Author: Baylee Woodley

Two Ladies of the Court in Saint Joan

Two Ladies of the Court in Saint Joan

Two ladies in courtly dresses that drag on the ground lean against each other in elegant poses. The one nearest the foreground holds out an apple in her left hand and wears blue and white while the woman behind her wears black and white. Both have elaborate gold headgear. At the top of the image, which appears to be on paper board pasted into a book that is now peeling away, it reads "Two Ladies of the Court."

Artist: Charles Ricketts
Media: Watercolour on board
Date & Location: 1924
Image Source: Picryl

Significance to Queer Art History

Charles Ricketts was a British painter, designer, and publisher. He met his partner Charles Shannon at the City and Guilds Technical Art School in south London in 1882 when they were both teenagers. They moved in together in 1888 and lived with each other for the rest of their lives. They also had sexual and emotional relationships with other men as well as women while living together.

Dear Old Chap… At each meal time they plonk down a plate of strawberries which make me think of you–no, this is not quite accurate. I really think of the strawberries. Only when they are done, I think of thee.”

– Charles Ricketts to Charles Shannon in a letter from Florence

Ricketts and Shannon were both individually practicing artists, but they also created the art magazine, The Dial, as well as Vale Press, together.

Ricketts and Shannon were responsible for the illustration and design of many of Oscar Wilde’s books and had a long-term friendship with Wilde who himself is an often-cited queer icon.

They also counted among their friends Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper. Bradley and Cooper were long-time lovers (living together for about 40 years) and collaborators. They were also (making things a bit more complicated) aunt and niece. Together the women published their writing (some inspired by the poems of Sappho of Lesbos) under the shared pseudonym, Michael Fields. Ricketts and Shannon designed some of their books. The couple also asked Ricketts and Shannon to help them find and furnish “a home for [their] marriage.”

The watercolour Two Ladies of the Court by Ricketts was painted as one of the plates for the book edition of the play Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw. Itself a scene of intimacy between two women, this watercolour is also for a play about one of the most famous figures from medieval history (Joan of Arc) known for defying binary constructions of gender. It also has a counterpart in a plate in the same book of two “gentlemen ushers of the court.”

These two ushers even have pointy shoes, which have a queer medieval history of their own, but that is for another post x

After the Ricketts and Shannon passed away within six years of each other, their friend, Edmund Dulac, painted them together as two monks in this double portrait.

A painting of two monks in a meadow with a pale blue sky behind them. Both have halos which are gold to match the gold arching frame above them that connects to the frame. They both face the viewer. Their arms touch in the middle suggesting their intimacy.

Charles Ricketts. Self-Portrait : Taken from the Letters & Journals of Charles Ricketts. Collected and compiled by Thomas Sturge Moore , edited by Cecil Lewis. London: P. Davies, 1939.

Matt Cook. Queer Domesticities : Homosexuality and Home Life in Twentieth-Century London. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

Sarah Parker. “Poets and lovers: the two women who were Michael Field.” The Conversation. 31 January 2020. Accessed 25 March 2024.

Statue of Radclyffe Hall

Statue of Radclyffe Hall

This is a bronze statue of Radclyffe Hall. She stands tall, quite stoically, with her arms crossed.

Artist: Una Troubridge
Media: Bronze
Date & Location: c. 1915-1963
Image Source: Queer Britain

Significance to Queer Art History

This is a statue of Radclyffe Hall by her partner of twenty-nine years, Una Troubridge. They met in 1915 and lived together from 1916 until Hall’s death in 1943.

Radcylffe Hall is most well-known for having written A Well of Loneliness, which tells the life story of its protagonist, Stephen Gordon. It has become famous as a foundational lesbian novel and it also offers insight into histories of trans* masculinity and genderfluidity (as does Hall who was known as ‘John’ among friends).

A Well of Loneliness was banned for “obscenity” in 1928 and kept from being republished until 1949 (a ban protested by Virginia Woolf, herself an important figure in queer ‘hirstory’).

Una Troubridge was a sculptor alongside being an author and translator. She also had a daughter named Andrea from her marriage to her previous partner Ernest Troubridge.

Una herself was once the subject of a work of art by an iconic figure in lesbian art history. Romaine Brooks painted a portrait of Una in 1924.

