A MINI EXHIBIT
Disturbia, trails the intersection amongst LGBTQ+ activism, discourse on the racialization of gender, and art that denotes a disruption in social binaries and mainstream schools of thought. This is detailed throughout great periods of LGBTQ+ visibility and historic social upheaval in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. This exhibition speaks to the possession of agency artists carry as they mobilize their work to engage with viewers; ultimately forcing them to consider their complicity in the effects of homophobia, transphobia, and the buttressing of gender binaries.
This exhibition will feature David Wojnarowicz, Gary Fury, Carrie Moyer, Adrian Piper, and Nan Goldin. The included mediums are posters, photography, and various other graphics. Six pieces in total are included.
We begin with Untitled by David Wojnarowicz. A self-portrait of the artist beneath the Chaco Canyon in California. The center of Wojnarowicz’s head remains above the surface while the rest of his body remains buried. It presents a duality between exhumation and interment. Is Wojnarowicz escaping or is he leaving, becoming one with the elements? It remains difficult for observers to see the untitled portrait as apolitical. As both a queer man with AIDS and as an AIDS activist, Wojnarowicz was open about his rage and the way that that rage met with death. The staged death presented in the piece parallels a real-life staging in which Wojnarowicz participated in a “die-in.” Richard Meyer writes in Outlaw Representation that “the die-in was part of a massive ACT UP demonstration that closed down the offices of the FDA and successfully applied pressure on the agency…” (Meyer) Wojnarowicz was not quiet, he was not quiet when the personal met the political. And so we see part of him buried. His face remains uncovered, possibly to allow the delivery of his frustration—though part of him was dying, he still had his emotions, his anger, his frustration, and he needed it to be known. Here, Wojnarowicz cements a vulnerable, vengeful, and veracious reaction to death. Wojnarowicz is quoted saying “Somewhere in me, I feel that I don’t want to be polite. I don’t want that pressure of dying in a very clean way, making it easy for people. Somewhere, I want the world to have my rage and reactions.” (Meyer 272) He disrupts how he believes people perceive death. He makes himself visible and in turn makes those who face the same experiences visible.
More direct forms of activism can be seen with artist Gary Fury, who created a large amount of graphics during the AIDS epidemic. With eye-catching graphics, Fury makes use of common advertising approaches (minus the consumerism). His graphics are rousing, making ideas that center on LGBTQ+ members commonplace, while forcing perpetrators of marginalization to confront their transgressions. Fury makes a case for change as he disrupts the comfort of those who are not allies. We see this in Silence=Death where viewers are forced to face their involvement and in Kissing Doesn’t Kill as Fury shifts blame to greed, political inaction, and public indifference.
We see similar dialogues take place with Carrie Moyer, who with her Sally series calls into question visibility and stereotyping. One graphic from the series reads “45% OF ALL SALLY’S ARE LESBIANS” and contains a variety of archetypal images of women. It underscores a pattern in pop culture wherein lesbian women are portrayed in a stagnant manner. Moyer evokes a tale that cuts deep, magnifying how lesbian women have been dispossessed of the exploration of gender expression. Moyer commences a discussion and interrupts the viewers by leaving them to finish it.
For many artists, it is important to strike an eloquent and interesting dialogue with their viewers. This can be all the more provocative when the artist is forcing the viewer to come to grips with their prejudice. We saw this with Wojnarowicz, Fury, Moyer, and we continue to see it with the likes of Adrian Piper. Adrian Piper has distinctly brought into our cultural zeitgeist, imagery detailing the existence in a body that supersedes gender and racial norms. Much of her work relies on the persona she created, Mythic Being. Piper’s Mythic Being explores an identity beyond normative society demonstrating an individualistic responsibility that her audience has turned away from, inevitability marking themselves as enablers of our heteronormativity and racist conceptualization of gender.
