Sean C. S. Hu
Differences make diversification possible, yet consequences can be detrimental. Understanding, mercy, and tolerance are the only way to resolve conflicts and misunderstandings.
Spectrosynthesis: Asian LGBTQ Issues and Art Now hosted by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei (MOCA) will be the first exhibition of its kind presented by a government institution in Asia to explore LGBTQ issues in the context of contemporary art. Similar exhibitions have taken place and become quite common for years in the West. In 2017, Tate Modern and Tate Britain, two prestigious British museums, both organized large-scale thematic exhibitions of several LGBTQ artists to honour and highlight their artistic achievements without any discreditation due to their sexual orientation, well-reflecting the British society’s long-term efforts and accomplishments in promoting human rights. However, such kind of exhibitions and researches have been conspicuously absent from the Chinese art scene, and government-run museums in Asia have been especially reticent about addressing LGBTQ issues. In the contemporary art community where diversity of issue and content is cherished, this phenomenon is both paradoxical and unacceptable, and particularly incomprehensible in Taiwan which is widely recognized as congenial to LBGTQ rights and highly possible to become the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage. In view of this, MOCA’s timely decision to present Spectrosynthesis in 2017 as the first stop of its international tour is not only a parallel movement in response to its European counterpart, but also a historical event with paramount social significance.
Based on their similar backgrounds in culture, history, language, geographical location and ethnicity, a total of 22 artists from Taiwan, China, Hong Kong and Singapore (along with a few Chinese Americans) were invited to participate in launching Spectrosynthesis’ first show. The debut in Taipei is expected to set a benchmark for subsequent presentations. Compared to Taiwan, LGBTQ issues are even more of a taboo in other ethnic Chinese countries. Over the past two years, the author and the curatorial team had conducted extensive studies with different methods such as field research, studio visit, data collection and oral history, culminating in the present exhibition dedicated to addressing the historical, cultural and political development of enthnic-Chinese LGBTQ community as well as the predicaments they faced in the contemporary world, thereby promoting human rights through garnering public understanding and general acceptance Employing “spectrum of light” as the theme, this exhibition aims to address the LGBTQ community’s rich history and its appeals for peace, love and diversity with rainbow as its symbol. On the one hand, the spectrum of colors can be seen in a rainbow, a phenomenon caused by the refraction of white light. Rainbow and light are two sides of the same coin, implying that this exhibition is not about the binary opposition between light and darkness, but as diverse and inclusive as the spectrum in terms of its artistic expression and exploration of LGBTQ issues. On the other hand, light is the everlasting source of energy for the creatures on Earth. It treats and nurtures all living organisms fairly and equally, and promises them life, hope and future growth. Last, but certainly not least, this exhibition is dedicated to manifesting the principal purpose of its co-organizer Sunpride Foundation, that is, to support artistic practices and promote equal rights for LGBTQ persons through meticulous research, collection and discourse on contemporary art.
Through the ages, the heterosexuals’ worldview and value system have dominated the human social structure, in which people’s social or cultural identities are fixed in a universally accepted manner. The heterosexuals (we, the mainstream) tend to treat non-heterosexuals as (they, the other). On top of that, non-heterosexuals may be regarded as perverts, immoralists or criminals for their deviation from the mainstream, and suffer oppression or bullying as a consequence. They are even construed as a group of people that must be purified in a worse case. They have been spectacularized, demonized and stigmatized by the biases of the hegemonic view, and have suffered blatant political and religious discrimination and oppression. To fight for their equal rights and prevent future tragedies from happening again, successive waves of sexual liberation movements such as the feminist, queer theory and LGBTQ actions swept over the west in the 1960s, which aimed to disturb, subvert and correct the biases and viewpoint espoused by Western capitalists and conservative bourgeoisie, all these through practical actions, cultural studies, as well as political and ideological critique, thereby vindicating and liberating those who have been penalised for their sexual orientations. Pledging to fight for the rights of LGBTQ community, these pioneers not only shattered numerous stereotypes and structures about human rights and gender identity, but also worked towards decriminalization, rectifying equal rights for non-heterosexuals as well as advancing the cause of legalizing same-sex marriages. Despite the half-century long movements, the human rights for LGBTQ individuals remain unrecognized and LGBTQ issues are even regarded as crimes in many countries, especially those in Asia.
The LGBTQ movement in Taiwan began around the end of 1980s when the martial law had just been lifted, much earlier than the establishment of discursive power and right to voice on LGBTQ issues in other ethnic Chinese societies. Nowadays, human rights for LGBTQ individuals have been widely known, understood and supported by Taiwanese people, especially by the younger generation amongst whom a general consensus over related issues exists. Western mass media has also praised Taiwanese people’s progressive thinking on human rights and LGBTQ issues. In the meantime, however, some politicians and religious groups still hold views that would deny LGBTQ people their basic rights and discriminate unfairly against them. As a countermeasure, the civil rights groups have engaged in a concatenation of actions such as communication, lobbying, resistance and demonstrations, thereby fighting for equal rights of the LGBTQ community. The whole process is a reenactment of the history of Western social movements which has continued to this day, just as the words by Stuart Hall, a British scholar of cultural studies, “…instead of thinking of identity as an already accomplished fact, which the new cultural practices then represent, we should think of identity as a ‘production,’ which is never complete, always in process, and always constituted within, not outside, representation.” Besides, in his magnum opus Imagined Communities, American scholar Benedict Anderson points out that the so-called imagined community is a necessary commodity for our imagination of nation, home and identity. Unfortunately, the identities of LGBTQ people are fundamentally excluded from such imagination, and the so-called utopia is still a faraway destination.
As the very first thematic exhibition on LGBTQ issues at a government-run art museum in Chinese societies, Spectrosynthesis features works of art that span a period of nearly half a century, rendering itself essentially a slice of art history concerning the life stories and related issues of the post-war Chinese LGBTQ community. The exhibits touch upon a profusion of subject matters such as identity, equality, mass media’s propensity to hunt for novelty, social oppression, demonization, stigmatization, lust, as well as life and death. They focus not only on the real predicaments that LGBTQ people are caught in but also on the social structure which is very likely to change in the foreseeable future. We hope that this exhibition, by virtue its divergence in values and ideas, would create a rippling effect on other Asian societies in terms of value, ideas and thoughts regarding the issues of gender diversity. Just like photosynthesis used by plants to sustain life, this exhibition attempts to liberate people’s thoughts and value systems from the rigid and deep-rooted biases against LGBTQ people by providing a space for mutual-gazing and understanding between both sides. In sum, the whole task is fundamentally based on the expectation of human equality with love as the point of departure.