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Astonishing, deeply moving

Powerhouse Ultimo’s spectacular exhibition of queer creativity curated to coincide with Sydney WorldPride 2023, Absolutely Queer, is absolutely fabulous. Launched on February 16, excited and often flamboyantly dressed attendees gathered in the forecourt in celebratory mode as bubbles floated skyward, free wine flowed and dancing girls gyrated.

The entrance to the exhibition is presided over by an immense and vibrant blow-up installation (Maurice Goldberg and Matthew Aberline), not only celebrating love and life but also acknowledging the long fight towards freedom and the courage of those who fought. Inside, while a range of work showcases the rich variety of contemporary work from the LGBTQIA+ community, the exhibition also pays honour to the costumes of Brenton Heath-Kerr, Ron Muncaster, Brian Ross and Peter Tully from the groundbreaking 1996 Powerhouse exhibition Absolutely Mardi Gras.

The life and activism of norrie mAy-welby, valued cartoonist for the South Sydney Herald and intrepid transgender advocate, is presented as a work of art. Generally recognised throughout the community by the bubbles in the wake of their distinctive bike – now the property of the museum and stationed alongside the exhibit – Norrie is featured in interview on a large video screen. Their honesty and often blunt forthrightness is impressive and very likable, and their courage and strength apparent. Attached to the back of the screen is a collage of articles and photographs highlighting various moments and incidents in a colourful and challenging journey.

Also popular, are the contemporary costumes elegantly modelled on the large screen with the original costumes on floor display from Katie-Louise and Timothy of Nicol and Ford, designers who take pride in creating classically “feminine” silhouettes for all genders and body types. The bold use of a crimson upholstery jacquard in a neo-renaissance styled jacket  captures attention on screen as does an original garment in silk velvet lined with hessian, a pleated bodice held in place by pearl topped pins. Each outfit is complemented by shoes, jewellery – note the rich and beautiful work of Phoebe Hylas in a nearby cabinet – and bags that equal the garments in imaginative flair.

The remarkably vibrant and colourful output of LGBTQIA+ creatives – Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay mixed-media artist Dennis Golding, multidisciplinary artist Justin Shoulder, drag king performer Sexy Galexy, multi-award-winning Mardi Gras costume designer Renè Rivas, Nikita Majajas of jewellery brand Doodad + Fandango with DJ Charlie Villas, and videogame developers, animators and illustrators Scott Ford and Peter Foley of Fuzzy Ghost – make this exhibition as astonishing artistically as it is deeply moving, both as a tribute to past pain and present joyfulness.

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Absolutely Queer
Curator: Anni Turnbull
Powerhouse Ultimo
February 17 to December 31, 2023

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