Ivo Theatre presents Outrageous! Artists’ Commission 2018, a UK commission specifically for queer Asian artists, enabling them to create innovative new work to be presented in a night of queer cabaret, music, dance, performance art and theatre.
Curated by Vikrant Dhote and Jo Tyabji, the evening is hosted by Sabah C, and features a guest appearance by dream-pop artist Leo Kalyan.
I caught up with co-curator Jo Tyabji for a behind-the-scenes look at what we can expect from Outrageous!
This is the second year that Outrageous! has commissioned and showcased the work of Queer Asian artists in London. Has there been evolution of the concept and the event from last year?
This is the first year we’ve brought Outrageous! to London. It began in Mumbai as a commission for LGBTQ artists from anywhere, and the artists we met were migrants to the City of Dreams — as Mumbai is known — from the rest of India and the world, as well as Mumbaikers.
That first year was about bringing together the queer themed or LGBTQ created performances in Mumbai’s cultural space for a night that focused only them, in a cultural scene where parties rule and the occasional gay play or dance piece exists in isolation in a wider programme of straight work. It was a huge sell-out success, and artists who took part have spoken about what it meant to them to feel part of a wider community of queer performers.
This year it’s developed into a commission for LGBTQ Asians and people of Asian heritage out of a sense of what London’s queer art circles are missing — and what our Asian art circles are missing. Club Kali has been going strong as a music and let it all hang loose space for a long time, and the Queer Asia film festival is on in London right now, but we’re still lacking a night for live performance of all stripes and none. I remember Pravesh Kumar of Rifco Theatre Company, who have made incredible British Asian theatre for nearly 20 years, talk about how they truffled loads of LGBTQ references into their early work that would soar over the heads of the more conservative Aunties and Uncles to land on the ears of the people it needed to land on. A cunning way of creating work for both the gay and straight British Asian community back in the day, but I guess it feels like time for something a bit more out there.
There are a handful of LGBTQ Asian performing artists visible in the queer performance scene, but we know more are out there in the wider industry. Nights like the Cocoa Butter Club welcome and support us as part of the wider QPOC family, and have been an incredible and supportive platform for me and more established artists like ShayShay. But I wanted to dream of a night that could encourage the semi-closeted out onto the stage, and sometimes you need to know someone’s speaking just to you to be able to hear the message. We kept the commission broad and all-embracing though — any and every kind of Asian is welcome. I don’t know London’s East Asian community, so I had an imagination failure when it came to knowing who would be listening. Tons of people, it turns out, and we have a line up that reflects that.
Where has the funding come from to provide these commissions to the selected artists?
Arts Council England have provided the funding for the commissions. We’re also very blessed to be supported by Tamasha Theatre Company, Talking Birds — who are providing their closed captioning system The Difference Engine to us for free, and Hackney Showroom who have embraced and run with the project. We’re still fundraising though, to be able to afford the highest standard of translation so we can provide captions in more than one language, and to be able to provide free tickets to LGBTQ refugees and vulnerable members of our wider community. You can donate to our GoFundMe.
How were the commissioned artists selected?
We put out an open call in multiple languages. We were looking for highly creative takes on the theme offered by the commission — legitimate love. We wanted artists to be clear in their aims, and give us a sense that what they were proposing was achievable. We received some incredible ideas, more than we could possibly support, so we’ve invited all shortlisted artists to a drinks gathering before the show so we can meet properly and hopefully spark further creative relationships for the future. We’ve also started a facebook group for LGBTQ Asian performers and creatives working in London, so if that’s you get in touch and we’ll add you.
Have the artists been given a brief to work to or respond to, or do they have total creative freedom?
The brief is to create up to ten minutes of work in any medium that can be performed in a converted warehouse. Even two minutes can be a long time on stage, so five minutes of pure excellence is preferable to ten minutes with a bit of waffle in it. We gave ‘legitimate love’ as a theme and outlined what that phrase brought to mind for us, but then encouraged each artist to respond in any way, take it in any direction that felt interesting to them.
You’ve talked about Outrageous! helping to build bridges between the continents for the Queer Asian community — what are some of the barriers to forming those global networks?
Resources and borders are the main barriers. There’s huge inequality in how easy it is to cross a border, and how people are treated at them. I’m very lucky to be able to go to most places in the world and meet with relatively little turbulence. If I got my act together and applied for my Overseas Citizen of India card it’d be even easier. It can be tricky for Indians coming to the UK, and the lack of reciprocity in visa fees from the UK government has been in the media recently. These barriers become surmountable with strong producing partnerships.
