Pick Up a Brick: Art as Activism

Unlike the majority of shows at the Fringe, Pick Up a Brick was a one-off panel discussion about queer art and how we can use it as activism, including an audience Q&A. As a queer person myself I have a strong interest in this subject matter, so I found the discussion really interesting. The all-queer panel was chaired by Barry Church-Woods, who founded Civil Disobedience, a queer arts collective in Edinburgh. The rest of the panel consisted of Edinburgh drag queen Duchess, Australian comedian and producer Lisa-Skye, American comedian Dian Cathal, BBC producer Turan Ali and critic Ben Walters.

Diversity is key and art is a crucial way to make change.

A huge range of topics were discussed relating to queerness, art and activism. Walters discussed his PhD which he recently completed on Duckie, a London-based queer cabaret group. In his research he found that performance functions as “hope machines” – something that can regenerate hope routinely. Queer hope is the only way we can work towards a better future, and he stated the importance of having queer spaces that not only celebrate difference but work differently themselves. Ali talked about commissioning queer content for the BBC, telling us excitedly about how there will be a trans Shakespeare on BBC Radio 3 next year as well as a gay Romeo and Juliet (Romeo and Julian). Lisa-Skye created the Safety House Guide which is a guide for queer people and other marginalised groups with information on shows that don’t include jokes that are racist, sexist, homophobic etc. She tells us that its role is to celebrate inclusivity in the arts.

Cathal talks from a younger perspective, saying that their generation was trained to be activists due to being raised on the Hunger Games, Harry Potter and other stories where the adults fail and the kids have to save the world. They also emphasised how it is important that queer art needs to be made by queer people for queer people, rather than pushing in queer narratives into mainstream media (which is increasingly happening). Queer and trans characters need to be played by queer and trans actors, and this is how it should be.

The issue of homonormativity crops up again and again. Walters tells us that this is the imitation of queer content which already exists, rather than creating new things. This means we often stick to the status quo (e.g. cis, white, gay men) rather than do new and diverse things, and it is important to challenge this.

During the question-and-answer section of the panel, someone makes the point that identity informs your work. So even if you were queer but tried to make a very heteronormative show, the queerness would come through somehow. This is why it’s important that we support and encourage queer artists and performers, or anyone from a marginalised group. Diversity is key and art is a crucial way to make change.

Reviews by Isla Whateley

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The Blurb

Part of the Fringe Central Events Programme for Fringe participants. It's the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising that kick-started the modern LGBT Pride and civil rights movement. Join us in celebrating the role of queer artists in generating social and political change. We'll explore how artists amplified the voices of their communities. Join Civil Disobedience and a panel of brilliant queer artists and activists to chat queer erasure, creative protest and progress. Stick around after as we raise a glass to Marsha P Johnson, Stormé DeLarverie and Sylvia Rivera.

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