LGBTQ+ visual activism

Tessa Lewin, Olu Jenzen

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapterpeer-review


This chapter sketches an overview of how LGBTQ visual activism has emerged in a fluid cultural field of visual arts and popular culture, as they intersect with politics. Queer resistance and activism aimed at bringing social and cultural change has mobilised visual resources and expressions in influential and prevailing ways. In contemporary digital culture, new visual languages for activist expression and campaigning have also emerged. This includes examples from across meme culture, originating in subcultural re-mix practices and counterpublics, to lifestyle and celebrity inspired vlogging, and sophisticated marketing imbued civil rights campaigning.

Visual activism is a political struggle over presence, over visibility, through which LGBTQ identities are discursively constructed and maintained. We argue that there are four broad and often intersecting forms of LGBTQ visual activist practice – protest, partying, process, and product. All of these forms mobilise the visual image to provoke, support and sustain struggles for political change. In two case studies, from different contexts we sketch out some of central contours of LGBTQ visual activism in the current digital era.

Our first case study explores the work of South African performance duo – FAKA – aka Desire Marea and Fela Gucci, who emerged in both clubbing and online spaces in 2015 with their unique contributions to fashion and music. FAKA went on, through their self-styled ‘siyakaka feminism’, to establish a ‘cultural movement’; a spiritual home ‘for the queer, the trans, the non-conforming, the female and the black’.

Our second case study, in contrast, considers the US based organisation Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Facebook equal marriage logo meme that emerged in early 2013. This campaign for same sex marriage rights is situated in the intersection of digital activism and marketing strategies, based on creative and strong visual communication, and is arguably illustrative of western ‘mainstream’ LGBTQ activism in neoliberal times.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Research Handbook in Visual Politics
EditorsDarren Lilleker, Anastasia Veneti
PublisherEdward Elgar
ISBN (Print)9781800376922
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jan 2023


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