Romaine Brooks, Una, Lady Troubridge, 1924, oil on canvas. Smithsonian American Art Museum.

When it came to Una sculpting her partner, she captured Radclyffe Hall standing tall with her arms crossed. Underneath she carved a variation on the poem Nevermore by Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Look in my face; my name is Might-have-been; I am also call’d No-more, Too-late, Farewell.

It is only very recently that this statue has been shown to the public. It was unveiled earlier this year at Queer Britain in London (UK) where it now stands proudly among the rest of their beautiful collection.

A:Shiwi (Zuni) Clay Pitcher

A:Shiwi (Zuni) Clay Pitcher

Artist: We’wha (it is likely We’wha’s signature on the handle)
Media: Clay and pigment
Date & Location: 1884, made on A:Shiwi (Zuni) territory in what is colonially known as ‘New Mexico.’ Currently at the Smithsonian in their Anthropology Department under Accession Number: 021664.
Image Source: Smithsonian, National Museum of Natural History, Anthropology Department, Accession Number: 021664

❤️Please note: I use both she/her and they/them pronouns since these seem to be the English pronouns most respectfully used to describe We’wha, but I want to acknowledge the failing of language here since these pronouns stem from colonial binaries.

❤️TW: Mentions of colonial violence and arrest

Significance to Queer Art History

This pitcher was most likely made by the A:Shiwi (Zuni) artist We’wha who was born in 1849. We’wha was lhamana. In A:Shiwi culture, lhamana is a term used by people assigned-male-at-birth who present themselves in feminine ways and train primarily (though not exclusively) in cultural roles associated with women. Lhamana figures from history are often reclaimed today using the contemporary term ‘two-spirit.’ For example, the contemporary two-spirit photographer Shawn Johnston commissioned and photographed a beaded medallion by fellow artist Donna Noah with an image of We’wha. I also include a photograph of We’wha below that looks like it may have been the inspiration for this medallion.

A beaded medallion with a light blue background against which We'wha stands in regalia with her black hair in two buns on either side of her head. She carries a basket in her left hand and has a belt and bracelet that match the blue background. The figure does not have facial features. The border alternates light blue, dark blue, black, white, and red bands of colour.
Beaded medallion of We’wha by Donna Noah. Photographed by Shawn Johnston. Image source: CBC News.
Portrait of We’wha Holding a Clay Ceremonial Prayer-Meal Basket, c. 1849-1896. Smithsonian, National Anthropological Archives, Photo Lot 24 SPC Sw Zuni NM No # People 02440800.

During their lifetime, We’wha worked across media and has been recognized for being extremely skilled at both weaving and pottery. The media in which she worked also reflected her lhamana identity since weaving was seen as a more masculine practice and pottery as a more feminine practice.

They also played a significant role as a promoter of A:Shiwi arts and defended their community against colonial violence. We’wah was one of the first A:Shiwi artists to sell her works to settler-consumers and during a 1886 trip to Washington, D.C she met with President Grover Cleveland. That being said, such recognition by the colonial government did not extend to protecting her or respecting A:Shiwi sovereignty. In 1877, We’wah and other lhamana were imprisoned when Christian missionaries came to A:Shiwi territory. We’wah was also arrested for defending the A:Shiwi governor in 1892 from a colonial soldier who was trying to arrest the governor.*

This colonial violence did not stop We’wha, though. As described by contemporary two-spirit journalist Samuel White Swan-Perkins, “after getting out of prison, We’wha walked 40 miles back to the reservation and returned to their former life: leading ceremonies, making pottery, weaving with the women and hunting with the men.”

*I take the term ‘governor’ from Will Roscoe’s work, but would be interested if anyone had further information about which term is most appropriate for an A:Shiwi leader.

Relevant Sources:

Hannah McElhinney. Rainbow History Class: Your Guide Through Queer and Trans History. Unceded lands of the Wurundjeri and Boonwurrung peoples of the Kulin Nation: Hardie Grant Books, 2023.

Levi C. R. Hord. “Between Naming and Knowing Someone: Language, Gender, and Colonial History.” Modern Art Oxford. 17 February 2021.

Samuel White Swan-Perkins. “5 Two-Spirit Heroes Who Paved the Way for Today’s Native LGBTQ+ Community.” KQED. Nov. 20, 2018. Accessed May 25, 2021.

