“For queer people, just embracing the state of being is enough to be seen”: Minsoo Bae ’20
Minsoo Bae (she/they) is an Anthropology major from Yale-NUS College’s Class of 2020. Outside of her corporate day job, she curates spaces that sit at the intersection of queerness, art and the essence of being.
Thank you for taking the time! Can you describe the work you do outside of your day job?
There are four main things I dabble in. The first is a queer life drawing circle, which I have been running with Farheen (they/them) for maybe 7 months. The second is making zines and selling them together at zine fairs. Third is Bussy Temple, which is a series of queer nightlife spaces run by queer creatives. And last is a personal project, where I draw on queer people and photograph them.
The queer life drawing sessions sound so interesting. Can you share more about that?
It's a bimonthly session with queer models and queer drawers. For a lot of the models, it’s their first time doing life modeling. Farheen and I would set up a practice session to get people comfortable, discuss their boundaries, and let them know what to expect. We ask them to come up with a theme and playlist if they want, so they can communicate their essence and share how they want to be seen. Some examples of themes in the past have included "soil", where we saw drawers respond by depicting the body in nature-y forms.
My favourite part is at the end when we ask people to place their favourite drawing in the middle of the room. We give people pieces of paper to write notes about what they enjoy about other's drawings. It’s such a cute time, seeing people ferociously write compliments and make connections with others over how they resonated to their art. It's also really lovely to see people meet in this space and become friends… or more…
I’ve developed so much as an artist by growing with this community and learning from other people’s styles.
What was the inspiration behind these initiatives, and how do you see them interacting with each other?
Bussy Temple came from a desire to give queer folks a safe space to party and present themselves however they want, especially gender-wise. I knew this was important, because personally, when I’m with my queer friends in nightlife spaces with a lot of straight men, we feel our bodies tense up. There's a fear of safety, of being respected for who we are.
For queer life drawing, we wanted to create a space where people can just be in the presence of others without necessarily talking, especially since some participants told us later that the space also filled their desire to meet queer folks in quieter, sober settings.
We want to encourage people to stretch how we see ourselves and each other, and try in different ways to capture an essence. For the queer models, we want to create a space where they can be embodied and seen for who they are, without being a spectacle. And for the drawers, a place to breathe and experiment, and to see queer kins deeply.
Farheen put it beautifully when they said: "There's a sense that we are queering life drawing - bending the boundaries of what it means to depict a body. Seeing beyond seeing. There is something really special when queer eyes see and depict queer people - I think we are all inclined to see in really beautiful ways, and this has felt like a space to celebrating queer seeing."
It feels like you’re saying there’s a way for people to be seen, that’s distinct from them expressing themselves with words. Does that not go against the thinking today that precisely because someone has been dehumanized, they should be given the chance to define themselves?
I think the desire to define ourselves comes from a place of not being understood by others. Gender does not exist in a vacuum - it’s a shared language that we use to interpret the world. That’s why queer people seek out words and definitions to explain themselves to non-queer people.
Farheen and I run some of these initiatives under an art duo called singmoolsung, which means ‘the quality of being a plant’ in Korean. The philosophy behind the duo is this - plants are not interested in self-definition, only constant self-transformation. For us, it’s a comfort with the state of being, a state that we recognize is constantly growing and in flux, that’s not dependent on language or rigid definitions.
Definition is for non-queer people. We define ourselves to non-queer people so they can understand us. Among other queers, I feel like there's no need to explain. Embracing the state of being, and all the fluidity that comes with that, is enough to be seen.
Would you describe yourself as an activist?
I can see why someone may say that because we're creating alternative spaces for queer folks. But no lah, I wouldn’t. I don’t know if these initiatives deserve that title - I’m not making systemic change, you know. I’m just letting people chill. I still feel like I know so little about how to create change at scale, especially in Singapore.
As an Anthropology major, my education gave me the tools to critique existing systems. But that showed me how easy it is be prescriptive, and not realize how an initiative could play out given the nuances of each person's lived experiences. That made me afraid of starting any large-scale programs that might lead to unintended consequences. I think about how Audrey Tang, Taiwan's Minister of Digital Affairs, talks about Taoist philosophy and how she wants to use her position to be a conduit for people. It's something I want to work up to, but I have a lot to learn.
So how would you describe the Theory of Change behind your work?
I wrote my capstone on the psychedelic trance music scene in Singapore, using the theory of politics of everyday resistance. The theory is about the political potential of a contained temporary space governed by utopian rules, outside of neoliberal logic. It's not a politics of change, but of survival.
I have my doubts because I know it sounds grandiose and even complacent. But it's something. And I hope that people take a piece of that experience with them outside of that space. I hope it gives them more comfort to inhabit new ways of being in their everyday life, something that's set up to be hostile to the core of who they are.
That’s why I decided to focus these initiatives on my everyday interpersonal relationships. My hope is that living out my values would become second nature and one day, allow me to feel comfortable moving towards systemic change.
It may not cause wholesale systemic change; it just gives us a way of surviving the cold metropolis.
And so what’s next for you all - is there a desire to scale these initiatives?
Bussy Temple will host our first international line up rave in March to celebrate our one-year anniversary. It will feature DJing and other creative forms from a few international artists.
For queer life drawing, my nightmare would be if it evolved into a 100-people event. The key is that it’s intimate, and change is slow and fluid and led mainly by the community. I have no desire to impose my version of what change looks like on others. And maybe that’s a control thing - when it’s small, I feel like we're better placed to work on any unintended harms.
But yes, Farheen and I have talked about it, and at some point, we would love to create more programmes to lower any barriers to entry for self-exploration with art. One other dream is to have a permanent queer space, maybe a cafe or bar with community initiatives.
Personally, I would love to learn more about community organizing and how I can live in a way that’s more aligned with my values. I'm curious about anarchist squats, organizing food drives and supporting mutual aid.
Before we end, are there any resources you’d like to recommend?
@genieheenie's zines - they did one on disability, among others, which you could check out at their artist page. And transformative justice zines of @faraway.olives too.
If you’d like to join or find out more about these initiatives, feel free to reach out to Minsoo on Instagram @mintskaa.
All images are provided by Minsoo.