Postcards from the Edge
In commemoration of Pride Month, we are republishing online the first ever article of Umbigo magazine’s new Queer Art dossier, The Velvet Room, which appeared in Umbigo #80. Also we wished to update the text, following the final sentencing in court after the death of Jackie Oh, who inspired the article.
Zak Kostopolous died in police custody on 21 September, 2018, from injuries suffered in broad daylight on a busy downtown Athens street, much of which was captured on CCTV. 6 people, including 4 police officers and one member of the National Front, were charged with his murder. On May 3 2022, the two civilians were found guilty of his murder, and sentenced to ten years imprisonment, while the police officers walked free thanks to a split decision from the jury.
Zacharias was a Greek-American activist, who defended the rights of LGBTQ people, the HIV-positive, sex workers and refugees. He was himself homosexual, and HIV-positive. He was also a drag performer, who went by the name of Zackie-Oh. Every year since, crowds have marched in protest against police brutality and homophobia, demanding justice for Zak.
The shocking nature of his murder – and his larger-than-life presence on the queer scene of Athens and Greece overall – hangs heavy. Recently premiered queer film opera, Orfeas2021, (https://www.orfeas2021.com) is dedicated to Zackie-Oh, and he was known personally to participating artists in the Postcards from the Edge project.
This is Umbigo magazine’s inaugural dossier devoted exclusively to what is considered LGBTQI+, or “queer” art. Naturally, in its almost 20 years of existence, the Umbigo project has never shied away from this topic, and in fact has been at the forefront of representation of queer forms of expression in Portugal from the get-go. After all, the first cover was trans icon Amanda Lepore, photographed by Álvaro Villarrubia. Nonetheless, the conscious decision to feature a dedicated section to queer art, hints at a greater sea change in its recognition within the art establishment as a whole, and Umbigo is at the forefront of that.
Which also begs the question: what is queer art? Our conclusion would be, there is no single answer, and that’s where it gets interesting. Obviously, it relates to expressions of sexual orientation, and gender, but even that is constantly evolving, and under endless, ferocious debate amongst ourselves, let alone others. What is true, is that new media and the digital, have enabled greater visibility and emboldened the voice of its artists, while also curiously and conversely, changing our own perception and understanding of “our”selves.
This first dossier showcasing Greek queer artists (whether Greece-based or Greek-born) was a happy chain of events, because at least in terms of the West – and what is represents, of which Portugal is also part – Greece is a nation state that boldly manifests the tensions and triumphs affecting many of us, at a time of immense upheaval and renewed violence against our kind(s). The hard-earned rights of the queer community, achieved after decades of activism, disease, state and societal neglect and prejudice, now seem once again under threat, very close to home. Queer artists are no safer – as Zackie-Oh and others have proven – depending on their thirst for militancy and confrontation. Institutionally, our work has been marginalised, and trivialised. Responses to the brief, namely to say “out loud”, to communicate via the simple medium of a postcard “from the edge”, as explored by this cross-section of non-apologetically queer artmakers vary from the personal to the political, the celebratory to the cynical. But always queer.