Will Roscoe. “Sexual and Gender Diversity in Native America and the Pacific Islands” in LGBTQ America: A Theme Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer History. Edited by Megan E. Springate. National Park Foundation, 2016.*

*I have not read this source in its entirety, but based on the section on We’wah I want to flag that some of the framing and language needs revising to avoid perpetuating colonial harms and binaries. I include it here as a place to start, though, as it does have lots to offer to those seeking to do further research.

Button from The Glade

Button from The Glade

Artist: Unknown
Media: Button
Date & Location: 1960s-1982
Where can I find this item?: Unknown (will update when found)

Significance to Queer Art History:

Genderfluidity, trans* identities, and queer love have long, positive histories in Hawaiian culture. A term that is currently being reclaimed by queer, Indigenous communities in Hawaii is māhū. As Carol E. Robertson writes the term māhū “defies reduction to any of the notions of gender” that are accessible through colonial languages offering a history of queer lives beyond those captured in the LGBTQIA2S+ acronym.

Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu recently curated a show at Bishop Museum that puts this button in conversation with the long history of māhū people in Hawaii. Wong-Kalu describes a māhū person as someone who “straddles somewhere in the middle of the male and female binary. It does not define their sexual preference or gender expression, because gender roles, gender expressions and sexual relationships have all been severely influenced by the changing times. It is dynamic. It is like life.”

Māhū have historically had reputations as healers who are known for their compassion and creativity. One of the most sacred sites in Hawaii is on Waikiki beach where four stones (called Nā Pōhaku Ola Kapaemāhū ā Kapuni) said to have once been four māhū healers are celebrated to this day.

Māhū history is also closely connected to the history of hula (often performed by men before colonial gender roles were enforced) and hula itself continues to be seen by many practitioners as an androgynous tradition. The deity of Hula, Laka, is themself/herself sometimes seen as a non-binary figure.

Kaiulani (1875 – 1899), the niece of Queen Liliuokalani, on one of the stones before they were restored. Photographer unknown.

After colonization, māhū were persecuted. For nearly 10 years, they were made to wear buttons that declared the gender they were assigned at birth. The Glade Show Lounge was a place where māhū could find community, safety, and work in the second half of the 20th Century. The film producer Connie Florez says “I have old pictures of signage that say ‘no māhūs’ allowed in this restaurant, ‘no māhūs’ allowed in the pool hall…. and yet we have this going on right here in Hawaii within our own indigenous culture of mahus.” She describes how The Glade was “a haven for a lot of gays and māhū during the time.” 

In our own moment when trans* people and drag performers are the target of so much harmful legislation by colonial governments, there is a lot to learn both from The Glade and from the long history of the celebration of queer communities by the Indigenous communities of Hawaii. As Carol Robertson writes “these rituals come alive in the ever-changing web of gender and spirituality, and they bear witness to the belief systems that have allowed the māhū to survive and flourish in the creative context of performance.”


Robertson, Carol E. “The Mahu of Hawai’i.” Feminist studies 15, no. 2 (1989).

Dillon Ancheta. “Hawaii’s ‘Glades era’ was glamorous. But it was also the darkest time for LGBTQ+ performers.” Hawaii News Now. 2022.

Queer Music Heritage (website). 2000-2015.

The Healing Stones of Kapaemahu. Last accessed 17-April-2023. **Highly recommend this one as a starting place**

An Actress at her Toilet or Miss Brazen just Breecht

An Actress at her Toilet or Miss Brazen just Breecht

Artist: John Collet
Media: Paper and coloured inks (hand-coloured)
Date & Location: London, 1779, currently at the British Museum (not on display)
Image Source: Wiki Images (Creative Commons License)

Significance to Queer Art History

This print is part of the long hirstory of genderfluidity in performance. From Shakespearean plays at The Globe theatre to the stages of Tang Dynasty China and from eighteenth-century opera houses to contemporary clubs, the art of what we now call ‘drag’ has been thriving and entertaining through time and across geographies as a crucial part of the performing arts. In response to all of the recent anti-drag and transphobic legislation we are seeing as I write this entry (particularly in the United States), you can expect a lot more on this long (very long, very fabulous) hirstory in the coming months.

