The Balaclava.Q Interview with Stiofan O'Ceallaigh

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth”
Oscar Wilde

It is hard to believe that Balaclava.Q is a mere three months old. I have watched this site grow from nothing more than the ideas, convictions, and passion of one man, the artist Stiofan O’Ceallaigh. Stiofan is a human dynamo, he never stops. He is a constant cascading waterfall of ideas, projects, plans, all of them positive, all of them connective, collaborative, all of them empowering, and all with the art community their heart and centre.

There are fundamental shifts occurring in our society, we are a world in transition. We are moving ever towards a world of connectivity, of groupings, of support and cooperation. It may not appear so on the surface, but the foundations of a different world, a more connected and collective world is being formed.

Much of the shift is being fuelled by the internet. People are beginning to understand that there is more to the phenomenon of the net than online shopping. There is a larger picture forming, and that larger picture has to do with connection and self-empowerment.

The art community, as it always does, is reflecting and in many ways leading the phenomenon. There is a palpable buzz of excitement about the possibilities of real connection between artists, art groups, art platforms. Spearheading that excitement of possibility is Balaclava.Q, and Stiofan O’Ceallaigh. The following interview with Stiofan is about that excitement of possibility, turned into probability.

Balaclava.Q featured artist: Bex Ilsley

Where did the idea for Balaclava.Q come from?
My passion is people, my religion is people that is who I am, how I see life. For 14 years I worked with people, mostly artists. I created platforms for artists, in many different guises, different shapes and forms, different types of projects.

After that 14 years I made the decision to go back to my roots, to go back to being a working artist, something I had always been, but never really had the time for.

Being a working artist again meant that I became increasingly aware of what was going on within the art world, and there was definitely something happening, and it was happening on social media, regarding artists and their work. I noticed that more and more artists were sending out the message that their work was being systematically removed from various social media sites for no apparent reason.

I really felt the need to do something, to help in some practical way. There were a lot of artists out there creating really great work, but it was not being seen because it was in constant battle with social media censors.

I had heard about artists having duplicate profiles on social media sites, having three or four profiles on others. Running along those lines I thought a great way of not allowing the powers that be to keep a track of you, or the algorithm to be more exact, would be to wear a mask, that’s where the balaclava came in.

 Balaclava.Q featured artist: Ingrato

So the balaclava isn’t about hiding?
No, definitely not, and it is certainly not about shame. Shame was something I really didn’t want this project to be about. I really didn’t want people to think that Balaclava.Q was all about wearing a mask because you are ashamed of who you are. No, it’s not.

It is about emancipation, it is about freedom, it is about connectivity, it is about relationships. It is about opportunities, giving artists opportunities.

It is about an approach to art that is activism, emancipation, anonymity, transgression, identity, identification, subversive, subliminal, futuristic, dystopian, bringing all this and more together and allowing artists the space to reshape it through Balaclava.Q. That is just wonderful to watch, and wonderful to be a part of, and of course, there is no censorship, which as previously stated, so many artists suffer under. This is a free and liberating space for art and artists, and that is fundamental to what Balaclava.Q is about, freedom and the art of anonymity. It is about taking down the borders, and enjoying ultimate diversity, in whatever form that takes.

So what is the definition of Queer?
I went from being gay to queer. To me it is a spiritual and political stance in that you consider yourself to be ‘other’. The ‘Q’ on the end of Balaclava.Q obviously represents the word queer. Queer is the new punk, Queer is a punk aesthetic, it comes from punk.

Twenty or thirty years ago, considering yourself as ‘other’ would have been difficult, isolating even. But now, with the internet, finding others like yourself, finding connections, it’s unbelievably fast and easy to find your community.

To me, Queer is about trying to push things, creating new ideas for new realities, new perspectives, taking a view of the world where anything can be anything. It is only when you start labelling those ‘anything’s’ that it becomes its own construct, and then it gets walled in.

So – to me - Queer is a non-binary, non-label ‘other’. What you do with your sexual bits is of no concern to the project, or to me, it’s more about how you identify and what you want to say.

Balaclava.Q featured artist: Wilhelm Vincent

You talk a lot about diversity regarding Balaclava.Q How important is that to you?
I am really, really passionate about diversity, and passionate that Balaclava.Q reflects the full diversity of who we are. As long as the face is obscured, the work can be about anything, and can include anyone, there are no exclusions and there never will be, I would encourage anyone to submit work to the site, and I would really love to hear from them. The stance taken is entirely up to the artist, so it can be political, sexual, fetishistic, dramatic, whatever you want it to be, it can be. The only real proviso is that you obscure the face, everything else is up to you the artist. I am keen to have a female, trans or non-binary perspective on the project and would welcome submissions from those communities. If you are out there, reading this then get in touch.

