Queer-y-ing the Arab

curated by the Earl of Bushwick

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In the bath-house, the mysteries hidden by trousers / Are revealed to you. / All becomes radiantly manifest. / Feast your eyes without restraint! - Abu Nuwas

Arab culture has long contained expressions of queerness—both in its non-conformity with Western cultural traditions, and in its occasional openness to homosexuality. Abu Nuwas explored gay themes in his 9th century poems, which feel contemporary in their celebration of gay lust and desire.

The last two centuries, however, have witnessed the suppression of queerness in Arab culture, with restrictions on homosexuality and emphasis on conservative social norms emerging primarily with European colonization and later on with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. Yet Arab queerness and countercultures live on in myriad forms, blossoming in safe spaces and ebbing with repression, whether colonial or religious in origin.

Queer-y-ing the Arab explores queerness through an Arab perspective. It queries and then queers interpretations of queer, Arab, and art, pushing the boundaries of assumption to explore unfamiliar meanings. Not all artists in this exhibition identify as LGBT+, however, they all explore themes of queerness and non-conformity in their artistic practice. The emphasis here is on a more expansive definition of queer: as lying outside expectation or initial assumption. The resulting exhibition challenges the popular notion of the art space as a sterile white cube, and revises the role of art audiences, and their ability to alter artworks and affect their own meaning or interpretation.

Special thanks to Fawz Kabra, Travis Emery Hackett, Alexander Berg, and Sicilia Hashoul.
The Earl of Bushwick is a playful artistic persona. As a non-binary queer Arab and immigrant, they are concerned with ideas of the Queer, the Other, and issues of not belonging, especially as it applies to art and class. Through their fluid night practice, they share and create safe spaces for identities and artists who do not fit or belong, as the Earl themselves spends their days operating as an orthopedic surgeon. Their home in Brooklyn, dubbed The Earl's Court (2015), is a long-running safe space and art project. They performed Bushwick Burqa at the Armory Show, (New York, 2012 and 2013); presented Rent a Burqa at Bushwick Open Studios (Brooklyn, 2013); and they previously exhibited at the National Arts Club, New York (2019). The Earl of Bushwick also curated We are not artists (2017), and Red Black and Nude (2018).