This particular print shows the actor Margaret Kennedy who performed at Covent Garden and Vauxhall Gardens in eighteenth-century London. Another print (below) from 1778 shows Kennedy in full, flamboyant costume as Captain Macheath in The Beggar’s Opera by John Gay.

A black etching on thick, textured yellowed paper of Margaret Farrell in her costume as Captain Macheath. She wears a feathered captains hat, long captains coat with buttons running up either side, and breeches.
John Bew, Portrait of the actress Margaret kennedy, in character in Gay’s ‘Beggar’s Opera’, 1778. Etching. British Museum, London.

In the role of Captain Macheath, Kennedy plays a ‘breeches part,’ which Beth Friedman-Romell describes as “an eighteenth-century stage staple.” Friedman-Romell explores how these (often satirical) roles could be a queer invitation for audiences who “willingly and pleasurably gave themselves over to the illusion.” She draws on a verse about another eighteenth-century actor who played ‘breeches parts,’ Peg Woffington, to show that this potential for queer desire was recognized at the time.
That excellent Peg
Who showed such a leg
When lately she dressed in men’s clothes—
A creature uncommon
Who’s both man and woman
And chief of the belles and the beaux!

The genderfluidity of these actors and their characters is itself a source of desire-sparking power. The caption under the 1778 etching of Kennedy even reads “how happy I could be with either” suggesting both audience desires and perhaps the desires of the actor whose embodiments spanned the spectrum of gender.

Ula Lukszo Klein recognizes the potential for both lesbian and trans* experiences in these performances. She writes that the “authors and audiences acknowledged and enjoyed the possibility of same-sex desires or transgender or gender-fluid embodiments” as she finds these roles to be sites of “heterosexual and homosexual desires, as well as transgender and nonbinary embodiments.”

These roles are also important to the legacy of drag since they—like contemporary drag—could challenge the expectations, desires, and biases of their audiences through playing with gendered performance. As described by Helen Brooks, actors like Kennedy and Woffington “drew attention to masculinity’s status as something achievable—displayed, worn, and ultimately performed through gesture, clothing, posture, and vocal presentation.” Even in the display of the legs of afab actors, these roles required a subversion of gendered constraints on the body.


*Disclaimer: Many of these sources use the term ‘cross-dressing’, but I would invite trans* interpretations as well as the use of the term ‘drag’ to bring these historical moments into contemporary queer discourse and to recognize through the terms we use the resonances that these hirstories have with contemporary queer communities ♡

Beth Friedman-Romell. “Breaking the Code: Toward a Reception Theory of Theatrical Cross-Dressing in Eighteenth-Century London.” Theatre journal (Washington, D.C.) 47, no. 4 (1995): 459–479.

Helen Brooks, Actresses, Gender, and the Eighteenth-Century Stage: Playing Women. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

Hui-ling Chou. “Striking Their Own Poses: The History of Cross-Dressing on the Chinese Stage.” TDR : Drama review 41, no. 2 (1997): 130–152.

Lorna Koski. “Cross-Dressing With Shakespeare.” WWD, December 31, 2013, 10. Gale Academic OneFile (accessed March 7, 2023)

Ula Lukszo Klein. Sapphic Crossings: Cross-Dressing Women in Eighteenth-Century British Literature. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2021.



Artist: Unknown
Media: Sandstone
Date & Location: This sculpture was made between 900 and 1450 CE, but we do not know a precise date. You can currently find it at the British Museum
Image Source: Image from the British Museum website

Significance to Queer Art History

This statue would have originally been part of a temple or shrine in ancient Mexico. It was made by the Huastec whose culture is thought to date back to the 10th C. BCE and continues today. Tlazolteotl was a Huastec goddess who was later adopted by the Aztecs (perhaps more accurately called Nahuas).

Tlazolteotl was especially associated with steam baths, midwives, childbirth, adulterers, and purification. This goddess was said to be able to both incite lust and purify people of their sexual excesses. Her significance to queer art history stems from her genderfluidity. She was often depicted as a woman warrior with both vulvic and phallic genitals. Contrary to the stigma surrounding intersex and trans* people today, for the Huastec this likely symbolized her supernatural powers.

Some also suggest she was the mother of the Maize God who was likewise famous for being able to move across genders.