I EMBODY EVERYTHING YOU MOST HATE AND FEAR, this is a mantra repeated by Mythic Being in a piece of the same title. Piper not only draws Mythic Being into the scene but also the spectator. Piper assumes a sense of hatred and fear directed at Mythic Being, furthermore, the audience is informed of their fear and hatred. The image reveals nothing new of Mythic Being, their gaze is directed southeast as they don their usual accessories: sunglasses, an afro, a mustache, and a cigar. And so we can surmise that the assumed vitriol is a matter of Mythic Being’s very essence. We can frame this as a dislike and fear of Mythic Being’s black masculinity as well as his exploration of it. Black Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art by Thelma Golden, speaks to the ways in which African-American men are perceived as morally bankrupt in the public consciousness and are staged as such for public consumption. In connection with colonialism and slavery, black men have gone on to become stereotyped as animalistic, violent, brutish, and hypersexual. And throughout time these ideas have been reiterated and reinforced, allowing for prejudicial sentiments to prevail. This is something that can be felt with I EMBODY EVERYTHING YOU MOST HATE AND FEAR. Mythic Being’s staticity reveals that the existence or moreover the idea of the black male, inspires fear and hate. This is further complicated by the fact that Mythic Being is more than just a black man. Though Mythic Being is a black man, they are not contained by racial or gender norms. In his book, Adrian Piper: Race, Gender, and Embodiment, JP Bowles discusses how historians have understood Mythic Being’s race to be ambiguous and how Piper said that Mythic Being is “an anonymous, third-world young boy.” (Bowles 623) I surmise that the anonymity or ambiguity of Mythic Being adds another dimension by revealing that the construction of race relies on the fallacy that racial differences are grounded in something real, scientific even. Race is instead contextualized by social, political, and economic perceptions. Mythic Being’s race reflects that of Adrian Piper. Piper who is of mixed race, of fair skin, and can pass for white but identifies as black. Personally and in her work, her journey to be, outside of racial norms, manifests. The depiction of such a distinct identity can as Piper noted produce “an anxiety response to the perceived difference of a visually unfamiliar other.” (Heartney) In consideration of this, it can be understood why Mythic Being presupposes he is intimidating.
In I EMBODY EVERYTHING YOU MOST HATE AND FEAR, Mythic Being is directly addressing the audience and forces them to contemplate why they hate and fear him. Mythic Being is feared and hated because viewers latch on to stereotypes and because Mythic Being’s manipulation of gender and race are anxiety-inducing. In having the audience reckon with their prejudice, they become a moving piece in an oppressive machine. By being forced to think about someone who sits outside racial categories, they are confronted with the fact that race is an unstable construct. And by alienating Mythic Being with their reaction, they imply that the notion of race, as it is, should remain. The same goes for masculinity. Though Piper is not a man, she performs it. Enacting a performance of gender, telling us that gender is not innate but something that can be crafted. It tells us that feelings and behaviors tethered to ideas of masculinity and femininity can be fastened to ourselves despite sex.
I end with the work of Nan Goldin, who has been capturing her experiences and that of others for decades. There is a sort’ve freedom that is unleashed in her work. In a review of one of Nan Goldin’s books (which contains her photography), The Other Side, art critic Liz Kotz writes “This blindness to uncomfortable or dark undersides haunts the entire book. As a project, The Other Side seems caught up in terms of a “reverse discourse:” if the dominant culture sees queens as sad, pathetic, exploited, Goldin shows them as beautiful and triumphant, not ‘gender dysphoria’ but ‘gender euphoria.” (Kotz) This notion of reverse discourse rings true throughout her work. With images of joyful trans women, queer men, and women, Goldin reveals that these people are multidimensional. This is something we can assume about most people, but seem to disengage with when it comes to LGBTQ+ members. In her work, there is no negativity, no stigma, no hate. Goldin reminds us that there is euphoria in surpassing the binaries of gender. Goldin claims that the people in her photos are revolutionary and I argue that her documentation of such is revolutionary as well. Efforts towards visibility are activist in nature as it grounds the lives and experiences of LGBTQ+ members in something that is real and that is open to the same possibilities afforded to cis-het people. We see this with Goldin’s Picnic on the Esplanade which depicts her queer friends in what can only be described as bliss.
Bowles, John P. “Adrian Piper as African American Artist.” American Art, vol. 20, no. 3, 2006, pp. 108–117., https://doi.org/10.1086/511097.
Golden, Thelma. Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art. Whitney Museum of American Art, 1994.
Heartney, Eleanor. “From the Archives: Blacks, Whites and Other Mythic Beings.” ARTnews.com, ARTnews.com, 4 Jan. 2018, https://www.artnews.com/art-in-america/features/from-the-archives-blacks-whites-and-other-mythic-beings-63230/.
Kotz, Liz. The Other Side. faculty.ucr.edu/~ewkotz/texts/Kotz-1994-Goldin-OtherSide.pdf. “Vanishing Points: Art, AIDS, and the Problem of Visibility.” Outlaw Representation: Censorship & Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century American Art, by Richard Meyer, Echo Point Books & Media, 2018.