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Niranjan Kamatkar,  GFEST Artistic Director reflects on the impact of society’s slowly changing attitudes towards homosexuality on LGBTQI artists.

Consultation on the ‘Gay marriage’ Bill has opened up an opportunity for society to look at sexualities and gender prejudices in a way that some among us may not have done before. Opportunities are important: I have been noticing comments among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI) communities about the need for wider understanding of gender identities. People who think they are liberal and support the ‘gay cause’ – and more specifically in the arts – may be in for some surprises at their own perceptions and prejudices.

At GFEST – Gaywise FESTival , an LGBTQI cross arts event in London, we have witnessed a broad diversity of artistic content. But how do we look at a female artist’s work celebrating the ‘gay marriage’ of a white gay male couple? What about two trans women? How about the celebration of one white and one non-white women getting married? We all have views on homosexuality, sexual orientation and ideas about what defines a cohesive family unit, and media exposure can shape and influence these views. In recent years much more media coverage has been dedicated to diverse issues surrounding social changes and legal protection that affects LGBTQI people, but how successfully do the arts media (including mainstream news or media arts journalism) cover these issues to truly celebrate the works of the artists?

In theory, contemporary art created by LGBTQI practitioners will be exposed to the same degree of access, critique and opportunities as the mainstream art. In practice though, successful journeys for LGBTQI art works may prove more elusive due to fears that the physicality or directness of LGBTQI themes will shock and provoke objections among mainstream audiences. There have been instances of mainstream arts venues celebrating LGBTQI artworks but they are few and far between. The large body of work is still waiting to be showcased in venues with higher profile. Investment to create LGBTIQ artworks is a key issue, so innovation, creating critical vocabulary, marketing and reaching new audiences remains problematic. There is no single LGBTQI arts and culture ‘lobby’. There are organisations and passionate individuals who are doing excellent work, but most of us are still under resourced. Funders increasingly need to demonstrate that they reach out to tackle marginalisation, so that vulnerable LGBTQI artists can get their fair share of attention.

A number of people may wonder why ‘Same- Sex Marriage’ is an issue for the arts? The arts can exist and creativity can flourish without a specific social mandate (like marriage), without boundaries. But whilst for some the angst of inequality is the stimulus to creating a work of art, this is not the case for all and it is vital that opportunities to pursue creative avenues are not blocked by social perceptions. Life, in whatever situation, offers us enough to feed into our creativity – without needing the stimulus of being treated unequally because of our sexual orientation and/or gender identity. ‘Same-Sex Marriage’ will see British society slowly changes its attitude towards homosexuality. It is not about the word ‘marriage’ but about the acceptance of ‘equality in all walks of life’. It can and will influence long-term structures in sectors such as art and culture. More collaborative initiatives will take place to encourage development between LGBTQI artists across ethnicity groups, cultural origins, sexualities and age ranges, and more young LGBTQI artists at crossroads in their careers will seek guidance and gain the confidence to generate or exchange high quality artistic ideas, collaborations and creative developments.

Oscar Wilde said: “A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament.” I think the challenges posed in a Same Sex marriage will offer that uniqueness to LGBTQI artists and the wider arts, benefiting audiences everywhere.

Niranjan Kamatkar is Artistic Director of GFEST – Gaywise FESTival

GFEST announced call for 2012 entries on web:

First published on 27 April 2012 on Arts Professional website.