ visible artists, for occasion, the previous yr has heralded new types of creative expression, in accordance with photographer Su Misu, whose explorations of gender id, sexuality and bondage vary from candid nudes to fantastical subversions of non secular imagery.

“More and more people are exhibiting their own self-identity, using their creative voice to express individuality,” she mentioned over e mail. “People are also beginning to construct the histories of the LGBTQI movement in Taiwan, calling for others to participate and study it. All this can help the gay community, which focuses on different issues, to thrive.”

"I am a fake but my heart is true," a 2016 image by Taiwanese photographer Su Misu, whose work explores gender identity, sexuality and bondage.

“I am a fake but my heart is true,” a 2016 picture by Taiwanese photographer Su Misu, whose work explores gender id, sexuality and bondage. Credit: Su Misu/Chi-Wen Gallery

Even earlier than the wedding laws, LGBTQ artists in Taiwan loved a stage of creative freedom denied to their counterparts in lots of components of Asia.

Beyond the authorized rights of expression enshrined in its structure, Taiwan ranked 34th on this planet (and 2nd in Asia, after Thailand) in a gay happiness index based mostly on the experiences of 115,000 males from all over the world. A recent report on office equality by the island’s oldest registered LGBTQ group, Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association, discovered that the territory’s art sector was among the many industries wherein respondents felt “most comfortable” about popping out to co-workers.
Coupled with the island’s beneficiant public arts funding, this environment has produced a welcoming surroundings for LGBTQ art. And in 2017, simply months after Taiwan’s constitutional courtroom paved the best way for the wedding regulation by declaring same-sex marriage a legal right, the homosexual art scene was afforded uncommon mainstream consideration with the exhibition “Spectrosynthesis — Asian LGBTQ Issues and Art Now.”
Ku Fu-Sheng's 1983 "The Room at the Top of the Stairs," on show at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei, in 2017.

Ku Fu-Sheng’s 1983 “The Room at the Top of the Stairs,” on present on the Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei, in 2017. Credit: Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei/Sunpride Foundation

Billed as Asia’s first main LGBTQ art present, this system featured over 50 works by 22 artists (from locations together with Hong Kong, mainland China and Singapore, in addition to the Asian diaspora) addressing a vary of matters, from forbidden like to sexual violence. Staging the present at a massive public establishment, Taipei’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), meant that LGBTQ art had a uncommon alternative to succeed in mainstream audiences, in accordance with Patrick Sun, founding father of the non-profit group behind the present, Sunpride Foundation.

“If we do a show at a private gallery then I’m sure all my friends would come,” he mentioned in a cellphone interview from Hong Kong, the place he is based mostly. “But we want to talk to the general public.”

A ‘political victory’

For one of many present’s members, 44-year-old avant-garde filmmaker Su Hui-Yu (no relation to Su Misu), the present represented a “political victory” that proved particularly heartening for younger artists.

“In Taiwan, it represented the changing of the wave (that) even a public museum would love to curate the show. It’s more symbolic in a political dimension than in (an) artistic one. But I think it encouraged art students a lot.”

A still from "Nue Quan" by Su Hui-Yu, an artist who explores LGBTQ issues and themes in his work.

A nonetheless from “Nue Quan” by Su Hui-Yu, an artist who explores LGBTQ points and themes in his work. Credit: Su Hui-Yu / Double Square Gallery

For Su’s technology, nevertheless, the homosexual art scene has lengthy been flourishing. Although straight, his work has usually explored LGBTQ matters. One of his most up-to-date initiatives noticed Su movie unrealized scenes from “The Glamorous Boys of Tang,” a homoerotic fantasy film that includes orgies, killings and an exorcism, that was launched with out components of the unique screenplay, as Su believes they have been deemed inappropriate in conservative 1980s Taiwan.

“There was already a strong tradition of queer study (and) queer art in Taiwan since the 1990s (and) since the lifting of martial law,” he mentioned, over e mail, of the repressive army rule that formally resulted in 1987.

A still from filmmaker Su Hui-Yu's project "The Glamorous Boys of Tang," which was based on unrealized scenes from the screenplay of a 1985 homoerotic fantasy movie of the same name.

