Category Archives: LGBTQ

Welcoming the Museum of Transgender Hirstory & Art

I’m a little late to the game on this; yet however belated I may be it’s too exciting not to post! The Museum of Transgender Hirstory and Art (MOTHA), the first museum dedicated to the hirstory and art of transgender people, recently introduced itself in an open letter. The museum’s mission is stated as such:

“The Museum of Transgender Hirstory and Art (MOTHA) is dedicated to moving the history and art of transgender people to the center of public life. The preeminent institution of its kind, the museum insists on an expansive and unstable definition of transgender, one that is able to encompass all transgender and gender–non-conformed art and artists. MOTHA is committed to developing a robust exhibition and programming schedule that will enrich the transgender mythos both by exhibiting works by living artists and by honoring the hiroes and transcestors who have come before. Pending the construction of MOTHA, the museum will function as a series of autonomous off-site experiences around the San Francisco Bay Area and throughout the world.”

A diagram from MOTHA displaying the amount of transgender people currently, formerly, or projected to be incarcerated. The number of transgender people identifying as artists as compared to representation of transgender artists in museums.

A diagram from MOTHA displaying the amount of transgender people currently, formerly, or projected to be incarcerated. The number of transgender people identifying as artists as compared to representation of transgender artists in museums.

MOTHA is filling a desperately needed role. According to MOTHA’s open letter, the majority of transgender people identify as artists; however they lack representation in public art institutions. This is unfortunate as there are a number of transgender artists making innovative and high quality work (Take a look at one of their upcoming artists, Nicki Green. An artist statement and several examples of her work can be found here).

It’s heartening to see the museum’s changeability– they point out its “expansive and unstable definition of transgender” in the mission statement. MOTHA is poised to reflect the current artistic landscape, evolve with concepts of gender, and adapt to new modes of thinking in art museums. It will be exciting to see how they implement exhibits and programming and how their museum interacts with both transgender and cisgender communities.

But don’t just take it from me! Read about everything from MOTHA’s mission, programming, facility and more in the open letter. And learn more about the museum and upcoming events here.

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Women in Art: Romaine Brooks

Romaine Brooks has many names. Among them, she is “the patron saint of lesbian artists”, chillingly called the “thief of souls”, and is a self-described “child-martyr”. Brooks is an intriguing artist with an unhappy upbringing, captivating relationships, and an almost heroic path from nothing to everything. At times her life threatens to overshadow her equally striking work (I’m actually going to skip over writing an overview of Brook’s life. It’s incredibly interesting but work detailing her life already exists in spades. Check out the Wikipedia page for a quick look). Her work alone is very compelling and contains a psychology that was innovative and influential for the era.

Romaine Brooks, Self Portrait, 1923

Romaine Brooks, Self Portrait, 1923

An American figure painter who spent her life an expat in Europe, Brooks is still largely unknown outside of queer/feminist art circles. Brooks enjoyed a public revival during the 1980s as figurative art began to come back in vogue. Her work has a strange pull. The figures are imbued with intriguing psychology, strengthened by Brook’s preferred cool, muted palettes and strong black lines. It’s unsurprising that contemporary queer and feminist artists are attracted to Brooks’ work given its subject matter and technique. Her works depict women—friends and lovers—posed to express their strength, individuality, and—most importantly—a newly visible lesbian identity. This is an atypical portrayal of women at the time. Certainly most artist did not paint women with short hair and masculine suits, and generally their women were more abstract; more decorative and less real.

Let’s start with a quick analysis of Brooks’ style. Her paintings generally feature very dramatic figures against static, emotionally charged backgrounds. The figures stand tall and there is a focus on angularity; the artist emphasizes jutting collar bones and gaunt faces using strategic modeling, mark making, and liberal application of black outlines. Her figures are not happy, but they are resilient. Their faces are visible and engaging in a way that makes it clear we are not just supposed to appreciate a painting of a woman; we are supposed to appreciate a painting of this woman. And these women do not comply with the era’s traditional ideas of femininity nor do they exist simply to decorate.Take, for instance, the portrait of friend and fellow artist, Gluck:

Romaine Brooks, Peter (A Young English Girl), 1923-1924

Romaine Brooks, Peter (A Young English Girl), 1923-1924

This painting is titled, Peter (A Young English Girl). The sitter, Hannah Gluckstein, was a contemporary artist and good friend of Brooks . The two friends painted one another, resulting in this piece and an unfinished piece by Gluck (Hannah Gluckstein worked under the name of Gluck and preferred to be called Peter within her circle of friends). The title of the piece contrasts with Gluck’s androgyny, as sans title the viewer might not guess Gluck’s gender. It asks the viewer to take a closer look and think about the identity of the woman portrayed. Gluck’s androgyny is emphasized by her clothing, wearing a sharp jacket, holding a men’s hat, and sporting a short, boyish haircut. Both Brooks and Gluck were attracted to women and found that the current style of menswear inspired fashion suited them. These suits were a great way for upper class lesbians to identify one another while remaining discreet. The fact that they were wearing masculine clothing was frequently overlooked in light of their wealth and status. Those who were not looking for lesbian sexuality viewed these clothing choices as more of a quirk of wealth and fashion.

