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TOUCH ME Interview Series - Rafael Perez Evans

Rafael Perez Evans (he/him)

Spanish-Welsh artist Rafael Pérez Evans lives and works in London and Spain. He received a BA (Hons) and MFA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths College and will soon commence an Art Practice PhD at the University of Oxford, kindly supported by the AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership Award, University of Oxford.


Rafael’s work has been exhibited in solo shows internationally and often raises questions about sculpture, rurality, the urban and conditions of the South. Evans’ installations, sculptures and images propose a reigniting of the shame, anger and hope found in many queer and rural communities.


As an educator Pérez Evans is interested in expanded pedagogies where formal and informal platforms for knowledge exchange are created and disseminated, he is part of PLATA: Future Agro – Thinking Collective in Córdoba (Spain), he created Alto Residency in the jungle of Alto Paraiso (Brazil), was co-founder of Romita 26 Studios (Mexico City) and was part of the Gazua Curatorial Project (Rio de Janeiro).


In the UK he is a visiting & Associate lecturer and has taught at places including Central Saint Martins (UK), Leeds Beckett (UK), Nottingham Trent University (UK), University of Rochester (UK) and London College of Fashion (UK).

What does Pride mean to you?

Pride means a lot of things, I guess. It’s such a delicate term in so many ways. I guess that we all try to figure out what it means today and that’s the difficulty we encounter. I was having a chat earlier about what was happening in the ‘70’s in the US when some queer people started moving away to rural lands, responding to how gay culture was getting commodified in New York. And in 2011 I moved to Tennessee with the Radical Fairies – a queer counter-culture group that started in the 70’s as a way to explore what it means as well.


Going back to your question, I guess Pride is delicate for me. Where do we stand in relationship to how it has evolved over the past 30 - 40 years? Where do we find the edge of Pride? I am always querying and questioning: where is the sword in the Pride? The knife, the other something that can cause change. I think that’s a little bit what my Pride is – trying to find the edge on queer culture and being proud of that.


What is your first recollection of a queer person?

I come from a small town in southern Spain called Estepona. It’s a costal and rural town – or it used to be before it became touristic. We had this person called Barriga Verde (Green Belly) and he was – still is – an older gay man who was laughed at. He was very into the Spanish folkloric divas, and he would be very flirty with everyone. The thing about him which was so beautiful was that he was always very friendly but people, particularly in school, would laugh at him. He is someone I’d like to reconnect with, such an important person in my time, it’s sad he became part of this group of outsiders in the town that people would laugh at. There was him and then we had this other gentleman who was an alcoholic and probably suffered from some mental health issues that made him scream a lot. They were almost like a spectacle for people in the town, people would be warm to them but warm from a place of laughter. This was my initial contact with queer characters.


What are the biggest challenges that the LGBTQ+ community still faces?

One of the biggest challenges is algorithms and how the thirst to disseminate images of ourselves now takes place. There’s something about how corporations – Google and Meta – are draining us of our images and the way we are producing these images. I find it quite scary, and I wonder how we can challenge that. An image is not just an image, it’s a history and histories are being rewritten by corporations, particularly very large ones. What we need to address is how we can reclaim those images that are also identity and history. We need to work against the current and find a way out. Unfortunately, we swallow it whole without chewing it and I think we are all quite late to the dangers of social media culture.


The US is quickly changing towards the right and that’s also very scary. What is happening with female-identifying bodies, the changes in law and all that’s taking place. The LGBTQ+ communities - we’re next. What can we do with that scenario and reclaim power through and beyond algorithmic existences? For me it’s possibly going analogic again, to more grassroots ways of creating content and disseminating information. That might be a solution to some of the scary things that are happening now and in the near future.


How useful is it for brands, businesses and organisations to engage with LGBTQ+ creators and activists, as Begg x Co and QUEERCIRCLE are doing?

Like with anything, it is a matter of dedicating the right amount of tenderness. The word dedication is a good word. Dedicating tenderness and touch in order to do things in a way which is protecting the community, in a way there’s a win-win at least. It’s not an easy task but one that needs to be done. There’s a need for tenderness and care to happen in these things. They cannot be rushed, they cannot be off the cuff, they need time and care.

Your artistic practice is rooted in the subjects of rurality and the South. How does that intersect with queer urban existences as a topic for you?

I always got sold the idea that in order to be queer I needed to be cosmopolitan and belong and be a part of a city. Cosmopolitan is a lot of things but there’s a certain level of sophistication that the city sells itself for having. There’s a term coined by queer theorist Jack Halberstam, metronormativity: how we are made to transition into becoming urban creatures. That entails a lot, it’s a lot of work to be, and particularly if you come from a peripheral place you have to assimilate a lot of things. That assimilation means that you have to leave a lot of things behind, both good and bad. For me, the question of what is lost by coming into the city is always an ongoing one. What do I lose by not living in a peripheral place and wanting to be part of the so-called centre of things? What freedoms are lost by belonging to a city? I am always back and forth and it’s never really resolved.


