Credit: Courtesy Queer Arts Project
The digital platform hoping to redefine 'queer' art
If you're in the market for ghoulish ceramic heads or colorful collages of gay sex among off-duty soldiers, a new digital art platform has you covered.
The one-of-a-kind online hub is a new venture from Queer Art Projects, a London-based production company. Launched last December, QAP.digital is currently home to sixteen LGBTQ artists and features dozens of pieces — from paintings to zines, photography to textile art — handpicked by its founders Tuna Erdem and Seda Ergul, and collaborator Mine Kaplangi.
Its goal: to uplift contemporary queer art in all its forms — and make it easier than ever to market it. "QAP.digital believes queer art needs to be kept alive not only in the name of much needed diversity, but also in the name of perpetual creativity," the website reads. "QAP.digital is a space to celebrate queer art, and to help it live, flourish, thrive."
Erdem and Ergul say they keep an eye out for art that goes beyond just addressing queerness in terms of gender and sexuality. They are interested in all the ways queerness serves as a force of creativity in life — in form, style, production and presentation.
A powerful platform
QAP.digital was borne largely of Erdem and Ergul's frustrations with the London art scene, and the limitations they feel it places on so many creatives. The art world forces queer artists into boxes, the pair argue, treating the term queer "as a life sentence" and ultimately "tokenizing" artists who identify as such. With QAP.digital, they hope to provide a space for artists to have the freedom to interrogate queerness as it relates to their work beyond its meaning as an identifier of sexual orientation.
"This is the moment when we first thought a commercial platform might create an alternative source of income to queer artists," Erdem and Ergul, who both identify as queer, told CNN in an email.
"We are on our own trying to do something against the grain, in an art sector that is difficult to penetrate even if you do everything by the book and in a wider cultural climate that is becoming increasingly transphobic and xenophobic," they said.
"When the straight cis white artist is free to roam as they please, only dwell on aesthetic considerations, come up with pure abstractions, why does the queer artist have to be limited to speaking about queer issues in a recognizable way to tick some boxes?"
London-based sculpturist Alicia Radage is one of the artists currently represented on the platform.
"I love my work being in the flesh and people being in the same space and time," Radage told CNN. "And also that is incredibly draining on resources, time, energy, money... What I can do though, is spend loads of time in my studio making a piece of work, photograph it and put it in (an) online gallery. More people are going to be able to see it and engage with it," she said.
Radage's experiences with QAP.digital, and with Erdem and Ergul, have been a welcome change of pace from the wider art market — they are emotionally invested, she told CNN, but always professional. Their support allows her to create freely, while still allowing her to profit from her work, she explained. (Radage has yet to see any of her work sold through QAP.digital, however.)
According to Stonewall, an LGBTQ charity based in the UK, "queer is a term used by those wanting to reject specific labels of romantic orientation, sexual orientation and/or gender identity." While historically the term had been viewed as a slur against LGBTQ people, the queer community reclaimed the term in the 1980s — and today, it is often a preferred identifier.
Erdem and Ergul say they want their platform to break conventions around queerness. QAP.digital takes an even broader approach to the term, however, arguably closer to the word's original definition as an adjective — as "deviating from the norm" in any and every sense, and not limited to art made by queer artists. Its website calls for giving "center stage and exclusivity to the marginalized and tokenized members of the institutional art world," and QAP.digital is a space open to any creative whose work or aesthetic embodies this holistic definition of "queerness."
"One of the beautiful things about the term queer is (that it is) all-encompassing," said Gemma Rolls-Bentley, chief curator of Avant Arte, an online platform that brings together emerging artists. "The definition of queer by its nature has got to be quite broad and inclusive."
"It's fantastic having a safe space for queer people," Rolls-Bentley, who identifies as queer, said. "But a space where people who don't identify as queer can come and celebrate and learn and share experiences with queer people is a really powerful thing that we need."
But while Rolls-Bentley argues there is still merit in carving out space for queer artists in bigger museums, auction houses, and galleries," Erdem and Ergul have different priorities.
"Most galleries do not understand queer artists' specific needs. To most artists, feeling that you genuinely value their work, not just by assigning a price to it, but by understanding exactly where they are coming from with their work, is much more important than how much they sell."
Top image: The landing page at QAP.Digital, which rotates regularly through artwork and pieces within the platform's collections.