Author: Baylee Woodley

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.

Resource(s)

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.

Medusa

Medusa


Artist: 
Unknown
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.

Resource(s)

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

Resource(s):

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCeWhcyfYxg.

Kent Monkman’s website: https://www.kentmonkman.com/.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” Accessed 2021-11-03. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/11417.

Tim Barringer, “The Big Review: Kent Monkman at the Met,” in The Art Newspaper, 2020. Accessed 2021-11-03.
https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2020/02/06/the-big-review-kent-monkman-at-the-met

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

Resource(s)

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 <http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/sapphick.htm>.

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).”

Resource(s)

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

Resources

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

Nome Gallery. Xiyadie. 2016. https://nomegallery.com/artists/xiyadie/.

Sponsa Christi (Brides of Christ)

Sponsa Christi (Brides of Christ)

Artist: Unknown
(From a late thirteenth-century copy of William of Waddington’s Manuel des pechiez/Manual of the Sins)
Media: Manuscript Illumination (ink and pigment on parchment)
Date & Location: c. 1280, England
Where can I see this artwork?: Princeton Library, Special Collections, Taylor MS. 1, folio 44 recto (this whole manuscript has also been digitized for online viewing)

Significance to Queer Art History

Both men and women wrote passionately about their visionary experiences of Christ in the late medieval period. These accounts, and visualizations like this one in Taylor MS. 1, invite considerations about gay and lesbian relationships. What does it mean for a layman (non-clergy man) to fantasize an erotic embrace with Christ? Might we find pleasure in looking at this medieval image of two men embracing?

It also invites questions of gender fluidity. The union of a human soul with Christ was often allegorized as a bride-groom relationship. In cases of AMAB (assigned-male-at-birth) or masculine devotees, though, this results in a feminization. They become ‘the bride’ of Christ. Similarly, Christ’s body (and especially his wound) is often imbued with multiple genders. The wound might be also a vulva or a breast in the writings of the medieval mystic, and indeed is sometimes represented as giving birth to a personification of the Church.

A diamond painted red with a black, bleeding slit down the middle and a bleeding heart sideways in the center. There are four angels on each flat side of the diamond.
Bibliotheque nationale de France, c. 1369 (searching for more detailed citation)

 He [Christ] tenderly placed his right hand on her neck, and drew her towards the wound in his side. “Drink, daughter, from my side,” he said, “and by that draught your soul shall become enraptured with such delight that your very body, which for my sake you have denied, shall be inundated with its overflowing goodness.” Drawn close in this way to the outlet of the Fountain of Life, she fashioned her lips upon that sacred wound, and still more eagerly the mouth of her soul, and there she slaked her thirst.

vision of Catherine of Siena (1347–1380)

Resource(s)

Karma Lochrie. “Situating Female Same-Sex Love in the Middle Ages.” The Cambridge Companion to Lesbian Literature, Cambridge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. 79-92.

Robert Mills. “Hanging with Christ.” Suspended Animation: Pain, Pleasure and Punishment in Medieval Culture. London: Reaktion Books, 2006. 177-199.

Did you meet any malagas? (book cover)

Did you meet any malagas? (book cover)

Artist: Gary Lee
Media: Sketch on paper
Date & Location: 1993, Larrakia Territory, Darwin, Australia
Where can I see this artwork?: Book cover of Did you meet any malagas?: A homosexual history of Australia’s tropical capital by Dino Hodge

Significance to Queer Art History

‘Malagas’ means ‘men.’ Dino Hodge’s Did you meet any malagas? is a collection of oral histories intended to tell a ‘gay history’ of Larrakia territory/Darwin that recognizes local, context-specific intersections of sexuality, gender, colonialism, and race. It addresses as well the objectification of ‘blackfellas’ by ‘whitefellas’ in the local gay community. Hodge writes that “it would be the late 1980s before Aboriginal gay men felt comfortable attending Darwin Gay Society Gatherings (37).”

