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Navigating art education as an LGBTQ+ artist, successes and challenges

In the spirit of celebrating Pride Month, I embarked on an interview with an extraordinary individual who, for personal reasons, wishes to remain anonymous. Their desire for privacy only serves to highlight the importance of respecting individual journeys and identities.

How has Uniarts Helsinki provided a safe and inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ students to express themselves through art?

I think it is super easy to be queer at the Academy of Fine Arts. I have not heard any particular talk around the subject between the institution and students, but I guess artists in general are the type of people who think about minority issues and are almost always gay supporters. The school is full of gender and sexual minorities. For me entering the school as a gender fluid gay person was great, since for the first time in my life I have a LGBTQ+ community around me every day at work.

In your opinion, what steps can universities and educational institutions take to further promote LGBTQ+ representation and inclusion in the arts?

I think the school should have a professional who educates people and especially the teachers about inclusion and especially racism. I feel that most of the teachers are aware of these things, but problems can arise when, for example, visiting teachers come from outside the school bubble. They could be asked to read a guideline before hiring to avoid moments where someone gets gendered wrong etc. I do not know what kind of procedures the teachers have with this stuff. Maybe they already have some guidelines in use. It would be great to hear about this!

I think the school has a lot of inclusion work to be done in general, but gender and sexual minority issues are not the biggest problems. But this is just my experience, and I cannot talk on behalf of others. There is always room for improvement. I have seen mistakes been made. They are normal because the culture is so deep in us, but what matters is that people are eager to learn and that the school takes the responsibility in the education, not the minorities themselves. Often the students end up educating their educators, which is not a good thing. The students need to be able to study in a safe environment.

Everyone has a right to their opinion, but by educating ourselves we can learn how to not hurt others unnecessarily. I think these subjects are difficult and many authorities fear that they will say something wrong and make people angry. It is human to make mistakes.

It would be great to have a mandatory course for everyone about art history, for example, from this angle and about how not to repeat bad patterns. But this course should definitely be held by a professional of antiracist work and by someone from the Pride organisation, for example.

How has studying at Uniarts Helsinki influenced your understanding and appreciation of LGBTQ+ art and culture?

Many artists at Uniarts Helsinki work with LGBTQ+ subjects and issues. Being in an environment where you see so much art expands your thinking all the time. We as queer artists are creating this culture directly. It makes a difference when you see so many passionate and talented people creating change.

In what ways do you think art can contribute to LGBTQ+ visibility and advocacy?

It can have a very strong impact. Art has always been a way for us to express ourselves and to reach people. Drag culture, for example, has become something that educates people all around the world about LGBTQ+ rights.

Have you encountered any challenges or obstacles as an LGBTQ+ artist, and how have you overcome them?

I have not. I think that in the Finnish art world it is easy to be queer. Nobody cares, it is so normal.

How does your identity as an LGBTQ+ individual intersect with your artistic practice at Uniarts Helsinki?

I think that everything we are is in our work as artists. I do not think we can escape ourselves. So me being gay is in my work because it has so strongly shaped my personality and world view. I do not have to talk about it directly for it to be in the work. When we talk about love, power, prejudice, fears, hate, envy and violence, we talk about being queer. It is all the same.

How do you think art can help combat stereotypes and promote inclusivity within the LGBTQ+ community?

The same work that needs to be done outside the community, often also needs to be done within the community. Being queer does not mean that you are automatically a super open-minded person with a massive amount of wisdom, although it is mostly true. Art is always a natural and an efficient way to have conversations and to create unity.

By: Homa Shokri

Life of an art student

In this blog, Uniarts Helsinki students share their experiences as art students from different academies and perspectives, in their own words. If you want to learn even more regarding studying and student life in Uniarts and Helsinki, you can ask directly from our student ambassadors.

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