Young people lack outlets in which they can be creative. We want to demonstrate that they have valid forms of expression.

Dean Lesser, co-curator of this year’s inaugural Queer Express exhibition, is not afraid to be outspoken. His organisation QY Media was established with the goal of creating spaces where youth expression can be heard.

We didn’t want to impose any restrictions thematically, he says. The entries received reflect different notions of identity and sexuality.

This diversity is also reflected in the wide range of mediums included in the exhibition. There are paintings, digital photography, installation art (all that Lesser will say is that it involves words and corrugated iron) and a multimedia piece that juxtaposes images and soundscapes.

Also included are some text-based exhibits: a series of 14 poems and an article on young queer people finding outlets for coming out -¦ feeling safer and more comfortable doing so. The poems are a more melancholy reflection with a spiritual bent, a personal belief system and creed.

All of the artists are between the ages 12 and 25. There have been entries from all over Australia. It is encouraging that most of the entries are fairly upbeat in their reflections.

The exhibition is included in the 2002 Mardi Gras festival and has been organised with the help of Mardi Gras. Says Lesser: I think Mardi Gras realises that to a certain extent they have ignored youth in the past. With this exhibition and the Velocity dance party they are trying to redress the situation.

Lisa Anderson, curator of the Mardi Gras arts program, acknowledges this as pretty obvious. She sees the fact that there are only two lesbian entrants as evidence of a continued problem: We need to encourage more young women to come forward in 2003.

She describes the works as just stunning -¦ with a wonderful sense of humour and her own role as non-interruptive. Experimentation is a part of youth, talking through ideas and solutions, she says. It was important that young people were in control.

The other organisation involved in Queer Express is the Metropolitan Community Church, a GLBT-friendly church based at Petersham. According to the youth pastor Johnathan Jones, the exhibition was a model for cooperation between community groups.

Both I and Dean and I applied to Mardi Gras for funding -¦ they told us, -˜You have similar ideas, you should get together and do it.’

Whereas the MCC is a safe space for people to express themselves as spiritual beings, its ethos of expression, love and fellowship proved to be compatible with that of Lesser in curating Queer Express. We aren’t setting out to convert people -¦ the exhibition is an opportunity for all youth to express themselves.

Jones also shares Lesser’s concerns at the lack of vehicles for youth expression. The main representation youth receive in the media is as models, as sex objects, he says.

The exhibits will be examined by a panel of three judges, and cash prizes of $500, $300 and $200 awarded. According to Lesser, the prizes are not seen as encouraging a combative atmosphere, but rather as encouraging youth to submit the best works they can.

Queer Express is open until 1 March, from 2pm to 10pm every day except Sunday. Admission is free. It is located in the foyer of the Seymour Centre, cnr Cleveland St and City Rd. The MCC is located at 96 Crystal St, Petersham.

For more info contact Johnathan on 0410 562 900.

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