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Interview / Sean Alistair – Where does queer belong to?

February 28th – April 11th 2024, Massy Arts will host, Bodyscapes : Rebellion + Revolution, a new group show by queer artists Khalil Alomar, Oliver Rinne, Wilson S. Wilson, and Sean Alistair.

“Bodyscapes: Rebellion + Revolution” showcases an ensemble of artists in different stages of their careers, merging painting, embroidery, performance, and photography to elucidate the nuanced (and political) intersections of queer experiences. This group exhibition offers a contemplative exploration of the complex interplay between the corporeal, gender identity, societal oppression, and the processes of socialization.

The thematic core of the exhibition revolves around the intricate dialogues between rebellion and societal revolution within the context of queer narratives, elucidating the struggles and challenges inherent to the pursuit of authentic selfhood.

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Global Context:

As we enter March of 2024, the political global scenario presents challenges of discussing the intersections of gender and religion, especially given the pinkwashing we are witnessing by Israel as an excuse to commit genocide against Palestinian people. Islamophobia is rampant, with Western media (and Western-funded wars) spreading propaganda and creating monsters out of citizens. Having scheduled this group show in September of 2023, we were faced with the challenge of holding space for discussions around faith-based criticism, while protesting against the horrors that are happening right now, in Gaza, Ukraine, Sudan, everywhere. 

Recognizing that Massy Arts and Massy Books hold no space for prejudice against community members of religious groups (in the context of this exhibition, Muslims and Christians), we wish this exhibition to raise questions and awareness about gender-phobia and gender crimes committed by institutions throughout history. In this sense, the history of the queer body is also a history of violence upon the body.

By creating a space that is by and for over-excluded voices, we also recognize that many of the identities that are welcomed into our space may have diverging opinions about structures of gender, sexuality, race, class, and faith. By bringing these works to our gallery, we wish to raise questions that lead to a broader understanding of one’s right to their own bodies (and their own lives).

Political art is tough, it is challenging, and it invites audiences to sit within their own discomforts in order to empathize with political freedom. By curating Bodyscapes, we hope to raise awareness about ways society and institutions oppress and suppress gender-based identities, and to highlight and uplift the works of queer artists from our community.

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This project is supported by the Community Arts Council of Vancouver + First Peoples’ Cultural Council.

The Massy Arts Gallery is located at 23 East Pender Street in Chinatown, Vancouver.
The gallery is open Wednesday to Saturday, 12pm to 5pm.
Entrance is free, and masks are mandatory.

To contact the gallery, send an email to:

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To celebrate the exhibition, curator Rafael Zen interviews Alistair for Massy Arts, investigating the struggles and challenges one must face to find community.

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Sean Alistair – Where does queer belong to?

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Rafael Zen – In the upcoming show “Bodyscapes : Rebellion + Revolution”, you are exhibiting a series called “Over And Around The River Streu”. Why this title? What does this address mean in the context of the pieces you are bringing?

Sean Alistair – Nestled between the hills of the Bavarian countryside is a small river called “The Streu” that runs next to a small town called “Oberstreu” and it is here that to my surprise I found acceptance and community. Before meeting my partner I had no intentions of moving to Germany let alone outside Canada, however when he had to go home, I decided to follow him. As this was my first time leaving North America the culture shock was quite intense and although that transition often seemed impossible the life experiences were invaluable.

The art works within the series “Over and Around the River Streu” depict a kaleidoscope of events and experiences that I would have otherwise not been able to encounter if it wasn’t for this chance meeting of my partner. I had to interrogate so many of my preconceived notions of the world which was an extremely humbling and uncomfortable process.

The themes within the series are quite varied and discuss ideas such as finding community, starting a family, relationships, marriage, war, and even my feelings towards faith. Every one of the inspirations for these concepts only came to me because of where I had moved to for love.

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RZ – In your artist statement, you affirm that this series discusses the struggles and challenges one must face to find community, and you also seem to use embroidery onto historical images. How do you think both of these elements work in your series? What would community mean in this visual exploration? Are you directly addressing the queer experience?

SA – I often hear from straight people that “it’s different for you now”, suggesting that because we can marry we are suddenly completely safe. Even with all the privileges my husband and I both hold, our journey has still been extremely hard which makes my heart ache for those with less privileges than us. Those who are constantly the victims of attacks for simply existing. For every Queer person there are so many extra steps to achieve simple life stages that come so easily to most straight people. I use historical images as a way to reflect on the past experiences of those before me.

I recently have become part of the middle generation, no longer the youth but the adult. I often think about the modern Queer experience for those children or teenagers who are coming out now and juxtapose it against my own Queer experience. This realization has made me reflect on how different it was for those before me and how each generation is in servitude to the next, just trying to make the world a better and safer place.

Within my work I want to simultaneously pay homage to our Queer ancestors who didn’t get to live the life I’m living whilst also showing the younger generations that there can be a happy ending for you too. Within my work one continuous thread that connects every painting is the question of “where do I belong?” because I think every Queer person has asked themselves that exact same question.

Although not every portrait I paint is that of a Queer person, they each hold an attribute that I find relatable to my own journey. Within my own life I don’t think I am experiencing things that no straight person has ever experienced, what I’m exploring is the combinations of such experiences. Straight people may struggle with their family, coming to terms with aspects of themselves, finding love, being accepted by their community or even finding work, but for Queer people it isn’t rare that we have experienced all of these things.

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RZ – I would like to address the use of military iconography in your work. Can you explain why you were drawn to these images?

SA – Although I grew up watching the news and understanding what war was and where it was happening, it is a different experience to live in a city that still shows signs of the destruction. To still see bullet holes on the walls of buildings or to walk over the Holocaust memorial plaques placed on the sidewalks in front of houses is a sobering reminder of what happened. I have always had an extreme anxiety towards war and I remember as a young child that I decided I would prefer to shoot my own foot off than kill another human, so when the war on the Ukraine had started and I saw the German military fighter jets fly above me to fortifie the border, I was terrified. It was at that point I never truly realised or accepted how sheltered I was back in Vancouver and wanted to explore this topic.

“The Rashomon Effect” explores the manipulated narratives told to civilians surrounding war by not only the government but also the media. This series is not about country vs. country, but from the perspective of people in power making those without power fight their fights. The questions I’m asking with this series are: Would anyone actually fight in battle if they didn’t have to? Why aren’t the ones who’ve decided to start the fight on the front line with their people? And lastly, if we didn’t have a lexicon for war of view as a solution would we ever have another one?

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RZ – When you present these works, what do you expect from the audience? What is the main dialogue you are proposing to the viewer?

SA – Every body of work starts by identifying and interrogating a topic that makes me the most uncomfortable or is the greatest source of anxiety for me. Since my chosen materials and processes are very time consuming, while I progress I end up layering in more and more thoughts, ideas and detailBs.

My hope is that the viewer takes the time to look at every detail and think about how they reflect and work with the title of the piece and the main dialogue to be had is simply asking oneself this question “why this title?”.

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RZ – If you could suggest another artist/piece to our readers, one that you feel would dialogue well with your series, what would this artist be? And why?

SA – I actually try to limit my exposure to other fine artists as I don’t want to be influenced by those within my own field and try to keep my works an extremely internal and personal experience. However I am constantly referencing three designers in all my work, Alexander McQueen, Martin Margiela and Hussein Chalayan. For further inspiration behind their works there are two great documentaries I would suggest to watch, first “Martin Margiela in His Own Words” and “McQueen”.

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