ANTON JOHNSON profiles some of the work of Left Front Art, which seeks to promote gay rights in an innovative way
Some years back a small group of LGBTQ activists — all of whom had been involved in trade unions for many years — got together and formed a loose think tank with the idea of generating debate within LGBTQ communities and providing a link with the labour movement.
This think tank, Left Front Art, noted the rich, thriving diversity of queer art and culture, which, from the days of Weimar republic, has always been thought-provoking.
Taking inspiration from how different artistic mediums were used in the early days of Soviet Union to communicate the revolutionary message to a wide population, Left Front Art looked at promoting and facilitating queer artists whose work challenges and encourages the audience question and think.
The task in particular was to engage with young LGBTQ people who have grown up in a very different world, one of individualism, the internet and varied work and social advancement, as opposed to 30 years ago when trade unions had greater influence and the world of work was very different.
For decades art has been a tool to communicate and provoke.
Today there are many ways for LGBTQ people, especially in urban areas such as Manchester and London, to explore their sexuality and express themselves.
In the last few years queer people have increasingly been using art to comment on social situations and make a statement.
For example, back in 2007 a collective known as Behind Bars started to run social events with a political tone, using music and performance art.
One thing the small group of people who initiated Left Front Art noted from common experience was that calling public meetings with speakers did not engage people.
The last attempt was a conference in 2009 in preparation for the 2010 general election.
An all-day conference in concert with LGBT Labour and the Labour Representation Committee which, although interesting, attracted only a modest attendance.
Recognising how art can encourage engagement, Left Front Art set out to identify and invite LGBTQ artists to perform or show their work, incorporating a political message through our LGBT trade union work.
For example we invited LGBTQ artists to contribute to the Southern and Eastern Region TUC LGBT History Month events in 2008 at Congress House, where the VJ for Behind Bars, Fabio Boxikus, showed his visuals and, more recently, a performance was held in London by a Mexican queer artist questioning the macho culture of his country.
This collaborative approach has been very productive. The Queer Noise event in 2011 helped to promote the national demonstration of March that year and Unite commissioned the X-Press Yourself Against Austerity exhibition in 2013 of photographic portraits by Francisco Gomez De Villaboa, which highlighted the effects of government-imposed cuts.
The artists were able to express themselves while making the link with what is still the largest social movement in the country — the trade unions.
This link is particularly important to forge given that on May 8 we woke up to a Tory government. This means another five years of austerity policies which transfer money from the poor to the rich.
The task now is to get the message out and build a broad alliance to resist these attacks.
After five years of austerity, LGBTQ communities, among others, are feeling the effects and, with another five years to come, those communities should be a vital part of any alliance to build resistance.
Queer art has an important role to play because, by its nature, it is provocative and takes people out of their safety zones, prompting people to think beyond the diet the commercial scene churns out.
Queer art has a role in helping LGBTQ people see that there is an alternative world to the one we are being sold at the moment.
Anton Johnson is one of the founders of Left Front Art.