​An industrious move to build excellence and queer arts

Connections: Industry Lounge has set high standards for inclusivity and creativity. Photo: Oupa Nkosi

Connections: Industry Lounge has set high standards for inclusivity and creativity. Photo: Oupa Nkosi

Industry Lounge’s monthly Queer Arts night serves as a magnet for the city’s queer community, attracting everyone from impeccably-put-together, don’t-fuck-with-me drag queens to seemingly sartorially challenged, couldn’t-give-a-fuck lesbians — and everyone inbetween.

The space has been hailed as a welcome addition to a city with a dearth of options for its gender-blending queer community.

Musician Siya Ngcobo, who performed at the venue’s inaugural Queer Arts Night, says: “This is the one place in the city where all these different worlds come together. We all have a similar mindset; we’re tired of the segregation. It’s boring. There are also not a lot of spaces where you can just be yourself. As queer people we need those spaces; those environments where we can just live — spaces where it’s all about fostering connectedness.”

Michael van Schalkwyk, the venue’s co-owner, said: “We were drunk one night and started running through ideas about where to go to have a good night out. We ended up going to this place — I’m not going to mention any names, but let’s just call it Sticky Floors — and while we were there, we realised that there was really nowhere to go — especially for queer people of colour. And this is Jo’burg. I mean, come on.

“So we got to talking about opening our own space — a place that was beautiful; one with art on the walls but, most importantly, one that was truly inclusive.

“My partners and I are all Eighties kids. We’re hugely influenced and inspired by things like Madonna’s earlier music, [documentaries such as] Paris is Burning and underground queer art photography. So we wanted to pay homage to the influence those have had on us. And we wanted to take the art we displayed along those lines.

“But, you know, before we opened, we called in a few guys as consultants on this — guys who’d made a name for themselves in the art world — and they essentially wanted us to develop something more closeted. Like we mustn’t use the word queer.

“But we decided not to question ourselves. We decided that if people don’t like it, well then we’ll find out soon enough. We were also told upfront by some people that they’d never come to a space that calls itself queer.

“But we got really great feedback. The people who put together Blvck Queer Social [in Cape Town] were really great about it. They were saying: ‘We really need this — when is this going to happen?’ Now, people are coming up to us and saying: ‘This is what we need.’ That kind of thing keeps us going.

“It’s a confirmation that we’re on the right path. Because, you know, before we started, we had no established networks. We used to steal posters off lampposts and put our posters in and scuttle away in a hurry. We were complete novices.

“I think today’s scene has us all caught up in the hedonism of it all. It seems to be all about, you know, ‘me, myself and I’.

“It’s definitely not what it used to be. In my clubbing days, you really connected with people on some level. Also, then it was essentially a form of political expression. It wasn’t easy to go into a known gay space in those days. You had to be brave. But now it’s like, ‘oh well.’

“That is why we place so much emphasis at Industry on it being a place for meeting, collaborating and connecting.

“Before I started Industry, I knew very few people. But I’ve met so many queer artists. I didn’t know there were that many. And they are really, really talented. These are the kinds of collaborations we want to build. For us, this is beyond money. It’s about somewhere you can go and get everything that is queer, of colour and excellent. We’d like that to be the legacy we create.”

Industry Lounge, 305 Fox Street, Jeppestown, Maboneng Precinct.

 
Carl Collison

Carl Collison

Carl Collison is the Other Foundation’s Rainbow Fellow at the Mail & Guardian. He has contributed to a range of local and international publications, covering social justice issues as well as art and is committed to defending and advancing the human rights of the LGBTI community in Southern Africa. Read more from Carl Collison

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