Patrick Sun is a collector of modern and contemporary Asian art. In 2014, he founded the Sunpride Foundation in Hong Kong, which embraces and promotes the rich creative history of LGBTQ communities through art.

Illustration by Yuschav Arly.

Patrick Sun

Taiwan Hong Kong
Also available in:  Chinese

The past year was a memorable one. Trump dominated the news. Brexit talks shook Europe. North Korea’s nuclear power threatened Asia. In the art world, the Venice Biennale, Documenta and Skulptur Projekte Münster all coincided for the first time in a decade. But when I think back on 2017, three words stick out in my mind: Queer. Art. Now. 

“Queer” used to be an abusive label, but LGBTQ communities have reclaimed it as a fluid term for people of different sexualities and gender identities. As the famous gay director Derek Jarman once said, “To use the word queer is a liberation.” Indeed, 2017 was a year of liberation for the queer community—not just because of steps toward marriage equality in Taiwan and Australia, but also in the art world.  

To mark the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in Britain, many museums around the country hosted LGBTQ-themed exhibitions. This included Tate Britain’s “Queer British Art,” the British Museum’s “Desire, Love, Identity” and Walker Art Gallery’s “Coming Out.” Gay artists such as Martin Wong, David Hockney and Wolfgang Tillmans also had retrospectives in museums around the world.  

This proliferation of queer art exhibitions reflects what many people believe is the power of the medium: it sparks discussion, challenges the norm and, at its best, can help to change people’s perspectives. It is because of this belief in the power of art that I founded the Sunpride Foundation, with the mission to promote equal rights for the LGBTQ community through the collection and exhibition of art. From September to November, Sunpride Foundation co-presented the LGBTQ-themed exhibition “Spectrosynthesis – Asian LGBTQ Issues and Art Now” at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) in Taipei. Three years in the making, it was the first large-scale show of its kind to take place in a public museum in Asia and was a timely parallel to its international counterparts. 

Taiwan has always been the most progressive Asian society when it comes to LGBTQ rights. What we see now is a culmination of events that started as early as 31 years ago with activists and martyrs such as Mr. Qi Jia-Wei, student Ye Yong-Zhi, professor and artist Jacques Picoux and many others. With the High Court’s ruling on May 24 that paved the way for same-sex marriage, “Spectrosynthesis” became more relevant than ever, bringing LGBTQ issues and related artworks to wide public attention not just in Taiwan but also in other parts of Asia.  

While “Spectrosynthesis” was on, I would sometimes visit MoCA and observe the visitors. One day I spotted a mother with her son, who was maybe five or six years old. They were standing in front of Jimmy Ong’s huge charcoal drawings, Heart Sons (2004) and Heart Daughters (2005), which illustrate scenes of gay parenthood. While they were looking at the drawings, the mother calmly explained to her son that in this world there are men who love women, women who love women and men who love men. And her son just nodded and accepted it. To me, that moment showed exactly how art encourages tolerance and acceptance. 

So where do we go from here? How can we continue to promote equality through exhibitions of contemporary art? 

I think there should be a two-pronged approach. Firstly, it is important to keep hosting dedicated exhibitions of LGBTQ art, like “Spectrosynthesis” and Tate Britain’s “Queer British Art.” After decades of being deemed taboo and kept out of sight, it’s important that queer art be prominently displayed in government-run museums and seen by the wider public. These exhibitions spark dialogue by placing LGBTQ issues front and center. 

On the other hand, it is also crucial to acknowledge LGBTQ art as part of the wider art history. This was best shown by the exhibition “The Other’s Gaze” at the Museo del Prado in Madrid, which opened in June. Instead of moving all their art with LGBTQ themes into one room, the museum’s curators simply left them hanging throughout the exhibition halls and installed special plaques that highlighted the queer aspects of some works. One could walk around the galleries as normal, but then might discover a sculpture of Antinous with a note explaining that he was the lover of Roman Emperor Hadrian, or a painting by Caravaggio accompanied by wall text about his sexuality. This, of course, truly reflects how integrated gay people are in society. We’re not all together, fenced into one area. We’re out there, part of the community. We’re your neighbors, your colleagues, your friends. 

 Some people may think I am too optimistic, but I firmly believe that equal rights for the LGBTQ community will eventually be attained. I look forward to the day when more conservative Asian countries host similar exhibitions of LGBTQ-themed art. That will be a true milestone, and I think it will happen. 

One day, countries will wake up and see that societies around them have embraced equality. No one wants to be left on the wrong side of history, so they will adapt. The world is changing.

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