INTERVIEW: MUST-SEE STORIES – REIMAGINING PRIDE | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Must-see Stories by Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums is a digital editorial platform which explores diverse stories from the region and paves a way for oral histories. The platform kicks off with a collaboration with Curious Arts, commissioning six LGBTQIA+ artists to respond to their experiences of Pride. As an outsider looking in, Pride has always been an event that I’ve thought of as a celebration of inclusivity, but after speaking to three of the creatives involved in the project, it’s clear that view isn’t quite as universal as I expected.

My education began when I sat down with ‘not quite drag artist’ and theatre producer JG Tansley (aka Dandysocpic) to talk about their piece, IN//OF BLOOM. JG has written a collection of poems, stories and essays which look at ‘quiet pride’ and the secret ways queer people have communicated their existence ‘on the down low’. The title draws its inspiration from the way flowers have been used in the past to signify queerness and their work explores the idea of reclaiming slurs such as pansy and lavender that are used to belittle gay men.

I was curious, with JG’s work focusing so much on the subtleties of communicating sexuality, how a big brash event such as Pride sat with them. “For me it’s a really conflicting thing,” JG tells me. “All the Prides that I’ve lived through have been a corporate, capitalist thing and I’ve got some feelings about that. When you investigate the roots of Pride you find out that the first Pride was a riot. Pride was about action and there’s still things to fight for.” As JG points out, nice as it is to get a D-list celebrity to do a few songs, there’s something missing. After all, “where’s the riot? Where’s the anger?”

Laura Crow’s work taps into many of the same issues that JG raises. While their work deals with the understated nature of queerness, Laura’s is much more in your face. Referencing the idea of the pink pound, she has created three bank notes that explore how Pride’s commercialisation has had a homogenising effect on the LGBTQIA+ scene that has lead to many people feeling left out. Her work, rooted firmly in Newcastle, seeks to show the less palatable side of Pride while also claiming some space and visibility back for the city’s gay women.

When you investigate the roots of Pride you find out that the first Pride was a riot. Pride was about action and there’s still things to fight for

For her, Pride has lost its way. “It annoys me that you see brands like Primark, Nando’s and Skittles say ‘we’re proud to stand with the LGBTQIA+ community’ but what are they actually doing?” As she explains, many of these companies aren’t quite so proud when it comes to working in countries were the LGBTQIA+ community is openly persecuted. For her, Pride is an unwelcoming experience, made worse by the decision a few years back to remove its women’s tent. “I don’t feel that there’s an exclusive space for me as a lesbian there,” she laments. This is made worse by a lingering sense of cultural exclusion. “As a gay community we’re very limited as to what we can do,” she explains. “Unless you want to get pissed and listen to crap music, there’s nothing for you.” Pride in that respect, certainly doesn’t offer an alternative. That in itself is a shame because you feel that by including more passionate voices like Laura’s would only make the event even richer.

Exclusion is a theme that comes up time and time again as I talk to Chantal Herbert, an audio producer and one half of creative agency Tits Up Creative. Her audio collage focuses on the experiences of Black and minoritised people and their experiences of Pride. You get a real sense of the influence her years as a DJ must have had on her work as she brings together sound effects, music, poetry and words and turns them into something new and powerful.

Though the people she interviewed for her piece often spoke of their own pride, it also gave many of them the opportunity to talk about some of the all too depressingly familiar themes that have coloured their feelings of the event. “Black and minoritised people aren’t included in Pride and there’s a lot of racism in the LGBTQIA+ community,” Chantal tells me. “There’s also a lot of gender politics and women are often left out of the conversation.” As a Black woman, these are all issues that have directly affected her. “I don’t go to Pride if I’m being honest. I went once and I felt really uncomfortable.” For Chantal, the booze and loud music means that there’s just not the sense of pride there that she hoped to find. “For me, Pride is about activism and making it a safe space for everyone regardless of your skin colour or religion and I currently don’t feel that is the case.” Instead she’s left with a nagging sense of not fitting in and not feeling safe.

Talking to all three artists it’s clear why this type of programming from Tyne & Wear Museums And Archives is so important. While times change and communities evolve, it’s important that the things that make Pride so special and meaningful to a lot of people don’t get forgotten. I think that is one of the great things about Must-see Stories; it gives a platform to artists like JG, Laura and Chantal – whose work appears alongside writer and creative producer Bridget Hamilton, filmmaker and digital storyteller Julie Ballads and textile artist Richard Bliss – to remind us that there are still battles to be fought, barriers to be broken and prejudices to smash.

Must-see Stories: Reimagining Pride goes online from Tuesday 2nd February

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