Bent Street: a crucial avenue for queer arts, literature and ideas

Various editions of "Bent Street", with the current "Bent Street" 4.2 front and centre. Photo: Guy James Whitworth.

Sydney artist and author Guy James Whitworth’s career experienced a major upswing after his work featured in Bent Street. Here, he profiles the journal, which has become a literary and artistic force since its 2017 debut.

One of the most difficult things about being an artist is finding your audience.  

Up until a few decades ago, if an artist wanted to find a fanbase for their work they had to sign with a gallery and pay a large percentage of all money made from their art sales to the gallery and/or agent who represented them and handled all of their publicity. Likewise, struggling writers would have to find a supportive agent or publisher and sign up with them. More often than not, these contracts locked that creative into an agreement designed to benefit the gallery or the publisher. 

Commercial mass appeal was everything. It’s no big surprise, I’m sure, to find out that these systems were rarely advantageous to minorities, people of colour or those on the LGBTQI spectrum. 

Most creatives agree the traditional gallery/publishing system needs to change and makes little sense in a world where social media, hashtags and targeted ads make it much easier to find a mailing list or audience appropriate to – and even specific, to – your output.  

Thankfully, to all of us freelance creatives, it is a relief to see these old systems on their last legs. It is nothing short of revolutionary that the creative works and voices of diverse, otherised and oppressed creative types are more accessible than they have ever been. To see various minorities come together, and add their stories to the cultural milieu is so inspiring. What a time to be alive! 

However, that said, as a creative of any type, it can still be a big, bloody uphill struggle to get work out into the world, and inclusion in publications like Bent Street – a journal of Australian LGBTQI+ arts, writing and ideas – can be career-changing for early and mid-career artists and writers. 

I’ve been a regular contributor to Bent Street since it started four years ago. In fact, it was my portrait of my dear friend Miren that graced the very first cover (which means that from the very first page they put out into the world, Bent Street was representing an androgynous, gender diverse, person of colour). Every year, it outdoes itself and is jam-packed with diverse, eclectic, informative, hysterically funny and enlightening LGBTQI content as they (and I quote) “bring together the year in queer”.

I was first asked to contribute four years ago, after I gave a talk at the University of Adelaide, as part of the semi-annual Australian Homosexual Histories Conference. I was approached by fellow speaker and soon-to-be Bent Street editor Tiffany Jones. She, and contributing editors Gordon Thompson and Ashley Sievwright, each year put a call out for contributors and they then curate and collate a collection of art, essays, poetry, academia, fiction and, well, some inventive pieces that defy classification, to sum up and define the past twelve months from every angle of the exhilarating LGBTQI viewpoint.  

Previous editions of Bent Street. Photo: Guy James Whitworth.

When asked what she looks for in sourcing content, Jones offers: “I am especially excited to bring in new or different contributors offering a perspective, vision or medium we haven’t seen before or that contrasts against our more established contributors, politicians, scholars and award-winning creatives … a tapestry is more beautiful if it features a mix in threads.” 

Certainly, to offer an open platform to younger, newer creatives who get to see their work alongside established academics (such as this year’s editorial advisor, Dennis Altman) really does produce spectacular results. I’ve used the word ‘revolutionary’ once before in this article and I don’t mind telling you, I’m rather tempted to use it again! 

While contributors are found Australia-wide, a fair few are Sydney-based, such as Suz Mawer, whose piece ‘Welcome to the Galaxy’ features in the fiction section of Bent Street 4.2. Although she has made a living from writing for the last decade, this is her first ever short story to be published. When asked if she has been offered any follow-up publishing deals she responds, “Not yet, but I’m hoping so – I have written a short screenplay based on my story and I’m planning to direct it next year!” 

This past year saw a break in tradition when, inspired by the year from hell that was 2020, Bent Street produced a hitherto unseen half yearly edition, dealing specifically with creativity and intimacy during lockdown, entitled ‘Love from a Distance’. (Rather selfishly I think) the Bent Street crew decided not to go with another of my paintings for the cover, but with a fresh-faced, Glebe-based artist by the name of Jake Cruz.

When asked about the outcomes of his very first cover, he enthuses: “To have one of my artworks, which was only submitted as a supporting image to my writing (my submission was essentially a coping routine for my mental health, broken down into intimate steps) chosen to be that edition’s front cover felt like the cherry on top of the best cake ever. It felt like such an achievement and a real validation of my thoughts, my time and my deep, personal feelings.” 

Damn, sounds nice, I kinda wanted to dislike him. 

Anyway, since first being published in Bent Street I have gone on to have my first book about my art practice, Signs of a Struggle, published in 2019, with a follow-up due this year. Realistically, I would never have had the confidence or connections to do this without the experience of being in Bent Street.  

I’ll leave the final words of this piece, which is, let’s be honest, slightly more infomercial than review, to Erin Riley, whose beautiful and poignant essay about the complex guilt and elation of buying a house in Erskineville with their partner during the time of Covid-19 brought a tear to these rather cynical and sceptical eyes.  

When asked if they had previously been recognised for their creative talents and were familiar with the joy of seeing one’s own words in print, they elegantly replied: “I’m definitely not established in my creative field. This has been a real boost of confidence and been a motivator to keep working on the craft of writing and story-telling, which I’m really enjoying.” 

Go get yourself a copy of Bent Street and be part of this revolution. 

Bent Street is published by Clouds of Magellan Press. For more information, visit bentstreet.net.

Guy James Whitworth is a Sydney-based artist and author. His book, Signs of a Struggle – as well as all Bent Street journals (1 to 4.2) – are available from The Bookshop Darlinghurst and good bookshops everywhere. He can be followed on Instagram and Twitter.