Forms of queerness were celebrated (and continue to be celebrated) by many Indigenous cultures around the world prior to colonization, and contemporary homophobia and transphobia are just some of the ongoing harms of colonization. The suppression of queerness was often cited as one ‘reason’ for colonial violence. As noted in R.B Parkinson’s A Little Gay History, in 1519 “the invading Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes declared–very conveniently–that ‘they are all sodomites.’

In more recent queer art history, Tlazolteotl was also a figure frequently referenced by famously bisexual artist Frida Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera.


Comisarenco, Dina. “Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Tlazolteotl.” Woman’s art journal 17, no. 1 (1996): 14–21.

Parkinson, R.B. A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World. London: The British Museum Press, 2013.

Untitled (“Portrait of Ross in L.A”)

Untitled (“Portrait of Ross in L.A”)

Artist: Félix González-Torres
Media: Candies in variously coloured wrappers, endless supply, ideal weight of 175 lb
Date & Location: 1991
Where can I find this item?: Art Institute of Chicago, Contemporary Art, Gallery 293
Source: Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons)

Significance to Queer Art History

Félix González-Torres (1957-1996) started a series of works in 1990 that all consist of small, hard candies in variously coloured wrappers. They are either spread out in rectangles on floors or put into piles. Some other works in this series are called Untitled (Lover Boys) and Untitled (Welcome Back Heroes). In each instance viewers are invited to take a piece of candy—to suck on, to keep, to share. This, of course, risks the loss of the installation entirely, but the instructions are that they are to be constantly replenished with an endless supply. Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A) comes with instructions from the artist to keep it at an ideal weight of 175 lb.

Although it avoids literal representation, this is a work about queer desire, queer bodies, and queer history. It is named after his love and life partner, Ross Laycock, and is about his personal experience of AIDS as well as the AIDS Crisis as a whole. The ‘ideal weight of 175 lb’ is a reference to Ross’ healthy weight, which diminished because of the virus. Ross died from complications due to AIDS on January 24th, 1991, and Félix would go on to make this work later that same year. If you like, here you can read a tribute to Ross written by someone who knew him.

In media about the AIDS Crisis queer bodies and lives are often obscured by statistics or sensationalizing photographs, but Félix’s installations refuse to participate in this cycle (Blocker, 2009). His candy is related to the queer body only through the title, the weight, and a moment of agreement with viewers (Lorenz, 2012). Renate Lorenz describes this piece as a form of queer embodiment that “links itself to historical moments or other bodies” and emerges only in moments of connecting.

As visitors to the gallery take the candies (as they are invited to do) it speaks to the weight loss experienced by Ross as he fought the virus. Félix said of a similar installation where visitors where invited to take sheets of paper:

I wanted people to have my work…. In a way this “letting go” of the work, this refusal to make a static form, a monolithic sculpture, in favor of a disappearing, changing, unstable, and fragile form was an attempt on my part to rehearse my fears of having Ross disappear day by day right in front of my eyes.

Félix González-Torres, Interview with Tom Rollins, 1993.

His instructions for this work, though, also call for endless replenishment keeping this queer embodiment dedicated to Ross at a healthy weight and they invite engagement evocative of queer desire and sex. As audiences pick up and enjoy sucking on the candies—here fantasized as a queer, HIV-positive body by artist and audience—it also allows for a destigmatizing, a returning of pleasure to acts deemed taboo by moralized media and voyeuristic representations of queer lives.

We have an assigned role that’s very specific, very limited. As in a glass vitrine, ‘we’—the ‘other’—have to accomplish ritual, exotic performances to satisfy the needs of the majority…. Who is going to define my culture? It’s not just Borges and García Márquez, but also Gertrude Stein and Freud and Guy Debord—they are all part of my formation.

Félix González-Torres, quoted by José Esteban Muñoz, 1999.

This work is an important part of queer art history for so many reasons: it invites a queer politics to art making by being a work that can be remade anywhere without the touch of the artist and is ever-changing; it is about one queer body and simultaneously so many queer bodies; it is from and about a moment of queer history and its ongoing legacies, and it continues to create new moments of queer connection across bodies and moments.

