Arts / Culture

Getting ready for Mardi Gras this weekend with Samuel Leighton-Dore and Keiynan

Mardi Gras is right around the corner, with the parade happening this weekend we thought we would give you all a sneak peek into what you can expect. The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras have partnered up with W Hotels for the fifth year in a row to ignite meaningful conversations and promote self-expression and inclusivity through the mediation of a panel and a float in the parade. Leading the performance and panel at W Hotels, is artist Samuel Leighton-Dore and multidisciplinary artist Keiynan Lonsdale.

Below, we speak with Keiynan and Samuel, as they get ready for the Mardi Gras parade, and what being involved in Mardi Gras means to them.

Samuel and Keiynan, you are both getting ready for Mardi Gras in different ways – Keiynan with your performance and Samuel in conversation with a panel and bespoke artwork. How do you see your individual contributions coming together to create a narrative around Mardi Gras, particularly in the setting of W Hotels?

S: Both Keiynan and I are multidisciplinary creatives who work across a number of mediums, but our chosen mediums are very different. Keiynan’s a brilliant musician, dancer and actor — I’m an artist, screenwriter and director. Together we’re able to examine queer expression in the arts from various vantage points, which I’ve found really interesting.

K: We’re both artists who do what we do on purpose - and that offers up some really interesting alignment of thought and experience even though we create very different work. I think what’s clear is that we create to reflect and to elevate, and at times that may push the boundaries to pave uncharted territories.


Samuel, your bespoke artwork for W Hotels reflects themes of diversity and celebrates community. Can you share the inspiration behind this piece and the meaning of it, especially as it will be sold at the end of the festival where the proceeds will be donated to the Minus 18 charity?

I wanted to create a piece that evoked a sense of making and holding space for each other. I’d describe it as a gentle, floating, fully-clothed queer orgy; a cheeky, joyful community landscape. It was a lot of fun interpreting the colour, optimism and irreverence that I naturally associate with the spirit of Mardi Gras, and the fact that it’s raising funds for a queer youth charity has made the process feel particularly rewarding.

I’m always grateful to work with people that allow me to express myself in my own creative style. The artwork I developed for W Hotels was prompted by the idea of sharing space without judgement, inspiring a tender, cheeky sense of togetherness that I believe is inherent to the spirit of Mardi Gras


Keiynan and Samuel, what does it mean to you both to be involved in Mardi Gras, particularly in promoting inclusivity and self-expression within the LGBTQIA+ community?

S: It’s really special, my very first solo-exhibition was part of the Mardi Gras program, so it feels like a bit of a full-circle moment — it’s always very meaningful to contribute creatively to something so anchored in the history of queer protest, anger, connection and joy.

K: Mardi Gras is an opportunity to raise the frequency of love. I do this best through performance, dance, music, these are my life foundations. Whether it’s to express specifically for the identifying rainbow community, or non identifying, or just for me. The most exciting part about stepping off the MG stage, is that the audience is ready to receive, they are giving so much energy and power to celebration… it’s unmatched.. and my job is to meet them there and go even further. Partnering with W Hotels this Mardi Gras allowed me to connect even further with these communities; in person for a Creative Conversations panel as well as across their global platform featuring in the Pillow-Talk content piece.

Samuel, besides the Mardi Gras parade, how do you see art as a powerful tool for promoting understanding an acceptance of diverse identities?

Art connects, moves and challenges people; it allows for vulnerability, self-expression and agitation, each of which has the potential to broaden our respective understandings of different cultures and identities. I love art that doesn’t only reflect current social attitudes but helps to shift them.


Keiynan, as someone known for breaking down barriers and fostering authentic representation, how do you approach merging artistic expression with advocacy when having a role in Mardi Gras?

Intention is everything, soul is everything… so in this upcoming performance for instance… each movement, transition, and song choice are all done for a specific reason – that’s my artivism. I mean each lyric to my core and I believe in what I’m communicating and why. Unity is really what breaks down barriers and takes us to higher thought and awareness - I am super blessed to have art as the expression and also the creative support surrounding me to do the work together.


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