At the moment, it’s hard for artists to identify who to go to with their work internationally, safe in the knowledge it will be supported — particularly in countries where colonial laws criminalising homosexuality still stand, or where current cultural and political trends are not in our favour. We’re so happy that Vikrant Dhote, who co-produced the first Outrageous! with me in Mumbai, has worked with us on this and is here in London now. Two of our guest artists are appearing by video from India as it was slightly beyond our reach to fund international travel for artists this year. But through continuing to develop relationships with venues and producers like Sitara Studios in Mumbai and Hackney Showroom in the UK, we hope to build the infrastructure that Queer Asian performers can trust when creating and touring their work.
What’s your experience of queer Asian identifies being co-opted by racists and Islamophobes?
It may be that queer Asians get coopted by racists — I’ve yet to meet a queer Asian who’s joined the EDL. But I have met white gays who have. I was once called a ‘black cunt’ by two tall muscular white men in the heart of Dalston on a buzzing Friday night. I was heading to Dalston Superstore via Voodoo Rays, and it caught me totally off guard, it was like I’d been given a lazy backhanded slap by a giant. I ran after them shouting, they ignored me, laughing as they strode away.
I spent my 20s shouting down homophobic abuse and taking perhaps too many risks. I’ve been lucky not to have experienced serious harm, but as a light-skinned mixed-race person growing up in London, I know I’m on the ‘gets off nearly scot-free’ end of the spectrum when it comes to racism. So my shock was definitely part of that privilege — I just hadn’t had it much. I was also confused. I’m not black, so why had they chosen that insult?
The next day I found out that the EDL had marched in Newcastle in part of their anti-Muslim lash-out after the murder of Lee Rigby, and a man called Alan Spence had yelled into the mic — ‘send the black cunts home.’ And it all made sense. The far right were being a bit retro and eighties, and using ‘black’ in a political sense. They’d read me as Asian, and referred to me as Black.
There is an assumption in some parts of the white mainstream in London that Asians are more homophobic than white British people. Even when this is said with sympathy — as in ‘Oh it must have been so hard for you coming out’ — it’s tricky, because alongside blunt obvious racism it can make it hard to talk about difficult experiences, without feeling like you’re feeding a stereotype. In my case, my very cosmopolitan Muslim Indian grandfather was accepting and loving of my first girlfriend when I took her to meet him in Mumbai, while it was actually my English grandmother who had a harder time understanding why I’d choose to be with my ‘friend.’
What gets even harder, is when LGBTQ identities are actively used against us. A man who calls himself Tommy English started a group called Gays against Sharia to do just that. His argument is that Muslim people being in the UK is a danger to him as a gay man. It might sound laughable, but a nice liberal casting director I know said essentially the same thing to me a few months back. We were joking around between seeing actors, and I said something about being a Muslim convert, and he said he didn’t want to be thrown off a roof. ‘That’s ISIS you’re thinking of, not Islam…’ is what I wanted to say, or what I would have said if I’d thought quicker. But sometimes it’s easier not to open the can of worms, and the next actor was about to walk in, so I swallowed it — it burned on the way down.
Why is it important to hold this event as part of the build up to the Pride in London celebrations?
The first Outrageous! took place at the end of Mumbai’s Pride Month, so it felt like a good tradition to keep up. But it also feels like a time of year to step forward and be counted, whether it’s down in central London on the day of Pride in London, or by creating spaces and making a noise around that day.
Amrou Al-Khadi, the brilliant British-Iraqi performer and writer from Denim, wrote recently about Islamophobic abuse that took place on last year’s Pride in London parade — this year, Imaan LGBTQ are marching in the parade for the first time.
We’re so happy to have been supported by UK Black Pride in getting the word out about the commission, and it definitely feels to us like we’re in good company that weekend, with Queer Picnic creating a sober space for Queer People of Colour and our allies on the Saturday, and UK Black Pride on the Sunday.
Who will this showcase event appeal to?
If you like the RVT, this is for you. If you always think ‘oh, I should get to theatre’ but then choose a gig instead, this is for you. If you want something extraordinary to fill the time between taking a shower and doing your hair before you head off into the great gay night-before-Pride out there, this is for you. Outrageous! is a night where Asian Queers can just be, no explanation no apology, and if you’re down for that then you’re welcome whoever you are. Bring your dad, your Aunty Kamila, and her best mate Val. Why not?
What do you hope that people feel when watching the commissioned artists performing their pieces?
We’ve got a stuntwoman who sent us a picture of her arm on fire as part of her application, and not one but three incredible male dancers exploring masculinity and homosexual love, so I hope you’re taken on a rollercoaster. Then when you come out the other side and are listening to guest artist Leo Kalyan’s dreamy vocals, I hope your heart’s expanded with the richness of human experience, and your adrenaline is up for the Pride weekend to come.