Félix González-Torres, Billboard, 1989

Other works by Félix speak even more specifically to queer ways of engaging history. A billboard he made in 1989 reads: “People with AIDS Coalition 1985 Police Harassment 1969 Oscar Wilde 1895 Supreme Court 1986 Harvey Milk 1977 March on Washington 1987 Stonewall Rebellion 1969.” Jane Blocker writes that “by daring to be a queer witness, [Félix] shows how history itself is queer, how it is made not of single comprehensible events and their representations but of different versions of the same, of repetitions and doublings.” He conceptualizes a queer history that laps back to touch moment to moment: the persecution of Oscar Wilde connects to police harassment in New York, the Stonewall Rebellion to the People with AIDS Coalition. We could expand this practice much further into history, bringing queer moments and bodies to touch.


Nancy Spector. Félix González-Torres. New York: Guggenheim Museum, 2007.

Jane Blocker. Seeing witness: visuality and the ethics of testimony. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.

Renate Lorenz. Queer Art. Transcript. 2012.



Media: Painted terracotta
Date & Location: Around 500 BC, Italy
Where can I find this item?: The British Museum
Image Source: Photo by the author

(This object was included in the exhibition “Feminine Power: The Divine to the Demonic” at the British Museum, which ran May 19th to September 25th 2022)

♥Trigger warnings for mentions of sexual assault♥

Significance to Queer Art History

This relief sculpture shows the famed Medusa with her characteristic serpentine hair as well as a beard and tusks, which is not uncommon for images of her made in Ancient Greece. Gorgoneion is the term used to describe these ancient images of her severed, serpentine head. Since Medusa’s image was believed to possess protective powers these objects were thought to be imbued with apotropaic (or protective) qualities and this one was likely mounted on a roof to serve this purpose.

A fragment of a relief sculpture painted with burgundy and black of the head of Medusa with two curved tusk and a round u-shaped tongue protruding from her/their mouth, a wavy beard, a rounded face, and dark hair.
Terracotta antefix with the head of Medusa, 6th century B.C. Currently on display at the The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 171.

In Greek mythology Medusa is one of the Gorgon sisters born to two sea gods, Keto and Phorkys, and is famously killed by Perseus who reflects her gaze in his shield. Upon her death, her children Pegasos and Chrysaor spring from her neck and her decapitated head retains its powerful deadly gaze. Roman mythology adds that her transformation from mortal human to lethal legend was her ‘punishment’ after she was raped by Poseidon in the temple of Athena.

She is often taken up as a feminist symbol. Her hybridity, transformation, and the queer mode through which she creates her children also have queer potential. These bearded early representation further take this legendary figure beyond binary bounds. Anne DeLong (2001) compares the snakes in Medusa’s hair to the bearded witches in Macbeth for their mutual refusal of hegemonic femininity, and these bearded Medusa-figures certainly strengthen the bond between these temporally dispersed figures who are linked in lore through their body hair. They all have a place in the ever-growing archive of defiant, dangerous, protective, and powerful queer bodies that can be found throughout hirstory.


British Museum, “Divine Femininity: The Divine to the Demonic,” exhibition and catalogue, May 19th to September 25th, 2022.

British Museum, “Antefix,” accessed 2022-06-26.

DeLong, Anne M. “Medea and Medusa: The Archetype of the Witch in Literature”. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2001.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Medusa in Ancient Greek Art,” accessed 2022-06-26.

mistikôsiwak (Wooden Boat People): Resurgence of the People

mistikôsiwak (Wooden Boat People): Resurgence of the People

Artist: Kent Monkman (b. 1965)
Media: Acrylic paint on canvas
Date & Location: 2019, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Significance to Queer Art History

Kent Monkman is a Cree artist who works across the media of painting, photography, performance, installation and film. He is known for his critical interventions into ‘canonical’ European and American art history that highlight colonial violence (both historical and ongoing), queer sexualities, and resilience. This painting, mistikôsiwak (Wooden Boat People): Resurgence of the People, shows a reinterpretation of Washington Crossing the Delaware from 1851 by Emanuel Leutze, which is also housed in the Met. Instead of George Washington, though, it is Miss Eagle Testickle at the helm.

Monkman often includes his gender-fluid, Two-Spirit persona Miss Chief Eagle Testickle in his work. In this painting we see them adorned with rainbow earrings, flowing sheer and glossy red fabric, and Lou Boutons.

