After the insightful conversations from last year’s Ally Week, this year’s will be centered around the celebration of LGBTQ+ art, literature, and cinema.

Today, we highlight recent high school graduate from Portugal, Magda Queta, who shares the story of her DP Art exhibition, focused on the rights of the LGBTQ+ community in her home country of Angola.

Q: Can you tell us about the theme of your art exhibition and what made you want to pursue it? 

A: The theme of my art exhibition is ‘the rights of the LGBTQ people in Angola, an African country.’ I wanted to explore this theme because I thought it was important; and, up until this point, I hadn’t really seen this kind of representation of stories being told, of struggles, as well as just the life in general of the LGBTQ people in my country. So, when I had the opportunity to take art as an IB course, and create an exhibition with the freedom to pursue whatever theme I wanted, I thought this would be an amazing opportunity to speak about these people. 

Q: What is the current context of LGBTQ rights in Angola? 

A: Up until last year, being part of the LGBTQ community in Angola was illegal, which is crazy just to think about. In the context of African countries, I think that Angola is making a lot of progress, because I know that, for example, in Uganda, it is still a really big issue there and people are being murdered. It is horrible. Fortunately in Angola, people are speaking up about these issues, and there has been a lot more awareness—a lot more consciousness around this community Before, gay people were considered evil spirits. Now, because we are speaking up and sharing stories, their lives are much more humanized. I am glad that through my exhibition I can present these stories. 

Q: Why did you decide to use multiple art mediums throughout your exhibition?

A: When I started thinking about the exhibition, I asked, ‘OK, what am I going to do? How am I going to present it? How is it going to come together?’ I didn’t know that I would be using all of these different mediums. But as the work progressed, I wanted to challenge myself. To explore. 

“Through the exhibition, through the process of creating, I was able not only to just explore art, but also different parts of myself.”

I thought this would be an interesting opportunity to grow as an artist as well as try new things, because sometimes it can be really hard as well as an artist to just try because of fear of failure and what not. But I wanted to see what happens. And I did. And I think it helped. It made the exhibition what it is, and particularly with the sculptural pieces, I think the fact that they’re 3D kind of just makes the messages of the piece be much more real in a way. You can see and feel different sides of it, making it a much more complex and multilayered form of media. It was hard for me because I’ve never done sculpture before and I’ve never worked with clay before until this exhibition. 

Q: How do your sculptures explore the themes of identity and LGBTQ rights, and do they represent a progression? 

A: Yes, so ‘Ditombola’ and ‘MUKUTU’ are essentially supposed to be one individual. There is the body and then there’s the head, which are supposed to be connected, but I deliberately detached them. I removed the head from the body, specifically because in my exhibition, I use portraits as a symbol of identity. And so the fact that I removed the head from the body symbolizes a loss of identity, the identity of the individual, of the individual and of the body. It is like the individual is being buried by social pressure. That’s why in the display as well, the head is much lower than the body.

The inspiration behind this arrangement of the sculptures came from the stories I’ve heard from the interviews I did at the beginning of the process of LGBTQ storytelling in Angola. I noticed that people who hadn’t come out yet felt a lot of pressure. In many ways, I could empathize with them because when I was building this exhibition, I still hadn’t come out to my family. And this exhibition was actually the way I did it. I was like…’Hey, by the way, I made an exhibition that, like, revolves around LGBTQ people: just so you know, I am queer.’

This arrangement came from hearing their stories and hearing as well as mine. There’s always this feeling of pressure, judgment, and having to constantly be aware of your actions and what you’re doing, having to hide your identity from the people closest to you, which is suffocating.

Q: What is the meaning behind the two sculpture titles? 

A: So they translate to “body” in Kimbundu, which is the language that I speak from the Luanda area, the region where my grandparents come from. I’m trying to learn it right now and I used it to translate ‘Mukutu’ to body and ‘Ditombola’ to ‘lost soul.’ I used it because it connects to my home heritage and to Angola specifically because it’s a language spoken only in Angola. 

I also think that when you translate it, it doesn’t have the same meaning; while I wanted it to have a close connection to my country of origin, I also wanted the exhibition to appeal to all audiences—and I think I managed to do that through the feelings and themes that the pieces emulated. 

Q: ‘RAIVA’ captures the stories and outcry of the members of the LGBTQ+ community in Angola. How was the interviewing process? What stories/quotes were you most impacted by? 