As a queer person, we are sold that freedom is gained by living in the city. That’s the branding. You come to the city you become free. To dress, to be, to express yourself as you find important to you. There is, of course, the idea of safety, which is very important. Nevertheless, there are also aspects of the city that are more complicated – the city is very alienating, the city, particularly London, a hyper-fast city that leaves a lot of bodies behind, those that cannot sustain that speed, those who cannot manage that kind of experience. It’s a controversial thing, but what is it that rural environments do have? They often have tight networks of groups of people and the ideas of family – though conservative – they do hold certain things in place that sometimes can be beneficial.

I ran away as fast as I could and I wanted to be as glamorous and as fabulous as I could due to my sense of shame for being different. I came to London at 18 and studied art and at some point that glamorous gay life died.


Ever since I left London in 2011, I have been questioning what is it to be queer in my own experience. I still don’t have an answer but I know it’s not what I’ve been sold in books and films. It’s something else and I’m trying to discover it more and more as I get older. I look at art a lot and artists and activists in and out of cities. I still haven’t figured it out but I’m still trying.


You’ve worked extensively in education, both formal and informal. Have there been memorable encounters in those experiences and what do you feel still needs to be done?

There’s a lot of work to be done there. We are going through an educational crisis in the UK. Firstly, for the models that exist, like the debt model that follows the US that is unsustainable and is creating a lot of difficulties for everyone involved, be it students, lecturers, and workers in the institution. Departing from that model – an issue of government – and then the ideas of how that model is creating a user experience which has more to do with the supermarket – education as a commodity – that’s one of the major struggles.


Nevertheless, there are more and more models of non-institutional education that are really powerful. From a place of decolonialised thinking, it’s really cool thinking how to, in these institutions, start breaking the patriarchy. We need to find other ways of distributing, sharing and creating knowledge from within. Again, there’s not that much space, we are in this hyper accelerated city in which the expectation and what we tell students they are getting for the price they’re paying for it, doesn’t allow much space or time for care.


What I mean by care is a time in which we can talk about things more expansively with a looser end in mind. Education should be muddier, a place to get dirty and messy. And we can’t do it because we don’t have time. The pressure students are under – severe debt and little financial prospects make this a very delicate time for education. Still, there are attempts at breaking the rules and doing it differently. How we can bring some of those models into more conventional institutions is also the key. A lot of upgrading needs to be done in academia, and academia needs to learn and borrow from those models. After all, it is not even learning and teaching but sharing – and that’s the space for experimentation and possibility.


In your multimedia practice, how can art be a vehicle to reach rural communities and their queer existences and what challenges do we find there?

Art is an elitist sport. It is quite an exclusive – or has been historically – group of people who have been exercising these ideas and creating things with this set of ideas.


How do we create bridges with the periphery? What I have seen in recent years is how new groups of people – such as a group called Plata in Cordoba, that I am working with – work with small communities in the fields of agriculture, poetry, all sort of things and I am seeing a rise in smaller communities creating. Documenta is another example. The effort of decentralising is still a difficult thing.


The answer I have for this is that the city prides itself in that separation, the city exists as an altogether different machine to rurality and its periphery. And this urban-rural divide is the issue. There’s a wonderful rural essayist that I always talk about called Jaime Izquierdo, who is rewriting how the city and the small town and the countryside could relate. The city integrating some of the small scale ways of doing things and the small town starts taking some of the ingredients of the city. There have to be more conversations around that but they affect not just art. Planning, engineering, cultural industries, everything is involved in maintaining this kind of separation. We have to redesign the future city and the future human.

Until we start thinking about those things, this separation is going to continue and become more and more unsustainable. The way the city exists right now is like the image of a tick on a dog – a parasite that doesn’t give and only takes. Until we shift that (a difficult thing to do with so much involved), there’s much to do - but people are talking about that shift. To breach to those communities means rethinking the epicentre. Rethinking how this megalomanic structure can or should exist in the future.

What’s next for you?

I am working hand-in-hand with Ashley Joiner (Founder, QUEERCIRCLE) on the preparation of a solo exhibition that I will be staging at the QUEERCIRCLE gallery in early 2023, which is very exciting. I will also be opening a show in London this Autumn at No Show Project Space.


In Spain, I am working with Plata in Cordoba towards a process-led residency which will be exhibited in the city. I am also starting my PhD in Oxford Uni in October, half making work and half writing in queer theory and how that can be aligned with theories around rurality and ways of existing outside of the urban.

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