An exploration of LGBTQ+ artists and their modes of activism and inclusivity

Artists have long recognised, and utilised, the overlap between art and activism throughout history. The LGBTQ+ community have always been present within visuality; whether covertly, such as Edmund Dulac’s Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon as Medieval Saints (1920), or overtly, such as Robert Mapplethorpe’s Two Men Dancing (1984). The art space provides an opportunity for LGBTQ+ artists to depict the presence of their community, while promoting the need for inclusivity and activism. As society has accommodated for greater inclusivity and equality, artworks have noticeably become less concealed in their representation of, and advocacy for, the LGBTQ+ community. There is a range of messages that contemporary artists put forward in their advocacy. 

            Edmund Dulac, Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon as Medieval Saints (1920), tempera on linen, 38.7 x 30.5 cm. Courtesy of:
Robert Mapplethorpe, Two Men Dancing, (1984), gelatin silver print, 48.5 x 38.6 cm. Courtesy of:

LGBTQ+ artists can call for greater governmental support…

The AIDS epidemic of the 1980s was triggered by a lack of governmental support and information on gay relations. This was all intensified by the homophobic culture of the period - in spite of some legal advancements, such as the decriminalisation of homosexuality (1967). Seen as threats and sexually deviant, the community was ostracised. Keith Haring created candid works that promoted safe sex for the gay community. Entitled Safe Sex, the piece was one of the very first to engage with the AIDS crisis. Haring’s frank visuals defied the covert narratives surrounding the issue; and it, therefore simultaneously, criticised the government for leaving it to non-governmental bodies to promote the need for safe and equal healthcare. 

Keith Haring, Safe Sex (1985), acrylic on canvas, 152.4 x 152.6 cm. Courtesy of:

…artworks can normalise the LGBTQ+ community to encourage inclusion

Duo artists, Gilbert and George, sought to normalise their homosexuality by presenting their relationship in full view. Their work was regarded as radical in the 1970s, placing a gay relationship front and centre that replaced any salacious qualities with that of the ordinary. Balls: The Evening Before the Morning After – Drinking Sculpture (1972) is an arrangement of photographs of the artists’ and their home. The focus is on their drinking - an aspect that increasingly became important to their work - while the presence of their relationship within the visuals is simply present. Balls, and their other pieces, sought to normalise their homosexuality; thus, advocating for inclusivity fortuitously.

 Gilbert and George, Balls: The Evening Before the Morning After - Drinking Sculpture (1972), 114 photographs, gelatin silver prints on paper, displayed as 210.8 x 438.2 cm. Courtesy of:

LGBTQ+ artists can recognise inequity, exclusion and discrimination in their work…

To highlight the inequalities faced by the LGBTQ+ community can, in turn, challenge that imbalance. Carmel Whittle’s work Honouring Their Lives references the 2016 Florida Massacre. This event saw the murder of 50 gay people, with another 52 injured. The bold strokes of paint are symbolic of the Pride Rainbow - remaining vibrant amongst the sea of deep and turbulent waters below. The Pride flag is a symbol of celebration, strength and resilience; thus, allowing Whittle to honour the lives taken while challenging societal norms. 

Carmel Whittle, Honouring Their Lives, acrylic on canvas, 121.9 x 91.4 cm.

…while also examining gendered representation

Artwork can promote inclusivity through an exploration of LGBTQ+ depictions. Silvio Severino’s series I Kissed A Boy and I Liked It is an ongoing project that explores masculinity in collage. The spectrum of male iconography is explored through surreal and abstract visuals. Severino expands upon society’s current criticism of masculinity through a queer gaze, as a gay man born and raised in a conservative, hyper-macho Brazilian society. The artist examined gendered representations to promote inclusivity for those within the LGBTQ+ community whose self-presentation may not fit within society’s tight, and often restricted, frameworks of gender.

Silvio Severino, I Kissed A Boy and I Liked It XIII, mixed media on paper, 38.5 x 33.6 cm.


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