Underwear as a Window to Gay Life: Interview with Heezy Yang

QA Blog Series: QA18 Bodies X Borders Art Exhibition: Artist Interviews

Posted on 12/07/2018
Heezy Yang and his series, ‘About Gay Men and Pants’, participated in the Bodies X Borders Art Exhibition, as part of the ‘Queer’ Asia Conference 2018. See more here

Gradually life became easier as an artist as I began accepting who I am, including my sexuality and sexual preference, and I began raising my voice to confidently show people who I am

What experience or education led to your artistic practice?

My father used to be quite big in the film critics’ community, and he had a lot of artist friends, from painters and photographers to film directors and actors. I grew up around him and his friends, visiting all these art studios, exhibitions and such, so that probably had a big influence on me. My mom is an elementary school teacher, and I would say her drawing and photography skills were better than average. She helped me with drawing as a kid, and she often took me to art events as well. So I think I was exposed to art from a very young age, and I always liked drawing and doing other artsy stuff since my youth. But that passion for art was forgotten over the years as I struggled to survive in Korea’s rigorous education system and the not-so-open-minded society as a teenage student. It was only when I was in my early 20’s that I realised that art has always been what I wanted to do. I was in a decent business school, but I quit as soon as I came to that realisation. I chose a non-traditional path, in a society where being different is harshly judged, and I had trouble finding my direction when I first started doing art more seriously. At the time, I had had my ups and downs with depression and anxiety. Gradually life became easier as an artist as I began accepting who I am, including my sexuality and sexual preference, and I began raising my voice to confidently show people who I am.

2 Heezy Yang_Art Showcase
Heezy Yang at an Art Showcase in Seoul

I wanted to use gay men’s underwear as a window to let us take a peek into their lives…I wanted it to be spontaneous, raw, and real

Could you describe the inspiration for your series of photographs in the Bodies x Borders exhibition?

I don’t remember where I saw this, and I’m not even sure if I’m remembering what I saw correctly. I think I saw somewhere a collection of photographs of objects from women’s handbags such as lipsticks, all taken by an artist. And I think there were short descriptions or narratives related to the objects along with the photographs. I was inspired by this idea, and basically my whole project started from there, using underwear instead of lipsticks and gay men instead of women. I know from experience and from what I’ve heard from others that many gay men put a lot of effort in buying and wearing nice underwear to represent their personality and their feelings. I wanted to use gay men’s underwear as a window to let us take a peek into their lives.

Could you elaborate on your general artistic process? How do you develop each of your projects?

The way I come up with an idea or work on a project is very different for each project, and it can also feel extremely random, so it’s hard to describe. For this particular project, I did not need too much preparation. As soon as I had the idea, I just started going out in gay bars, talking to people and asking if they would be willing to model and share their stories about their underwear. I wanted it to be spontaneous, raw, and real. I didn’t want the models to dress up for the photo shoot and fake their style and story. I would tell them, ‘I’m going to photograph what you are wearing right now and that’s where the interview is going to start from. There’s no next time or planning ahead. Now or never.’ Then the photographs would go through an editing process, and I would transcribe the interview later.

Heezy Yang's 'Justin' from 'Gay Men and Pants'
Justin: Although I do believe underwear is an extension of fashion, that belief doesn’t apply to me. I usually just wear what’s clean. I usually only wear boxer briefs. They are the most comfortable for me, but they can also be sexy.

How do you think this series relates to the theme of Bodies x Borders?

Can I answer this question with keywords instead?
Underwear. Clothes. Sizes. Races. Nationalities. Diversity. Immigrants.
I think it’s quite easy to connect the dots here!

How do you think your featured work in the exhibition fits with your overall body of work? Or is it in some ways a departure?

I do a lot of different things through various mediums. It’s not because I am good at everything, but it’s simply because I like trying different things and learning new things. It’s just really fun. I write, I draw, I paint, I take photos, I perform on stage, I perform in the streets, and I will probably make films in the future too. The themes and subjects I cover are all over the place as well. I may heavily focus on certain issues or certain themes during a certain period of time; however, I don’t like labelling and putting limitations on myself. Therefore, this body of work for the exhibition probably fits just fine in the diverse world of artwork by Heezy Yang, if that makes any sense. 

Do you have any expectations for how audiences will respond to your work?

Usually, I completely let the audience decide how to respond. There are billions of feelings and thoughts people can achieve from appreciating one piece of art. Even if I came up with an idea or a project for a certain reason, I can’t control what people see in my work and how they feel about it. In fact, I don’t want to, because I don’t want to be touched or interrupted when I’m appreciating others’ artwork in my own way. However, I do try to be more inclusive when it comes to racial diversity and body types. Lately, I am very interesting in promoting positive body image and diversity. These are ideas that we, the LGBTQ+ community, could really use nowadays, right?

Heezy Yang, Installation view of ‘About Gay Men and Pants’ photo series


Artist Biography: Heezy Yang is a Seoul-born Korean queer artist and activist. He has been actively participating in Seoul Pride (also known as the Korea Queer Culture Festival), as a stage artist, performer and booth runner since 2013. He uses various media including illustration, photography, performance and installation for his art projects. His recent queer art exhibitions include ‘Boys And The Colours’ and ‘Drag Queens On Canvas’. Yang also performs as drag artist ‘Hurricane Kimchi’ at major LGBTQ events around Seoul. He is one of the founders and chief organiser of Seoul Drag Parade. In 2018, he was selected for the Forbes Under 30 Asia list.
View more of Heezy’s work by Website, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook