Entertainment Local

Queer Arts Fest a true adventure

By Zoe Grams

Members of the professional choir Cor Flammae.
(Belle Ancell photo)

Members of the professional choir Cor Flammae. (Belle Ancell photo)

Vancouver’s Pride celebrations begin next week. Amidst the rainbow of parades, parties, talks, and workshops, the Queer Arts Festival provides a moving, adventurous program of visual and performing arts from July 23 to Aug. 7.

Now in its eighth year, the festival has built a reputation as one of the top queer cultural events in the world. I spoke with SD Holman, founding artistic director, about this year’s curated offerings.

“I want people to know that this is for everyone. If you’re an art lover, the Queer Arts Festival is for you,” she said.

Professional choir Cor Flammae shows the influence of queer artists throughout history in Fallen Angels on July 17 and 18, prior to the festival’s official launch. Returning to Vancouver after a sold-out show in 2013, the group will perform pieces by historical and modern queer composers such as Poulenc, Walker and Uyeda. Audience members are invited to explore the traditional relationship between the sacred and profane before the show even begins — by making the decision to attend the performance either in a church or a sex club.

Looking to the heavens more literally is Cosmophony on Aug. 1. Pianist Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa performs works from 11 composers including Rodney Sharman, Marci Rabe, Jordan Nobles and Emily Doolittle. Each piece explores outer space while the stage is lit only by projected images of our solar system. Described in turn as “breathtaking” and “unforgettable,” the recorded repertoire was nominated for a Western Canadian Music Award. Vancouverites can see this event for free — it’s one of the festival’s many complimentary or by-donation shows around the city.

Sister Mary’s A Dyke?! provides some comic relief from July 28 to Aug. 2. The one-woman show, written by Flerida Pena, follows Catholic schoolgirl Abby in a “coming of age, coming out comedy.”

Holman explained, “It’s poking fun while taking a critical eye, but I think it’s going to be very funny. Bring your sense of humour.”

Amidst the diverse program, one show in stands out as the heart and centerpiece of this year’s festival. Drawing the Line earned international recognition for Vancouver-based artist collective Kiss & Tell in the early 1990s. Viewers were asked to draw a line on the exhibition wall where photographs of lesbian sex began to make them feel uncomfortable. These linear markers evolved into in-depth discussions filling the walls surrounding each image.

“If you’re a dyke of a certain age, you might have said, “this work changed my life,” enthused Holman.

Now, Kiss & Tell return to the public eye of their hometown after 13 years for a moderated talkback about their work. Meanwhile, QAF’s visual art show Trigger: Drawing the Line in 2015 pays homage to the group’s revolutionary work. Curated by Holman herself, it features 19 artists who submitted pieces designed to challenge and provoke.

"We really want to focus on supporting artists from different disciplines — to have dialogue, to see their history, and to be able to grow together in a good environment," Holman said.

The Queer Arts Festival provides a refreshing reminder of the ongoing need to combat homophobia, while inviting us to celebrate the immersive, challenging impact that quality art can have.

As Holman concluded, “Art changes people, and people change the world.”

The Queer Arts Festival runs from July 23 to Aug. 7. For tickets and further information, visit queerartsfestival.com.

Zoe Grams is principal at ZG Communications: a marketing agency working with publishers, not-for-profits and socially-conscious organizations. She has written about performing arts in both Canada and the UK.  

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