Brooks produced work during the modernist period. Because of this, she was often judged unfavorably for her traditional use of composition and her Whistler-inspired palettes (It’s almost impossible to read an article about Brooks that does not compare her to Whistler. It’s certainly a fair comparison although certain critics use it solely to dismiss her work). Many note that Brooks’ work leans towards Symbolism and criticize it as old fashioned. However, Brooks has recently been reexamined in a queer/feminist context that recognizes her works’ innovation in its portrayal of women as psychological and not just decorative subjects. Also noted is her incorporation of personal identity into portraits of others. By working in a traditional style of naturalistic portraiture, she can utilize existing norms to depict a new lesbian identity. According to Elliott and Wallace in a piece on Romaine Brooks and Natalie Barney in the context of the avant-garde, “Upsetting the signifying practices of the dominant social order entails not only finding new forms of writing and painting but the construction of new meanings, identities, and communities” (Elliott, Bridget, and Jo-Ann Wallace. “Fleurs du Mal or Second-Hand Roses?: Natalie Barney, Romaine Brooks, and the ‘Originality of the Avant-Garde’.” Feminist Review 40 (1992): 24.). One can understand that it is not just the style of work that requires examination and innovation, but the content. Continue reading

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Where were the Lesbian Pop Artists?

The queer community is frequently said to have given birth to the 1960s pop art movement. With the heavy use of camp and clever plays on consumerism, gay men were attracted to and very prominent within pop art. However, lesbian artists are notably absent from the movement’s art historical records. While it is possible that lesbian pop artists existed yet remained unrecorded, the complete lack of information on such women makes it more likely that there were no lesbians creating pop art. Due to the community’s exclusionary attitudes towards women artists, the invisibility of lesbians at the time, and the attractive emerging feminist art movement lesbians were largely not drawn to or accepted into the pop art movement.

One of the most important contributing factors to the lack of lesbian pop artists is the lack of women in the movement as a whole. The artists who became successful and influential within the movement were entirely male while women remained strangely absent. An ideal example of the lack of female pop artists is found in the exhibition and its accompanying film, “Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, 1958-1968”. This 2010 exhibition attempted to display the work of and interview women pop artists. However, many of the artists included created work that was distinctly not pop. For instance, Martha Rosler and Faith Ringgold were both featured within the film, yet did not actually work within the pop art movement; neither running within the same circles as other pop artists nor creating work that was stylistically pop. The fact that they were included in the show reveals the limited number of women pop artists available.

(L) Martha Rosler, Cleaning the Drapes, 1967-72. (R) Faith Ringgold, The Flag is Bleeding, 1967.

(L) Martha Rosler, Cleaning the Drapes, 1967-72. (R) Faith Ringgold, The Flag is Bleeding, 1967.

Although not all necessarily pop, the experiences these women shared would be relevant to the plight of all women artists of the time. Exclusionary practices towards women, queer artists, and artists of color were common; one of the most recurring troubles being finding gallery representation. For example, Rosalyn Drexler was exhibiting at Reuben Gallery along with emerging pop artists George Segal, Claes Oldenburg, and more when the gallery closed. While her male peers had no issue finding new representation, Drexler inexplicably struggled. While her work was at a level comparable to her peers, her gender was apparently not. She also recalls the societal expectations upon women artists who must work while caring for their husbands and children saying, “I couldn’t go to the factory and use drugs. I couldn’t go to Andy’s and hang out”. Drexler’s peer Idelle Weber reiterates this idea, saying, “We were the only ones with children so we had a hard time going out to play”, claiming further that if her contemporaries knew that she had children it would have ended—or at least greatly limited—her career. This idea of a boys club in which the women cannot play is a recurring theme for women artists of the 1960s. While their work may have been innovative and visually strong, it was difficult to advance while being excluded by peers.

(Top) Rosalyn Drexler, Home Movies, 1963. (Bottom) Idelle Weber, Munchkins I, II, & III, 1964.

(Top) Rosalyn Drexler, Home Movies, 1963. (Bottom) Idelle Weber, Munchkins I, II, & III, 1964.

The lack of innovative, successful, and influential women artists has been thoroughly explored in Linda Nochlin’s famous article, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” in which she attributes the dearth of women in the field to a system structured to prevent just such a thing. The limited options of education for women artists, societal expectations discouraging women entering the arts, and a romanticized ideal of the male genius has historically led to the institutional exclusion of women from the ranks of the truly great. While this piece does not directly address the plight of lesbian artists, one can assume similar structural inequalities prevented lesbian women and straight women from achieving notoriety. In addition to gender discrimination, lesbian artists’ sexuality increased the difficulty of obtaining success in a field dominated by straight men. Continue reading

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Transgender Women and the Male Gaze

Readers of this blog are likely familiar with the concept of the male gaze. Basically, women are looked at while men look. Audiences for artwork are presumed to be male and the subjects are overwhelmingly female.

