Arab and Coming Out in Art That Speaks Up

Several gay or lesbian artists working in both the West and in the Middle East said they did not wish to be interviewed for this article.

Among those in the 2015 Leslie-Lohman exhibit was the Lebanese artist Omar Mismar. Within the Arab world, Mr. Mismar said, Lebanon is viewed as “allowing a space for out gay artists and creators to exist, but at the same time things are never really guaranteed.” Laws criminalizing homosexual acts are still in effect, with arbitrary enforcement.

His installation, “The Man Who Waited for a Kiss,” consisted of murky, surveillance-style photographs of himself interacting with men he met in the United States, through Craigslist, Grindr and Scruff. He created the project while pursuing a double master’s degree, in fine arts and visual and critical studies, at the California College of the Arts, as an effort to show “what gay men can do in other cities.”

Mr. Mismar, 31, teaches at the American University of Beirut and the Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts, which allows him exceptional maneuverability. Yet none of his gay-identified work has been exhibited in Lebanon. A work called “A Hands Routine” maps the places he and his boyfriend felt safe holding hands while in a car roaming the streets of Beirut. “Holding hands becomes a risk, a secret act, fun for being dangerous,” he wrote in an introduction to the artwork, made of graphs that resemble sheets of music.

Location can mitigate fear, and such exhibitions flourish in the gay mecca of San Francisco. Jamil Hellu, 41, an artist there, was born in Brazil to a Syrian father and Paraguayan mother, moving to the United States in 1996.


“I will not find this image beautiful” is a 2015 work by Omar Mismar. The artist incorporated computer images of the Israeli bombings of Gaza, struck by the rhythm of the smoke plumes

He has merged his gay and Arab identities in…

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