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Queer Artists Don’t Owe You Anything ‘in the Age of Trump’

kimberly drew

Kimberly Drew, guest editor of our art issue starring Zanele Muholi and Ruth Bell, weighs in on the queer duties of the art world.

The task of being an artist is undoubtedly a daunting one. In moments of political instability and extreme violence, we have historically turned to artists to help us make some sense of the world around us. (Think of: Gran Fury, Emory Douglas, Jenny Holzer, Zoe Leonard, Fred Wilson, or Ai Weiwei.)

With this in mind, I was disenchanted (but not surprised) when, after our country's most recent presidential election, I saw friends jubilantly forecasting "Art in the Age of Trump." While it is true that art made in eras of civic unrest often resonates, it is equally true that artworks should never be divorced from the stories of their authors and co-conspirators.

I am always curious about the labor that goes into making art. How does the social history of a work inform both its practitioner and the artwork's intended or inherited audience? When I accepted the invitation to be the guest editor for Out's art issue, I wanted us to create an issue celebrating the triumphs of queer and transgender artists and culture workers while answering questions about our duties as practitioners. I hoped that we'd speak to our boundless creativity while grounding ourselves in the reality of these dark times.

For our first cover, we are honored to present a commissioned portrait by my friend and hero, the inimitable Marilyn Minter -- an artist who does not smoke, drink, or take shit from anybody. For the cover, Minter photographs the trailblazing model Ruth Bell. Minter is an artist's artist whose sorcery grants us permission to feel disillusioned by the world around us. Like Bell, she does not fear beauty or ugliness, reaching for a more radical future.

Our second cover was conceived during a visit to the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in Kerala, India, where queer artist and curator Anita Dube explored the "Possibilities for a Non-Alienated Life," or more simply, the idea that "if we desire a better life on this earth, we must in all humility start to reject an existence in the service of capital."

During my visit, I was struck by Aryakrishnan's Sweet Maria Monument, a tribute to Maria, an openly trans activist who was involved with the queer rights movement in Kerala before being brutally murdered. Later, when I viewed our cover star Zanele Muholi's work pasted in the streets of Kochi, as part of the same biennale, I knew that it had to be front and center in this issue. If Aryakrishnan's work is a monument to someone that we lost too soon, Muholi's work could be a celebration of the potential for a vibrant utopia for marginalized people. I thought of the romantic notion that, while there is always a threat of violence for trans and nonbinary people in far too many places, there is also a possibility that their stories can be centered.

In this spirit, it is my hope that with this issue, you all feel a little less alone. Art institutions can be intimidating, but I hope that in reading about The Museum of Transgender Hirstory & Art (MOTHA), Andrew Bolton's meditation on Susan Sontag's "Notes on Camp," or Raul de Nieves's larger-than-life sculptures, you are inspired to engage with art and artists. We're in a moment where we need artists. That means artists may need us, too. Please take this issue as an invitation to support an artist, or support the artist inside of you.

Kimberly Drew guest edited Out's May issue features a dual cover of Ruth Bell by Marilyn Minter and South African artist Zanele Muholi. To read more, grab your own copy of the issue on Kindle, Nook, Zinio or (newly) Apple News+ today. Preview more of the issue here and click here to subscribe.

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Kimberly Drew