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Risqué New Art Show Tests Asia’s LGBT Tolerance

When Patrick Sun, founder of the Sunpride Foundation, decided three years ago to take an LGBT-themed art show all over Asia, he set a key condition.

The collection of oil paintings, videos and even a pool of water must exhibit only at government-run museums as a sign of official support for LGBT rights. A bigger variety of people will visit a government-backed museum, he expects, adding exposure to a cause that still generates suspicion in parts of Asia. Some of his pieces don’t make the mission easy. There are supersized penis images, a photo of people smoking hookahs and a video clip of one man slitting another’s throat, for example.

“The government, as soon as it gives approval, that’s the official view,” exhibition curator Sean Hu Tuesday said in an interview Tuesday at the maiden appearance of the 50-piece exhibit by six ethnic Chinese artists.

Sun’s foundation has sighted Bangkok, Hong Kong and Tokyo for showings over the next 10 years after getting initial nods from government-run museums in all three. Thailand is LGBT-friendly, Japan has an open democratic society and people in Hong Kong are warming to LGBT activism.

“Even though you see parts of Asia that aren’t too friendly toward LGBT, I’m still optimistic,” said Hu, whose Hong Kong-based foundation collects LGBT artwork. “Equal rights for LGBT people is correct and the overall direction is one of more equality. Someday we will get there.”

But most of Asia has not warmed to LGBT rights as eagerly as Western and Latin American countries. Countries with one-party rule or large Muslim populations, for example, consider LGBT issues low to zero priority. Images of nudity would repel them further. The image-conscious Communist government of China, despite a thriving pink economy, restricts free speech and is unlikely to embrace the cause. Singapore may feel the same way. Both obviously have large ethnic Chinese populations that would give the artwork a coveted audience.

But Sun says he has contacted museums in numerous Asian countries and despite a lack of exhibition dates none have declined outright to show the art.

“Every place’s political system and cultural background are different,” the curator said. “I believe we can look ahead, but whether they accept, that’s a matter of time.”

Showings have already begun around the region. On Friday the exhibition called Spectrosynthesis opened at the city-run Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei. Taiwan stands out in Asia for its tolerance of LGBT rights. The cause began to grow a following here some 15 years ago as part of government work to promote a diverse society and stand out from its political arch-rival China. (To make a case that Taiwan belongs to China despite proud self-rule, the government in Beijing says people on both sides are essentially the same.) In May the island’s top justices gave parliament a two-year deadline to legalize same-sex marriage, a first for Asia.

At the indoor-outdoor museum in central Taipei, parents have fearlessly taken children parts of the exhibit that are approved for minors, Hu says, and foreign visitors are pouring in along with steady lines of locals. An unusually large number of people, about 2,500, visited over the weekend a day after the show’s launch.

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