We want to hear your opinion
Beach Boys in the Buff
I caught up with artist Marc DeBauch to look at his series of work titled Beach Boys.
When did you discover and start to explore your passion for art?
I started drawing and painting when I was three years old. Before I was five, I remember creating a crayon drawing of the Sinking of the Titanic on the rough plaster of the living-room wall of my parents’ house. It was impossible to remove — my parents weren’t happy with me, but after that they provided me with enough art materials to pursue my creative interests without destroying their home.
When did you start specialising in painting naked men and creating erotic art?
It was 36 years ago when I started painting male nudes and selling them in a local gay book store. Then, in 1995, I entered two paintings in the Tom of Finland Foundation’s Emerging Erotic Artists Contest. I was won first place, which opened the door for my art career, as I was immediately approached by galleries and magazines that wanted to feature my art.
This gave me the confidence and notoriety to exhibit and sell my work at erotic art fairs and gay events. At that time, the internet was just emerging, so my friend Andrew created a website for me, which was a fantastic tool to get my art out to people around the world.
You’ve written that Tom of Finland is one of the major influences on your work — when did you first encounter the work of Tom of Finland?
I remember seeing Tom of Finland’s art in a porno magazine my friend had in high school. I was just amazed at the sexual tension, outrageous anatomy, and attention to detail in Tom’s art.
This was back in the early 1970s, so gay porn was just emerging legally in magazines and films. At the time, I wasn’t talented enough to draw the human figure accurately. But, I was fascinated enough to want to try. My sister’s boyfriend was a photographer, and he gave me his dark room equipment — back then you actually had to develop film, as there were no digital cameras.
I talked a friend into posing naked for me while jacking off, and I developed the film and made some prints. I was 14 years old, photographing another 14-year-old boy. It was very exciting creating my own porn! Unfortunately, my dad — being supportive of my art — wanted to see the photos, and of course I couldn’t show him. Not only did he not approve of gays, he didn’t want his son to be gay. He would have probably hit me if he knew I was a homosexual creating gay porn! So, I destroyed the photos almost in front of him, while saying — “The photos didn’t turn out and I would show him better work at another time.”
I was scared and freaked out. I knew I was self-censoring. But I also realised that if I was going to create erotic art that I would have to do it in secret. When Tom of Finland began drawing naked men, he also had to make his art in secret. I think most erotic artists learn to be very careful about choosing the right audience to exhibit their work to.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
My inspiration comes from people I know. I’ve been fortunate to see and meet many beautiful men in my life. Capturing their beauty and illustrating them in a unique way, is my goal.
What’s your creative process?
My creative process is different every time I paint. Sometimes an idea for a painting just pops in my head and I try to find model to pose for a photo to match my vision — that’s often the easiest route.
I rarely work from a live model. My paintings take so long to create — I often work all night on a painting — so, finding a model to sit for that long of a period and whenever I want them, is impossible. I use the photos of my models as reference.
Often, I look through hundreds of images and piece things together in a collage. It’s more like a jigsaw puzzle — lots of pieces missing, and my mind fills in those missing pieces with an arm from this model, the chest from another, the dick from another, the face from another, and so on, until I have the entire figure. But then I have to decide how the light and setting will pull all of those puzzle pieces together.
I have dozens of photos that are my references for every detail of plants, animals, rocks, furnishings. I sort through a constant mess of photos — gradually eliminating those references as my brain digests the information and my brush puts it on the canvas or paper.
The paintings that form the Beach Boys series are beautiful — what are some of the challenges in creating beach scenes like this?
Trying to find a balance between the setting and the model is always a challenge. I don’t want the model to overpower the beach, or the beach to feel more important than the model. I want my paintings to have a natural feeling, like you could be at the beach with my models.
Who are the men featured in the paintings of the Beach Boys series?
The men in my Beach Boy series are mostly friends that have modelled for me. Sometimes I find a photograph of a model that someone else has taken, that inspires me to use it as a reference pose to work from, then I find one of the photos of a beach that I’ve visited and I try to recreate a similar pose in a drawing that will eventually become a painting.
What do you hope that people feel when they look at your work?
I don’t want to just give the viewer of my art an erection, I want them to feel like they’re part of the painting, that they want to invite the men in my paintings into their homes, their beds, their dungeon, their car, their locker room, or the bushes for a hot fuck, butt licking, cock sucking, ass spanking good time.
I hope to excite the viewer visually, emotionally as well as spiritually. It’s my goal as an artist and sexually active gay man to paint erotica that continually challenges the views of people who oppose sexual freedom. If my paintings assist the viewer in discovering where they are in the spectrum of human sexuality, then my aim is reaching its target.
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