Queer Arts Festival 2023 imagines brighter futures

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      With everything the queer community has faced in recent months (and years), it can sometimes be hard to imagine a future in which we can express ourselves without fear of oppression. The Queer Arts Festival (QAF) wants to change that.

      Returning to the Roundhouse for its 2023 programming, with exhibitions also taking place at the James Black Gallery and Chinatown’s SUM Gallery, the QAF has always curated its annual festival around a specific theme. Now, it seeks to unify the queer community by celebrating the differences inherent within it, exploring the ways in which we create space and imagining a future in which we can be fun, wild, and free.

      “I wanted to do something slightly campier and cheekier,” says QAF artistic director Mark Takeshi McGregor. “Futurism has always been a cornerstone of the queer experience because it’s where we can envision our ideal selves. Through futurism we can create a world that doesn’t yet exist.”

      This year, QAF will create that world, inviting artists both local and international to explore all the different ways they experience queerness and take up space, making the 2023 title—Queers in Space—a delightful double-entendre.

      For McGregor, one of the most exciting prospects of curating Queers in Space was the opportunity to explore the “plurality of queerness” and examine the intersections of cultural identity that make us who we are. He sees this festival as an opportunity to reach across our divisions and reimagine queerness within the community’s “spectrum of perspectives”—and envision the future we can build together when we celebrate our uniqueness.

      Which is why, the day after the opening party on June 17, the festival kicks off with Love After the End, a literary arts event produced in partnership with the Talking Stick Festival. Following in QAF’s history of multidisciplinary art events, Love After the End is a literary event which spotlights the eponymous anthology of Indigenous fiction edited by Oji-Nêhiyaw author and scholar Joshua Whitehead.

      “What I love about Love After the End is that it takes the Indigenous queer experience and projects them into the future,” says McGregor.

      “It shows that there’s queer Indigeneity happening in the future and it’s strong.”

      Just as the festival is all about imagining prospective utopias, the programming also reaches back to age-old traditions to find new meanings. This is the case for Preston Buffalo’s augmented-reality project.

      Brought to life by QR codes, this exhibition will be installed in the Roundhouse for the duration of the festival, and tells the cosmic creation story of how the Cree people came from the Pleiades star cluster.

      “It’s very rooted in Cree symbolism and iconography,” McGregor explains, “making it a fusion of tradition and future. It’s the natural extension of sci-fi.”

      Queerness is often thought of as contemporary, perhaps because queer identity has, for so long, been ignored, shoved to the sidelines, and suppressed by Western heteronormative cultures. But queer people have always been here, and Queers in Space shines a light on the spaces where queerness has always existed, whether mainstream society recognized it or not.

      Such is the case for Witch Prophet, a concert by Ayo Leilani that will be produced in partnership with the Vancouver International Jazz Festival.

      “Jazz actually has a lot of queer icons,” says McGregor “but they haven’t necessarily been recognized as such.” McGregor hopes that this partnership will inspire people to re-examine jazz from a queer perspective—one that has always been present within the medium.

      “It shows that we’ve always been there,” he says.

      And of course, no queer festival in 2023 would be complete without a reaction to current events. Also installed in the Roundhouse for the duration of the fest is bumfuzzled monachopsis, a visual arts exhibition curated by Zandi Dandizette.

      “Zandi wanted to create a show that spoke to all the anti-trans legislation that’s happening in the States right now,” explains McGregor, “and to put trans artists front and centre.”

      Featuring more than 20 artists, some local and some international, bumfuzzled monachopsis is, according to McGregor, powerful, vibrant, and visually rich. As with the festival’s other programming, intersectionality is key.

      “We’re exploring how trans identities are expressed through intersectionality as well,” says McGregor. “How trans people take up their own space within an Indigenous context, within an Asian context, and the complexities that come with that.”

      In the present day, the queer community can often feel divided by all the different identities that exist within it. But with Queers in Space, McGregor aims to prove that this diversity of experience is what makes us who we are—and it’s what makes our future so exciting to imagine.

      “The beautiful thing about the future is that it hasn’t happened yet and it’s up to us to create,” McGregor says. “Queerness is made more complex by our intersectionalities, but that just makes it even more important for us to express our future potential, so we can build it for ourselves.” 

      Queers in Space will run from June 17 to 28, with exhibitions and events at the Roundhouse, the James Black Gallery, and the SUM Gallery. For the full programming schedule, visit queerartsfestival.com.