A nonetheless from filmmaker Su Hui-Yu’s mission “The Glamorous Boys of Tang,” which was based mostly on unrealized scenes from the screenplay of a 1985 homoerotic fantasy film of the identical identify. Credit: Su Hui-Yu

It was this decade that noticed the opening of LGBTQ-friendly venues like IT Park and the Gin Gin Bookstore, which has housed a gallery house in Taipei for greater than 20 years, alongside an explosion in homosexual literature, nightlife and educational discourse. But whereas homosexual artists have been free to observe their art, conservative attitudes continued.

When same-sex marriage laws was first proposed in Taiwan within the early 2000s, it confronted vociferous opposition. So-called conversion remedy, a pseudoscience that makes an attempt to “treat” homosexuality, remained prevalent (it was solely formally banned in 2018). Organizers of a 2003 exhibition of works made by homosexual artists throughout consensual art remedy even felt it essential to make clear within the present’s notes: “This exhibition is not to show LGBT people need to be cured.”
Participants at Taiwan's annual gay pride parade pictured outside the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei in October 2019.

Participants at Taiwan’s annual homosexual pleasure parade pictured outdoors the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei in October 2019. Credit: Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images

In the euphoric aftermath of the passing of the same-sex marriage invoice in 2019, it was simple to overlook that 67% of voters had, in actual fact, rejected the idea in a referendum a yr earlier. The Taiwanese authorities pressed forward with the regulation, although some rights loved by heterosexual {couples}, corresponding to cross-national marriage, are nonetheless prohibited.
A scene from digital artist Wang Jun-Jieh's "Passion," which was screened at the "Spectrosynthesis" show in Taipei in 2017.

A scene from digital artist Wang Jun-Jieh’s “Passion,” which was screened on the “Spectrosynthesis” present in Taipei in 2017. Credit: Wang Jun-Jieh

For 36-year-old photographer 526 (a pseudonym pronounced “five two six”) it was household pressures somewhat than societal ones that stopped him from overtly practising his art, which incorporates intimate portraits of trans and LGBTQ topics taken in their very own bedrooms (pictured high).

“Even today, my parents are still afraid to tell their friends what I am doing,” he mentioned over e mail. “It’s frustrating that even your parents can’t see your value, or tell others that their son is gay. I hope they can be brave, because … we need stand out and let all the people know: We are here.”

Nonetheless, he mentioned that visibility of LGBTQ art is getting “better and better,” and that Taiwan’s progressive surroundings “makes it a good place to make art.” He pinpoints the legalization of same-sex marriage as not solely a landmark in his inventive id, however in his life extra typically.

“I couldn’t have imagined that (the law) would happen in my lifetime,” he mentioned. “If I’d known this would happen, I would probably not have stayed in the closet for 31 years.”

A beacon for Asia

The relative freedoms of Taiwan’s LGBTQ artists come into sharp focus when in comparison with their Asian neighbors. In Japan and South Korea, there are not any actual authorized restrictions, although conservative attitudes forestall their respective scenes from thriving in fairly the identical approach. At the opposite finish of the spectrum, homosexuality stays a punishable crime in components of Southeast Asia, together with Malaysia, Brunei and a few areas of Indonesia.

In between, there are a variety of locations that ostensibly enable homosexual art to be displayed, however the place censorship stays a vital barrier. In mainland China, for occasion, authorities have been recognized to periodically close down LGBTQ exhibitions with out rationalization.
Meanwhile in Singapore, the place artists are permitted to exhibit LGBTQ-themed work even supposing homosexual intercourse is unlawful (a regulation that is rarely enforced), censorship is additionally widespread. In 2016, authorities removed a number of items, together with intercourse toys, from artist Loo Zihan’s exhibition “Queer Objects,” on the Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, resulting from obscenity legal guidelines. (Just a few years earlier, Loo responded to an age restriction positioned on one in all his exhibits by photocopying guests’ ID playing cards and incorporating them into the shows.)
The concept that Taiwan can function a beacon for the remainder of Asia was a key thought behind “Spectrosynthesis.” Speaking to CNN on the time, curator Sean Hu expressed his hope that the Taipei present would have “a ripple effect across Asian society.”
Installation view of Hou Chun-Ming's "Man Hole" at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei, for the show "Spectrosynthesis."

