Why is there a Pakistani artist at Strut?

This month, the Strut art gallery features art from Mohsin Shafi, an interdisciplinary artist living and working in Pakistan. How did an artist from Pakistan come to find out about Strut, and have the opportunity to showcase his work in a gallery across the globe?

Shafi visited the U.S. for the first time last year, and during that trip had a chance to briefly visit San Francisco. He remembers feeling overwhelmed by the acceptance and celebration of LGBT culture he saw, and was inspired to drop his portfolio off at Magnet (now Strut) at the time. 

As a queer Pakistani, Shafi produces art that explores issues he’s dealt with living in a region of the world largely intolerant to anything other than man-woman heterosexual relationships. For safety reasons, the artist is only out about his sexuality to a very small group of close friends at home.

Homosexuality is criminalized in Pakistan. The maximum penalty, according to Human Dignity Trust, is imprisonment between two years and life and a fine. Some prosecutions under the law have occurred in recent years and the U.S. Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2015 reports that discrimination and societal stigma against LGBT people is “widely acknowledged.”

Shafi’s art examines the intersection between a person’s identity—religious, gender, and ethnic—and their larger context, including religious freedoms, censorship, and intolerance. His compositions, which are elaborately constructed, layered, mixed-media collages, oftentimes depict people whose faces have been blurred, covered or otherwise hidden. His imagery, he explained is about restriction and repression, and about how he feels living in a culture where he cannot be himself.

Shafi is thrilled that his work is being exhibited in a gallery on Castro street, which he calls “the home of Harvey Milk.” Though his exhibition is at Strut—a space for gay, bisexual and transgender men—he hopes that his art may be seen and appreciated by the larger community. He also hopes to provoke conversation about the sexual liberty that people in this country have, saying that he hopes people value this blessing.

See Shafi’s art for yourself at Strut (470 Castro Street in San Francisco), now on display on the second floor.

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