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The art of queer stamp collecting

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I think it’s fair to say, at the very least, that the lockdown is doing weird things to people. In an attempt to avoid the boredom that comes with staying home too long, many of us have adopted new hobbies to fill the time. As going to the post office to pick up another package became a frequent locking hobby, I began to appreciate more and more miniature art on stamps as I meandered online; thus, my confinement hobby quickly became stamp collecting.

My stamp collection focuses on modern stamps – the bright and colorful designs are beautiful to look at and excellent for telling a story on the subject of the stamp. Stamps are like snapshots of time, little vignettes of life that have been preserved on paper. Art on a stamp can be enjoyed in the same way you would appreciate a work of art on display in a gallery – each artist brings their own style to the way they represent and capture the image and emotions of their subject.

There are an incredible number of stamp designs; far too many to even consider trying to collect them all. I find the easiest way to focus my stamp collection is to collect based on topics. Stamps cover a huge range of topics, and you can imagine any theme you want; I guarantee there is a stamp with this design. One theme that I collect is particularly close to my heart, and that is stamps with designs on being queer and queer rights.

Queer themes on stamps are only a relatively recent phenomenon. The oldest queer stamp I have found was only printed in 2010! Of course, there are older stamps that depict famous or notable people who identified as gay, but I prefer to focus my collection on stamps that are more explicitly queer in design. This original queer stamp originates in Austria and was issued to commemorate the Vienna Pride Parade.

As my collection grew, I discovered that many of the queer stamps issued so far play it safe with their designs. Not wanting to push the envelope too much, postal agencies like to focus their weird stamp designs on modern rights we’ve won like marriage equality and pride parades. Few postal agencies opt for designs that embrace the radical roots of our fight for gay rights.

Some queer stamps are simple in design, such as the stamps issued by New Zealand, Spain and Sweden to commemorate gay rights Рthese three stamps are pride flag designs throughout the stamp. The Spanish stamp was issued to commemorate the June 1971 raid ordered by the Franco dictatorship on Pasaje Bego̱a; a queer neighborhood in the coastal town of Torremolinos. It is difficult for a single stamp to sum up the entire history or atmosphere of fear surrounding this event, but by commemorating it, the stamp can inspire us and encourage us to learn more about the important events that led to the rights that we take it for granted today.

The pride parades have been the focus of some queer stamps I’ve collected – my two favorite ones that have been issued are those from Iceland and Liechtenstein. Both of these designs have gone for a cute hand drawn style that is designed to encapsulate the feelings of joy felt during the Pride Parade. In particular, I love that the Lichtenstein stamp made diversity a central theme of its approach to the Pride Parade, as it depicts people from all walks of life, reflecting all of the people who make up our vast queer community.

Another common theme that I have come across in stamp designs is queer love and queer relationships. Stamp designs that explore relationships are usually very heteronormative in their portrayal of society, so it’s very refreshing to focus on the queer experience instead. The Philippines and Slovenia both issued stamps around this idea for Valentine’s Day, which I find really adorable. Valentine’s Day stamps are often among my least favorite stamp themes – they are often either very cis-heterosexual in their design or just plain tasteless. These two are going against the trend, which I appreciate. The Philippines stamp depicts the Universal Nature of Love and Relationships and is from a set of stamps titled The love we deserve. The Slovenian stamp is also very endearing, with the two rainbow birds chosen for this design to highlight the discrimination that gay people continue to face in many parts of the world. I’m also a fan of stamps that don’t have the shape of squares and rectangles like the heart shape here because I think that’s a smart detail that can be incorporated into art.

Stamps commemorating marriage equality legislation have now been issued by a few countries, including Australia, Argentina and Canada. These stamps are celebrations, memories of the battles fought by queer communities on our path to liberation The Australia stamp, featuring scenes from the publication of the plebiscite results, appeals to me as it manages to sum up the feelings of jubilation and relief as the results of the plebiscite were announced. The power of this stamp is its ability to evoke memories of the past which gives the stamp a very personal meaning for me.

Of all the stamps in my collection, my absolute favorite has to be the one issued by Uruguay. The art on the stamp is an adaptation of a French painting, Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix, who commemorates the revolution of July 1830 in France. This stamp cheekily replaces the French flag in the original work with a rainbow flag. The effect is quite striking and powerful; the fight for gay rights is celebrated as a radical activist movement, and this stamp does its best to capture feelings of victory in a long-standing battle for rights. This stamp also serves as a useful reminder that the fight for gay rights is not over yet, as many gay people continue to face discrimination today.

Collecting stamps was a fun hobby that helped keep me entertained during the lockdown. The growing number of countries issuing stamps focusing on queer themes is heartwarming to see. The bright colors and fun patterns fit perfectly into my stamp album, and I think it’s a hobby that will continue even if we get out of lockdown!

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