Installation view of Hou Chun-Ming’s “Man Hole” on the Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei, for the present “Spectrosynthesis.” Credit: Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei/Sunpride Foundation

Indeed, a second version of the present has since been held in Thailand — once more at a mainstream, publicly-funded venue, the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre — that includes virtually thrice the variety of artists. A 3rd is deliberate for Hong Kong in 2022, with Sun expressing hopes for them changing into a “new normal” in different Asian cities.

With Taiwan trying to ascertain itself as a industrial arts vacation spot (the launch of the Taipei Dangdai art truthful in 2019 signaled that the island could hope to problem Hong Kong’s domination of the Asian market), the island’s homosexual artists might, in flip, profit from the rising worldwide profile.

One such artist, Tzeng Yi-Hsin mentioned she skilled an uptick in worldwide inquiries after two of her pictures have been featured in “Spectrosynthesis.”

“I didn’t get a lot of response or feedback from inside Taiwan, but right after the show, I received more interest and approaches from people outside,” she mentioned, citing curiosity from Japanese collectors and Western media.

Tzeng Yi-Hsin's "Olympia," based on a Édouard Manet painting of the same name, is one of a series of pictures that saw the artist and photographer reenact famous paintings from art history.

Tzeng Yi-Hsin’s “Olympia,” based mostly on a Édouard Manet portray of the identical identify, is one in all a sequence of images that noticed the artist and photographer reenact well-known work from art historical past. Credit: Tzeng Yi-Hsin

Another shot from Tzeng's series recreates Manet's "Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe" (The Luncheon on the Grass).

Another shot from Tzeng’s sequence recreates Manet’s “Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe” (The Luncheon on the Grass). Credit: Tzeng Yi-Hsin

However, Tzeng additionally expressed reservations in regards to the exhibition’s heavy deal with male artists. Only three of the 22 taking part artists have been feminine, with only one figuring out as transgender. (Sun welcomed the critique, saying he “took it to heart” and is guaranteeing that his basis makes “a conscious effort to include female and transgender artists.”)

For the 41-year-old artist and photographer, this curatorial resolution represents a wider drawback going through the humanities in Taiwan: That homosexual male artists proceed to take a disproportionate chunk of the limelight.

“The majority of curators and collectors are male, and, from my perspective, they are more interested in gay male art,” she mentioned, including: “We all notice that there are a lot of gay artists (in Taiwan), but if a curator asks, ‘Who’s a lesbian artist?’ No one knows.”

Eschewing labels

According to Su Misu, an oversimplification of LGBTQ points is one other impediment going through Taiwan’s homosexual artists. She recognized a number of tough or difficult matters that stay arduous to deal with in mainstream boards.

“Issues deemed ‘taboo’ need more visibility, including drug abuse, AIDS, sex workers, transgender people, disabled people and BDSM practitioners,” she mentioned, including that exploring these matters might assist problem “inaccurate stereotypes about sex and gender.”

Art that conforms with the general public’s current concepts about LGBTQ communities will, she mentioned “only reinforce labeling minority groups.”

Pride 2020: A historical past of the rainbow flag

Even the idea of LGBTQ art itself could also be a generalization mentioned Tzeng, who would not acknowledge the existence of a homosexual art “scene,” per se, in Taipei. While a few of her work straight addresses LGBTQ themes, a lot of it is unrelated to her sexuality, corresponding to her iconoclastic pictures defacing traditional work or images of pop cultural and political figures like former Taiwanese chief Chiang Kai-shek.

“I never identified myself as a gay artist. I know my identity, but I’m just doing my own work.”

Tzeng's "My Dear Lovers" series saw her "defacing" various images and photographs.

Tzeng’s “My Dear Lovers” sequence noticed her “defacing” varied pictures and pictures. Credit: Tzeng Yi-Hsin

It’s a level additionally raised by Sun who, regardless of organizing LGBTQ-themed exhibitions, mentioned that artists’ main concern is “not to be labeled in expressing what they want to say.” But whether or not which means organizations like his would possibly, in a really perfect future, not must exist, is a moot level given the widespread challenges going through Asia’s homosexual artists, he mentioned.

“In the next 10 or 15 years we have a lot of work to do,” he mentioned. “So we can worry about that when the world has changed!”

Top picture: An intimate portrait by Taipei-based photographer 526.

Most Viewed