Life & Culture

The Queer Artists Instagram Doesn’t Want You to See

Continuously censored by Instagram, 30 artists including Bruce LaBruce and Slava Mogutin have united for an exhibition titled The Violators

Censorship is nothing new to artist, performer, and curator Gio Black Peter. Over the years, he has had some 10 Instagram accounts, 15 Facebooks, two YouTubes and four Vimeos – all of which have been shut down for failing to meet the platforms’ “community guidelines.” And he’s not the only one.

People from around the globe have had the same experience: they log on to social media only to discover their posts have been removed, their accounts restricted or disabled, their work erased. Peter identified a group of kindred spirits who shared his experience, and organised The Violators, a group exhibition that will be on view at the Leslie-Lohman Project Space in New York from October 19-21, 2018.

The Violators features the work of 30 international queer artists, including Alex La Cruz, Ari Fraser, Bruce LaBruce, Henny Garfunkel, Paco Y Manolo, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Ruben Esparza, Slava Mogutin, and Stuart Sandford. Each of the artists featured in the exhibition have been censored for violating the standards that social media platforms impose on their users, and have lost their accounts – not for harassment or hate speech, but simply for celebrating the human body. Of course it’s ironic that we like in an age where images of unarmed people murdered by the state are widely broadcast, while representations of sexuality and nudity are vehemently erased.

Here, Peter reveals the story behind the exhibition and discusses the necessity of fighting censorship so as to ensure that queer voices are heard.

“I was fed up with social media censoring my images and deleting my accounts. I only post images of my work, which is a reflection of my life – just like everybody else. One account was deleted for a photo of two topless friends sunbathing. That same summer I was invited to my friend’s beach house where I shot a video of myself enjoying his outdoor shower. There went another account. On one occasion I posted a selfie with my bare ass. My fame hungry left testicle also happened to make an appearance and that was too much for the social media custodians. Butts are OK but ballsacks a big no-no.

“Because queer voices and lives are less likely to be represented in mainstream media outlets, social media often provides those on the fringes of society with a vital outlet, a place to tell their stories. Images are important. It is the reason why it is important to see multiple ethnicities, multiple sexualities and all genders portrayed in magazines, on the runway, in films and in our social landscape. When one group is excluded from a platform where everyone else has a presence, it is discrimination.

That is how The Violators was born. I wanted to celebrate artists from my community and give a platform to the images that were an expression of their lives – images which were deemed ‘too offensive’. These are artists who have been fighting censorship on the front lines – some artists who have personally inspired me as an artist. Like Bruce LaBruce, whose movie Raspberry Reich I saw as a teenager. I still remember the feeling I got seeing an honest portrayal of sex in a mainstream movie theatre. It was revolutionary.

It is important that we share our lives with each other so we are constantly reminded that even though on the surface we might have differences, we share the human experience. The exhibition is anything but obscene. The work featured has humour and depicts love in all forms, and sex and sexuality in an unapologetic way. I believe the doors opened by artists like Robert Mapplethorpe and David Wojnarowicz, who defiantly fought censorship, do not remain so unless the next generation of LGBTQ+ artists continue to keep up that fight. It takes guts to live in the open, and it takes guts if your going to make even a small change in the social landscape. The Violators is my contribution to the dialogue.

The Violators is at the Leslie-Lohman Project Space in New York from October 19-21, 2018