“I created Miss Chief Eagle Testickle to offer an Indigenous perspective on the European settlers and to also present a very empowered point of view of Indigenous sexuality pre-contact. We had our own traditions of gender and sexuality that didn’t fit the male/female binary. Miss Chief is a legendary being, she comes from the stars.”

Kent Monkman
Miss Chief Eagle Testickle


Dr. June Scudeler (Métis) who is assistant professor in Indigenous Studies at Simon Fraser University and Issaku Inami who is an MOA Volunteer, Associate Gallery Host, and queer activist discuss Monkman’s work in this video:

Kent Monkman’s website:

Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” Accessed 2021-11-03.

Tim Barringer, “The Big Review: Kent Monkman at the Met,” in The Art Newspaper, 2020. Accessed 2021-11-03.

Bust of Mary Berry

Bust of Mary Berry

Artist: Anne Seymour Damer
Media: Bronze
Date & Location: c. 1793
Image Source: National Portrait Gallery, London (Creative Commons License)

♥ This post was created by Professor Melissa Berry from the University of Victoria, Art History and Visual Studies Department, who volunteered to be a guest author for Queer Art History this month! ♥

Significance to Queer Art History

British-born Anne Seymour Damer (1748–1828) challenged the heteronormative narrative of the late 18thC in several ways, pushing the boundaries of the gendered expectations that befell women of aristocratic backgrounds. Her lack of conformity drew both positive and negative attention during her lifetime and now, with the gift of hindsight, we, too, must be careful about biases and assumptions with which we might approach her exceptional work.

Firstly, it is undeniably extraordinary that Damer focused on sculpture as her artistic medium. Not only did she pursue this almost exclusively male activity but she excelled at it. Between 1784 and 1818, she exhibited Neo-Classical artworks regularly at the Royal Academy, receiving high praise from the press as well as colleagues. Her fame was such that she received commissions for portrait busts from the likes of George III, Princess Caroline, and Lord Nelson.  Of course, it must be noted that her aristocratic upbringing and the connections therein made much of this possible but that should not undermine her determination and skill in this unforgiving, physical medium.

As a sculptor, Damer drew attention because of her proficiency but also because of the lack of gender conformity that practicing sculpture entailed. This roused much commentary and speculation about her personal life in the press. Respected Academician Joseph Farrington noted Damer’s habits saying: ‘the singularities of Mrs Damer are remarkable — She wears a Mans Hat, and Shoes, — and a Jacket also like a mans — thus she walks about the fields with a hooking stick… .’

Some commentators took this othering of Damer further citing her as a Sapphist; the anonymous A Sapphick Epsitle was even dedicated to Damer in 1778.  At the dawn of the 19thC, ‘Sapphist’ was frequently employed in descriptions of upper-class women suspected of engaging in romantic relationships with other women and was, therefore, an indicator of their depravity. That is to say, this term was laden with negative, classist connotations and not one with which women would be eager to identify.

As for Damer’s relationships with women, in spite of rumours, these are difficult to prove concretely, though some evidence points to their existence. Even before the death of her estranged husband, her demonstrative friendships were closely observed in the press. Letters between her and friends such as actress Elizabeth Farren and writer Mary Berry, as well as contemporaneous accounts by acquaintances, point to intense intimacy and devotion. Her portrait busts of these women evidence tenderness and deep consideration of her subject. In fact, Berry’s bust was the only portrait of a women that Damer executed in bronze, a difficult and expensive material.

So, from choice of artistic medium to choice of dress, Damer pushed against gender norms. As for her sexuality, yes, she was a part of circles of artistic and intellectual women and it is clear that some of these relationships were more intimate than others. Perhaps with Damer, and other artists like her, our energies would be better served not fixating on the categorization of her sexuality but instead seeking to situate her in an art history that embraces her tenacity and her desire to break free from her male-dominated experience. Damer is a wonderful case study for considering queerness as it was performed and experienced in a specific historical, social context.

Anne Seymour Damer, Self-Portrait, 1971, Uffizi Gallery, Florence. Marble. Image Source: Wiki Images


Olivia Bladen, Feb 2020, “Anne Seymour Damer: the ‘Sappho’ of Sculpture,” Anne Seymour Damer: the ‘Sappho’ of sculpture | Art UK

Rictor Norton (Ed.), “A Sapphick Epistle, 1778”, Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. 1 December 1999, updated 23 February 2003 <>.