A: The stories that I included in the piece are from the interviews I did in 2019, when I decided I was going to pursue an LGBTQ focus for my exhibition. I began doing interviews with the people around me that I knew were queer and Angolan as well: family members and friends that came out to me. Initially, I wasn’t expecting them to discuss their negative experiences, but the interview process developed into a fluid conversation. I asked them things like: ‘How did you find out you were queer?’; ‘What was the reaction of the people around you?’; ‘How did you feel about their reaction?.’ 

People began sharing, talking about their experiences, even the most intimate ones, so I was questioning whether or not to include the piece in my exhibition. I just felt like the stories were too vulnerable and personal for the public eye. During the interview process, for instance, I had a friend who told me that when he came out to his parents, his father threatened to disown him. As personal and sensitive as the stories were, I decided to incorporate the artwork because I wanted my viewers to understand the struggle and pain of the people I interviewed. All the stories were very powerful, even for me; I cried during a lot of the interviews I conducted just because I was completely struck by the depth and intensity of what they shared. They are all very impactful in their own way.

Q: This painting was also inspired by Banksy and street art, right? What do you think this type of art could mean for social activism and protecting the rights of the LGBTQ+ community? 

A: So for this specific piece, the reason why I chose to have a focus inspired by street art, was because in a way, when I think about street art, and specifically with Banksy and his pieces, it’s almost like it is temporary. And so is this piece. Even though there’s rage and there’s pain, I want to say that like street art, these feelings are not permanent. That’s why I have the resolution pieces that follow this piece. 

Q: What did it mean to use art as a form of both personal expression and social activism? 

A: Using art as both a form of self expression and a tool of social activism are interrelated. Being part of the LGBTQ+ community is part of who I am, and when it comes to connecting the two, it almost seems inevitable that I would do it, but I wasn’t expecting it to be this explicit. At the time when I was thinking about the exhibition, it was 2019, and I was still very uncomfortable with my queer identity. 

“However, art and imagination made me free.“

Q: How do you think the chosen structure of your exhibition could reflect and translate to the evolution of LGBTQ rights globally?

A: The structure of the exhibition and the way I chose to divide the sections was centrally inspired by the interviews I held with different people. During the interview process, I noticed that a lot of people went through similar experiences as they were coming to terms with their queer identity. Most peoples’ journey of self-acceptance consisted of several stages, beginning with the exploration process marked by the confusion and struggle of understanding and accepting one queers’ identity and finally followed by a steady journey towards cultivating and fighting for that part of your identity.

While my exhibition does incorporate and capture some of the grimmer, more personal and upsetting feelings that LGBTQ people deal with, I think it still does a good job of capturing the evolution of the community as a whole. For this reason, I wanted my exhibition to include a resolution—to show that the complicated feelings of anger and frustration can evolve into hope and a desire to make people more aware and sympathetic to these issues. And it goes without saying that the final piece of my exhibition reflects the sense of hope among the LGBTQ community both locally and globally.

Now speaking strictly on a local level, I have noticed a lot more LGBTQ awareness in my home country. There has been more protests and gatherings where queer people could make their voices heard. And I think this goes beyond increased representation; it means that people have developed a sense of empathy and acceptance towards the community.

Q: Returning to the central context of your exhibition, how is the situation of LGBTQ+ rights in Angola right now? And what are your hopes for the future?

A:  I think particularly looking in contrast to other African countries, Angola has made a lot of progress and I’m proud of us for that because a lot of work was done to achieve it. A lot of protests, a lot of emails—going to government officials and getting them to put out legislation to protect the LGBTQ community. But I think a lot of progress still needs to be made. There needs to be more awareness that being a part of the LGBTQ community is not a sin.

There are still so many churches that do prayers and ceremonies and conversion camps. I think even though there’s progress that has been made, things still need to be done. It’s 2021, you guys need to pick it up. There is no reason why people should still be disowned from their families just because they are queer. It doesn’t make sense to me. I’m glad that there’s been a change in social perception of the queer community in Angola. And I’m proud of my brothers and sisters for the work that they’ve done. There’s so much work to still be done. And I’m hopeful for the future because we’ve seen the impact that the work we’ve done has had. And so we know that it’s possible that if we continue to put in the work and if we continue to raise awareness and continue to do projects and continue to advocate and do all these things, we can one day reach a point that it’s acceptable and it’s ok, And you don’t have to feel this fear and this shame of being part of the LGBTQ community. So, there’s hope, and we’re we’re going to get there one day.

We want to thank Magda for taking the time to share her impactful and moving exhibition. You can find more of her work and photos of her exhibition on her personal Instagram page: @m_queta.