This has remained fairly constant over time. There is work challenging this structure, but the majority still caters to men, largely limiting women to the role of muse. However, while the role of women in the arts has remained stagnant, the definition of “woman” has expanded. An increasing awareness of the false dichotomy of gender introduces a new question; how are transgender women depicted in artwork?

Take a look at images of transgender women in the photography of Charlie White:

Charlie White, Teen and Transgender Comparative Study #1, 2008.

Charlie White, Teen and Transgender Comparative Study #1 (2008)

Charlie White, Teen and Transgender Comparative Study #2, 2008.

Charlie White, Teen and Transgender Comparative Study #2 (2008)

Charlie White, Teen and Transgender Study #3, 2008.

Charlie White, Teen and Transgender Study #3 (2008)

Charlie White, Teen and Transgender Study #5, 2008.

Charlie White, Teen and Transgender Study #5 (2008)

White’s series, Teen and Transgender Comparative Study, was released in 2008; a series of images in which teenage girls were paired with transgender women. The series has been read by many as commentary on desire and how our culture finds both teen girls and transgender women attractive, but dangerously so. Were one to act on these desires it would be in the face of punishment, whether inflicted by the law or by one’s peers. Andrew Womack of The Morning News says of White’s photographs, “In the images in White’s series, both figures are blossoming into womanhood, though each along a different path. As observers, however, we have been taught to view the subjects in much the same way: with sheer terror”.This is a very popular reading of White’s work, in which teenage girls and transgender women are embarking on a similar path to womanhood, one that terrifies the viewer. Womack is correct to say that observers have been taught to view the subjects in a similar way. However, it is not a sense of terror that is shared, but an audience’s learned objectification of women as a subject.

While White’s series offers interesting commentary on society’s views of gender and sexuality, it also heavily objectifies the female form through a male lens. For example, White’s work conforms to a very narrow standard of feminine beauty; the teens are pale and thin with long, straight hair, matched by their equally attractive transgender counterparts. The trans women are, in White’s words, “very specifically very passable transgenders”. Already White is limiting his field to women who conform to the standards of beauty prescribed by the male gaze. By restricting depictions of transgender women to those who can pass, he is displaying his lack of interest in representing transgender women and revealing his desire to create work catering to straight men. This also negates potential commentary on the construction of femininity, as White has a heavy hand in the set up of these photographs. White selectively hired and styled the models in his series, and thus the photographs are constructions of whom he believes teenage girls and transgender women to be. Continue reading

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Autostraddle’s Art Attack!

Autostraddle’s giving February an Art Attack theme! Head on over to check out the growing number of articles on LGBTQ and feminist art.

"Medallion" (1937)

So far they have an artist spotlight on Gluck, a queer oil painter from the late 1800s/early 1900s, a gallery of work by one hundred queer artists, and a ton of other artist spotlights and show reviews. Keep an eye out over the following month for some interesting pieces on gender, sexuality, and art!

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Embodiment: A Portrait of Queer Life in America

I just ran across an incredibly interesting project, Embodiment: A Portrait of Queer Life in America. It’s a collection of short films and photographic portraits of queer Americans today.

Cat & Brittany (2009) Read their story here.

The project aim is to paint (Photograph?) a collective portrait of what it now means to be queer in America; the artists, photographer Molly Landreth and videographer Amelia Tovey, sharing with us a group of people living their everyday lives. With this project the artists hope to change certain negative perceptions of the queer community as well as offer queer Americans the opportunity to speak for themselves. The portraits include those living in cities and countrysides, who are old and young, gay, bi, pan, trans and cis. They include people from a variety of backgrounds with greatly differing sexual and gender identities. They’re creating a diverse portrayal of queer America and expanding our knowledge of the queer community in general. 

Travis at Gay Skate (2005). Read Travis's story here.

The site is releasing portraits and films, including this trailer of a film they’re working on, throughout the year.  Continue reading

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DUDE: A Zine on Transmasculinity and Sex

Do you have questions about trans men? Are you confused as to the definitions of transgendered and cisgendered? 

Then check out this free zine!

Please note that there’s some nudity in the magazine, so it’s probably not safe for work.

DUDE is a short read (twenty-four pages) on a variety of things you may want to know about trans men. Learn more about gender identity versus sexual identity, preferred pronouns and terms for trans men, questions you can ask trans men (and questions you should keep to yourself!), and enjoy a series of essays by transguys on a number of intriguing subjects.

Great photo for the cover. Indicative of the great content inside!

Even though this blog is supposed to be partially about gender, I’ve really been focusing on cis women. In the future as I learn more I’m hoping to feature more posts by genderqueer artists and artists who focus on gender identity. (And if you have any suggestions they would be welcome!)

For now, I hope you guys click through and enjoy this great zine!

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