Brass of Agnes Oxenbridge and Elizabeth Etchingham

Brass of Agnes Oxenbridge and Elizabeth Etchingham

Artist: Unknown (London Workshop F)
Media: Brass
Date & Location: c. 1480, Etchingham Parish, Sussex
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Significance to Queer Art History

Etchingham Parish and The Brass of Agnes Oxenbridge and Elizabeth Etchingham is where this art historian dreams of making a lesbian pilgrimage. This brass is a memorial commemorating two women who were buried together with an inscription requesting God’s mercy for them both. Elizabeth appears on the left with her hair down and she is smaller than Agnes. This is likely representative of her being both unwed and young when she died in 1452 in her mid-twenties. Agnes is shown on the right and (although she too seems to have remained unwed) she is shown as a more mature woman likely because she was in her fifties when she died in 1480. Bennett finds evidence for both women remaining unwed in the lack of head coverings, lack of records (both marriage records and records of their lives as was often the case with single women), and lack of any mention of husbands on the memorial (Bennett, 133). She also describes how this brass was designed in the style of contemporary memorial brasses for married couples, but with additional intimacy. Unlike the contemporaneous brasses, which often show couples looking straight ahead, Agnes and Elizabeth face each other and look into each other’s eyes (Bennett, 134).

There also seems to have been no qualms about the relationship between these two women. It was unusual that Agnes be buried with Elizabeth instead of in the Oxenbridge mausoleum, but both families must have agreed for it to have happened and in turn chosen to commission such an intimate memorial (Bennett, 133). The initial request for the site of burial, as Bennett suggests, most likely came from the lost will of Agnes herself.

This brass is also interesting for the notable attempts to fit it into cis-heteronormative expectations of history. Bennett writes “some have described the brass as a memorial to two children [despite them both living into adulthood]; others have imagined they were looking at two entirely separate brasses [despite the inscription referring to them both and their being connected]; and still others have fiddled with genealogies to minimize any direct relationship between the two women (Bennett, 131).” She attributed these manipulations to homophobic anxieties, which result in “bad history” and argues for the place of Elizabeth and Agnes in the “histories that modern… queers rightly seek from the past (Bennett, 136 and 141).”


Judith M. Bennett, “Remembering Elizabeth Etchingham and Agnes Oxenbridge,” in The Lesbian Premodern, edited by Noreen Giffney, Michelle M. Sauer, and Diane Watt. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

A memorial brass of two women standing side by side looking into each other's eyes. It is mounted on a grey stone wall. The woman on the left is smaller with her hair down. The woman on the right taller with her hair up. Both wear long gowns that brush the ground. The inscription is underneath the figures.
Brass of Elizabeth Etchingham and Agnes Oxenbridge, c.1480

GATE 门, 1999

GATE 门, 1999

Artist: Xiyadie
Media: Papercut, Water-Based Dye, and Chinese Pigments using Xuan Paper
Date & Location: 1999, Beijing
Image Source: Nome Gallery. Photo by Gianmarco Bresadola.

Significance to Queer Art History

Xiyadie (pseudonym) is the first known queer artist to carry on the traditional practice of papercutting in China, which has its roots in the Eastern Han Dynasty (Bao, 157 and Nome Gallery). He was born in Heyang County, Shaanxi Province and is now living in Beijing. His artwork often explores the lives of queer people who are living in rural China specifically. His pseudonym, which means ‘Siberian Butterfly,’ was chosen so that the butterfly surviving in a harsh environment could signify “the difficulty of living a gay life in a sexually conservative society (Bao, 158).”

As Bao explores in the article cited below, Xiyadie’s work also blurs categories of ‘craft’ and ‘art,’ which in itself might be read as a queer defiance of categories.

A colourful papercut by Xiyadie. It shows four abstracted figures, all with phalluses, in what appears to be a garden. Two red ornamental doors with yellow studs and feline decorative handles stand open behind the figures. The flowers and the branches that span above the figures seem to sprout from the figures themselves.
Xiyadie, GATE 门, 1999


Bao, Hongwei. Queer China: Lesbian and Gay Literature and Visual Culture Under Postsocialism. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2020.

Nome Gallery. Xiyadie. 2016.