So where are you at the moment with Balaclava.Q?
Balaclava.Q is constantly evolving, and it is the artists that are submitting work to Balaclava.Q who are evolving the project. It’s already starting to reshape itself as it moves along. That’s really exciting for me, and what is even more exciting is that many artists are now creating new works specifically for the online gallery. So we are going to start having exclusives for Balaclava.Q, which is really cool.

Some artists have started to look at the idea of the face itself as a mask, how you can use emotions and expressions to hide how you are really feeling. Some artists are really getting conceptual and metaphysical about it as well. So all these different artists, different genders, all these different sexualities may well reshape the tagline of the project.

Balaclava.Q featured artist: Luca Gaetano Pira

So things are getting really busy for you.
Really, really busy, lots of stuff coming in all the time. I am also getting a lot of positive feedback from people saying how great the website is looking, how cool the project is. What is really exciting is that artists are starting to take ownership of their galleries within Balaclava.Q, but also artists are spreading the news that the site is a really important project and platform, that the artists featured are exciting, I find that really inspirational.

I want this project to be constantly redefined by the artists that take part. I realise now, from my own journey through this project that the parameters of what is queer is constantly in flux. What is queer today will not be queer tomorrow.  It’s more than present, it’s omnipresent, and is constantly changing shape, and that is what I want this project to do, and that is what I feel is happening.

Balaclava.Q featured artist: Rafael Maldonado

You talk often of Balaclava.Q fostering connectivity and relationships. Have you formed any yourself through working with the site?
Yes indeed. I have made really meaningful connections with a number of the artists that have been featured on the site. A good example of how Balaclava.Q is working, is the relationship I have formed with the artist Johann N’Dale. I have done a call out for a magazine that he wants to get off the ground and running, called Fuck Hate. He said that it was because of the Balaclava.Q project that he created Fuck Hate. It is so cool when that happens.

But I have also formed a number of relationships outside of Balaclava.Q that have then become connected to the site. A case in point is yourself.  

We have been working together as a team on the forthcoming Inspirational 13. It has been really great to be part of a new direction for the Inspirational publication. It’s a really exciting time for both Balaclava.Q and Inspirational, and to have us both connected, both collaborating with each other’s projects, that can only make us stronger.

Balaclava.Q featured artist: Leon Headstone

So what about the future?
The first of the in-depth artist interviews has just taken place with the artist Leon Headstone. The interviewer is California-based queer art theorist and historian Robert Summers, I am honoured to have Robert on board and his contribution to Balaclava.Q so far has been immense. These interviews will be a regular monthly event.

Another thing that is definitely coming up soon will be a call out for new collaborators. As Balaclava.Q grows, it needs to bring in new people, with new skills. Check the facebook page regularly for that and more.

There will also be a comprehensive links section for the website, which I am working on at the moment. That will include links with the individual artist websites, and links to a range of interesting and relevant sites.

An important motivator for the project is the fight against injustice, especially when it comes to the LGBTQIA community, the level of violence and hurt that it regularly suffers from is totally unacceptable. A lot of the partners that I am going to be working with in the future, with regards to this project, will have the core aims of addressing inequality, homophobia, hate, racism.
I have also been offered exhibition space by the Lesbian and Gay Foundation in Manchester. It is an exhibition that has a theme of stigma and HIV, and will coincide with World Aids Day (December 1).

Balaclava.Q featured artist: Menelas

And finally?
When I started this project it was all about encouraging artists to feel empowered, to say what they wanted to say, and then to find other artists to resonate with, connect with, create opportunities with. That is what Balaclava.Q is doing and will continue to do.

What is really exciting is that it feels like the whole art community is now also beginning to see the power of connections, relationships, collaborations. That is where we are going as a community, I can feel it, and that is definitely where Balaclava.Q already is.

To find out more about the Balaclava.Q project, or to make a submission as an artist, visit:

To find out more about the artist Stiofan O’Ceallaigh, visit:

You can contact Stiofan direct at:

The artist: Stiofan O'Ceallaigh

Comments

  1. This is important -- both politically and aesthetically, which are intertwined -- work. As an art historian who does queer work in the discipline, and in promoting queer and feminist artists, I find Balaclava.Q very exciting and rewarding -- and as a site for research and ideas for others. This site, this gallery, if you will, can aid other artists in thinking about art, politics, identity, gender, and sexuality in wholly other ways. Balaclava.Q is something that will reverberate for some time.

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    Replies
    1. Powerful Words Robert. Thank you for your support and kindness.

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  2. Thank you John. This is amazing!

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