Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (a.k.a. Faluda Islam) grew up in Pakistan. In Arabic poetry, a deer often symbolizes an effeminate young man. In Brazil, the word deer ('veado') is commonly used as a slang to insult gay men, 2017, by Jamil Hellu

The deer that made it into Art & Queer Culture

In Asia and Latin America the animal is a pejorative term for gay men - but these gay men are taking the term back

Jamil Hellu is a San Francisco-based photographer, who also appears in a lot of his own pictures. These aren’t selfies though; instead, for his series Hues he invites people from the LGBTQ community to collaborate with him, developing pictures that say something about him, something about them and, in the process, something about all of us.

And, in order to articulate these ideas in the image above, Hellu and his fellow subject needed a small model deer.

“In this image, Hellu stands resting his hand on the shoulder of drag performer, artist and curator Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Jr, who sits with his legs crossed, and with his own elaborately manicured hand resting on his thigh,” explains Cyle Metzger in Art & Queer Culture. “On Bhutto’s right open palm is a deer, which symbolizes effeminate masculinity in both Brazilian popular discourse and Arabic poetry.

“By taking possession of this pejorative symbol, the pair at once defy and rework its negative associations. Since both men are queer and from Catholic and Muslim backgrounds that have historically shunned homosexuality, this image also highlights the contradictions that emerge through the union of religious, ethnic and cultural traditions with gender and sexual identity.

Hellu’s position combines the role of photographer and subject to create what he calls an ‘us’ rather than an ‘other’ within the image. ‘Woven together’, the photographer has written, ‘our histories connect us to a larger dialogue about the complicated past we represent and the future we want to create’.”


Our newly updated Art & Queer Culture
Our newly updated Art & Queer Culture

For more on art, symbolism and homosexuality order a copy of Art & Queer Culture here. Beautifully illustrated and clearly written, this second edition has been updated to include art and visual culture of the current moment, including Hellu’s picture and many other images.