Monday, February 13, 2017

STIOFAN O'CEALLAIGH/BALACLAVA.Q INTERVIEW



With the big drive for the securing of funding for the Balaclava.Q project to the end of this decade, it seemed appropriate to revisit and republish the interview I did back in October 2016 with the artist who is the driving force behind the phenomenon that is Balaclava.Q, Stiofan O'Ceallaigh.

In this interview, Stiofan clearly set out the aims, reasoning, and future of Balaclava.Q. It is a great interview with an individual that has focus and passion, drive and ambition, but all corralled into the need to help others. That is his gift and that is his mission.

As already stated, Balaclava.Q is in the midst of a funding drive in order to secure the future of the platform for the next few years. It would be wonderful if you could find yourself to giving a helping hand. Donations to the GoFundMe Balaclava.Q drive start at £5. Money can be given to the following link: GoFundMe. Thank you!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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:


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