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Pride 2020: Spotlight on students and alumni exploring gender and sexuality

‘I write this message in support of Pride in a week of tremendous significance for the LGBT community in the US: the US Supreme Court has ruled that LGBT employees are protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964; a massive victory and all the more surprising, given the right-leaning persuasion of the Supreme Court judges. Though this comes out just days after the US administration eliminated health-insurance protections for trans people. Let's hope our UK Government doesn't overturn legislation regarding trans rights, as reported in yesterday's press. We must keep up the march to advance the rights of all marginalised communities. 

I'm committed to promoting an environment of mutual respect and acceptance, where students and staff can flourish because they can be themselves. Wherever you are, I join you in celebrating Pride 2020.’ –  Vice-Chancellor, Dr Paul Thompson
This Pride month we’ve highlighted just a handful of the RCA students and alumni whose work explores LGBTQ liberation in all its forms. 

Shoe and Fish, June 2020
Shoe and Fish, Ajamu 2020

Ajamu (PhD Candidate and in the School of Arts and Humanities) is a photographic artist, scholar, archive curator and radical sex activist. His work has been exhibited in museums, galleries and alternative spaces across Europe, North America, the Caribbean, South Africa and the UK.  

His practice encompasses portraiture/studio-based constructed imagery, early analogue printing processes and large format photography, which unapologetically celebrates both black and queer bodies, the erotic sense[s], pleasure as activism and difference. His current research at the RCA encompasses the rethinking of material processes, the radical materiality of photography and sex and the darkroom within the context of archiving research methodologies.

Untitled from Looking Out, Looking In
Åsa Johannesson, Untitled from Looking Out, Looking In, 2016
Alumni Åsa Johannesson’s practice centres on the relationship between the terms photography and queerness. Last year, Åsa presented the exhibition, The Queering of Photography to bring together works made during their PhD (2014–19). Produced through experimentations using a large format camera and partly developed through a research residency at The British School at Rome, the show sought to relocate queer concerns from questions of representation to photographic ontology. Åsa's PhD thesis developed a materially rooted queer methodology and presents a critique of the binary rooted systems of thought that exist within dominant discourses of photography.

Saul Nash’s (MA Fashion, 2018) new film made with his partner FX Goby, is entitled Shelter, and explores his thesis of the man in motion, it was recently featured in Vogue

Through his work, Nash seeks to subvert expectations and explore the duality between fitting in and standing out, proposing that we can choose to take shelter, retreating into imposed social expectations, or transform into the self-sufficient individual we aspire to be. The complexities and subtleties of masculinity in his work are informed by Nash’s training in dance, a practice which sits alongside his training as a designer. Shelter goes on to further explore these themes of self-embodiment and group empowerment. In it we ‘witness three men being uplifted by two stage hands who set them on a journey of levitation until the point they are fully liberated,’ says Saul, ‘the film beautifully references the air-like nature of the garments’ designs which derive from an urgent need for fluidity and unapologetic self-expression.’ 

Whiskey Chow, Masculinism, 2018
Masculinism, Whiskey Chow 2018
Photographer: Orlando Myxx
Visiting Tutor, former SU Co-President (2017–2019) and Alumna (MA Contemporary Art Practice, 2017), Whiskey Chow’s art practice engages with broad political issues, covering a range of related topics: from female and queer masculinity, problematising the nation-state across geographic boundaries, to stereotypical projections of Chinese/Asian identity. Her performance is interdisciplinary, combining embodied performance with moving image and experimental sound pieces. 

As an artist-curator, Whiskey launched, led and performed inQueering Now 酷兒鬧 in 2020 (as part of CAN Festival). Queering Now is a curatorial programme amplifying marginalised voices of Chinese/Asian queer diaspora in the West.

Dreams, Butterfly Boy Dreams
Dreams, Butterfly Boy Dreams (Genesis), Hang Zhang
Mathis Zhang (MA Contemporary Art Practice, 2019) explores identities, non-binary thinking and gender fluidity through their work. Their graduate project, Dreams, Butterfly Boy Dreams explores gender fluidity and non-binary thinking through the figure of the dreamer. Mathis uncovers gender identity through cross-cultural life experiences, using diverse resources, ancient stories and philosophy to develop their own God in their soul.

Sissel Karneskog in their home studio
Sissel Karneskog in her home studio
Current MA Fashion student, Sissel Karneskog’s graduate work is ‘an exploration of the customisation of the external of one non-binary body and the interaction and responses that body will receive. This will be a visual argument that explains that there is a lot to learn, but so much more to unlearn. We have always been here, and will always be. We are real. I am not only me, I AM THEM.’