You’ve probably seen the performance and visual art duo known as the Huxleys; their penchant for glitter, wild costumes and disco balls make them hard to miss. In one of their pieces “Bloodlines” for the Photo 2022 international photo festival – to be released at the Center for Contemporary Photography – they pay homage to the influence of the late artist Keith Haring, an AIDS patient, imitating his famous works of heart-themed art by wearing head-to-toe shimmering red costumes with some, uh, parts of their anatomy also dressed in sequined finery. And in a series of photos that will appear in light boxes at Birrarung Marr, the Huxleys are dressed as gigantic sea creatures – “we loved the idea that a lot of sea creatures are gender fluid” – in outlandish fluorescent costumes which they hope to bring viewers joy.
Although works by the Huxleys (composed of Will and Garrett Huxley) have appeared in London, Berlin, Moscow and Hong Kong, it was in Melbourne that they found the safest landing. Before that, they couldn’t always find a place that understood their brand of androgyny, homosexuality, and high camp. Will Huxley said: “I totally agree that there is a sense of freedom in Melbourne, in particular. We both grew up really struggling to express ourselves as queer people and not really fitting in; it wasn’t until I moved to Melbourne [from Perth; partner Garrett is from the Gold Coast] that I felt this freedom to just be who I wanted to be. I came here and that part of me that I had always hidden was celebrated. All the things I was afraid of or couldn’t express have now become the things that make us who we are as artists.
Photo 2022’s ‘human being’ theme features 90 outdoor exhibitions and artworks across Melbourne and regional Victoria, not only from local artists but also renowned photographers such as Cindy Sherman and Helmut Newton . Some of the Melbourne-based artists have settled here after somewhat tumultuous or busy pasts in other cities and countries – and they feel there is something about the city that has not only encouraged them to express their identity through art, but has further helped their careers as well.
“Melbourne has this beautiful queer community in the performing and visual arts, and it’s inspiring because we didn’t grow up with it,” says Will Huxley. “Our art is to break down these boundaries. It doesn’t matter your gender; in our art, we like to confuse people.
Iranian-Australian artist Hoda Afshar – who emigrated from her native Iran in 2007 – launches her exhibition speak the wind at the Monash Gallery of Art and confronts his feelings towards his native land. Filmed in a number of islands off the southern coast of Iran, “It’s like a documentation of my changing relationship with my home country…which then turned into something separate when I began to realize all these different historical conflicts and complexities and that I was fascinated by the landscape, beauty and supernatural and history [of Iran].”
Although she never planned to move somewhere as far away as Australia, she is happy to have landed in Melbourne. “I believe Melbourne has this quality that welcomes people. He holds you, he holds you in his arms. I have traveled and lived in different parts of Australia, but the first time I felt I belonged somewhere was in Melbourne, after years of migration. I feel connected to here; I have a great community of people and we share very similar experiences, points of view, passions, goals.
Afshar says: “It wasn’t until I moved to Melbourne that my career started to shine. There’s a lot more support for emerging artists and openness to different voices. But she realized the role the city played in her heart when she found herself stuck in lockdown in London at the start of the pandemic. “I live in Brunswick and I started to feel the nostalgia of my walk along Sydney Road. I imagined myself back in the neighborhood and walking to Royal Park, going to my favorite cafe, and that’s there that I realized that the kind of homesickness I felt was the same as I had always felt for Iran. I really feel deeply connected to Melbourne.