As a person active in both queer and art circles, I am working hard to create a body of work that integrates my love of creating and personal identity. Activist and Photographer iO Tillett Wright once said that “familiarity is the gateway drug to empathy” and I’m so inspired by the truth in this statement. However, my challenge now is too discover visual codes that signify this idea. So of course I have been interested in the way that other artists have constructed, responded and contested to alternative forms of sexuality.
LET’S GO BACK IN TIME.
It was only at the turn of the twentieth century that the idea of homosexuality as an identity was beginning to be conceived by artists and photographers, rather than how it was seen before, as a crime or discrete act that someone might commit (ughhhhhhh). Alice Austen was a photographer who created images of either women wearing men’s clothes or conventionally dressed women with public signifiers of masculinity. The photo beneath was taken in 1891 of the artist with two close friends in New York. The work is the earliest I’ve found employing masculinity as performance to engage with emergent queer visibility.
Alice Austen with Julia Bredt & Julia Martin/ self dressed up as men/ Oct. 15th, 1891
Not only were woman dressing up as men for performance, some were even dressing like this all the time and using the word androgynous. This word, in terms of gender identity, can be used for a person who does not neatly fit into the typical masculine and feminine gender roles of society. An example of this in art would be Leon Bakst’s portrait of Zinaida Gippius made in 1906. Bakst was a Russian painter and set designer, known for his slightly scandalous and exotic costumes. His black and white chalk drawing of symbolist poet and novelist, Zinaida Gippius celebrates her androgynous style that she became famous for in Paris (after being exiled from Russia after the revolution). I love this work, it reminds me of the phrase artist Sharon Hayes coined; “I am your worst fear. I am your best fantasy.” This phrase positions homosexuality as a site of both anxiety and fascination; anxiety in terms of her wearing clothing countering her gender and fascination in terms of the fact that she is ROCKING IT.
Leon Bakst/ portrait of Zinaida Gippius/ 1906
Later on in the seventies, Crawford Barton’s photographs were known for documenting the blooming and openly gay culture in San Francisco. What I really enjoy about this composition is the juxtaposition of couples. They’re located so neatly next to each other- neither couple is bothered by the other (which is how it should be forever and ever).
Crawford Barton/ Castro street/ 1978
My favourite work is that of Collier Schorr. Her photographs are depictions in which conventional gender is unclear. The artist unsettles heteronormative expectation by focusing on the details of normative masculine or feminine behavior and photographing them using the opposite sex. Her photographs typically focus on adolescence- which is when we’re all figuring ourselves out right??
Collier Schorr/ Two Shirts/ 1998
Collier Schorr/ Untitled/ 2011
So concludes my very brief tour of queer art that I love.
It is so important that we continue to make art challenging social convention and the heteronormative hegemonic paradigm!!
Let me know if you like these works and/ or are making it yourself!
Here are some links if you want to find out more about what i’ve spoken about:
iO Tillett Wright’s project ‘Self Evident Truths’ – http://www.selfevidentproject.com/
If you’re in NY, head over to 303 gallery – http://www.303gallery.com/artists/collier_schorr/
Other works by Crawford Barton – https://www.visualaids.org/artists/detail/crawford-barton
More about Alice Austen – http://aliceausten.org/