Gary Lee was the first Indigenous person to collaborate with the Northern Territory AIDS Council, and he is a friend and collaborator to Hodge. He is Larrakia with Chinese and Filipino heritage, and Hodge writes that Lee designed a book cover that: “honoured blackfella experiences… his interracial relationship with his partner is represented by a whitefella arm reaching across his chest and the hand resting lightly above his heart. Here the whitefella presence is subordinated to a blackfella declaration of personhood (41).”

A coloured sketch of a bare-chested Indigenous man wearing a red necklace on white paper with a white man's arm wrapping around from behind to touch his chest.

Resources and Image Credits

Dino Hodge. “Faces of Queer-Aboriginality in Australia,” in Queer Objects ed. Chris Brickell and Judith Collard. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2019.

Hodge, Dino. Colouring the Rainbow: Blak Queer and Trans Perspectives: Life Stories and Essays by First Nations People of Australia. 2015.

Mary Høeg & Bolette Berg in the Boat

Mary Høeg & Bolette Berg in the Boat

Artist: Mary Høeg
Media: Photography
Date & Location: c. 1895-1903, Horton, Norway
Where can I see this artwork?: Preus Museum, Norway

Significance to Queer Art History

Mary Høeg was a Norwegian suffragette and photographer. This is a photograph (described to me as an early “selfie of sorts”) of her and her partner, Bolette Berg. It is part of a private collection of her photographs, which subvert cis-heteronormative expectations of portraiture, and which were labelled ‘private’ when they came to the Preus Museum. The photographs Høeg sold to the public were primarily landscapes, and they were sold at ‘Berg and Høeg photography studio’ in Horten, Norway.

Digitized reproductions of her private photos also beg questions of the ethics of reproducing and sharing art works not created for public display.

Would she have minded? Could she have imagined such wide-spread access? Does the importance of archiving queer art works justify their reproduction?

Marie Høeg (left) posing with an unknown person (right) in the studio. Photo: Berg & Høeg,
c. 1895-1903. The Preus museum collection.

Resources

Preus Museum. “Bolette Berg and Marie Høeg.” accessed 07/29/20.
https://www.preusmuseum.no/eng/Discover-the-Collections/Photographers/Bolette-Berg-and-Marie-Hoeeg

Le Roman de Silence

Le Roman de Silence

Artist: Unknown
Author: Heldris de Cornuälle
Date & Location: Early 13th Century, France
Media: Pigment on vellum (calf skin)

A miniature showing Queen Eufeme sitting on a throne in her private chambers with Silence beside her. the private apartments are represented through a distinctive architectural frame, which here manifests as two arches. The two are seated with Eupheme on the viewer’s right and Silence on the left. This miniature, consistent with the illustrative program, emphasizes Eupheme’s position in court through hierarchical scale and a golden crown.
Queen Eupheme (right) seducing Silence (left), WLC.LM.6, Roman de Silence, f. 209r. Used with permission from University of Nottingham Manuscripts and Special Collections.

Significance to Queer Art History

The French narrative Le Roman de Silence was written by Heldris de Cornuälle in the 13th century. This is the only known surviving copy, also from the early 13th century, which exists between the vellum folios 188r-223r of WLC/LM/6 at the University of Nottingham.

This narrative, including the eleven miniatures (images) containing narrative content, is based on another medieval text: De Planctu Naturae (The Complaint of Nature) by Alain de Lille (c.1128-1212). Alain de Lille focusses especially on “sodomy,” and so does Heldris de Cornuälle.

Sodomy, and characters representing sodomy, does not match with our modern cis-heteronomative presumptions. This means that the “sodomitical” characters represented in Romance de Silence don’t conform to these presumptions either.

There are three characters (Silence, Eupheme, and the Nun) who do not conform to their assigned gender roles, and one of these characters has been called by contemporary scholars a “lesbian” figure.

This is a miniature on folio 222v. This miniature shows Silence standing naked on the left with her hands raised revealing one breast located — in truly medieval fashion — closer to her shoulder than her chest. King Evan stands fully clothed in blue with a golden crown making a dialogic gesture towards Silence.
Silence standing nude before Kind Evan, WLC.LM.6, Roman de Silence, f. 222v. Used with permission from University of Nottingham Manuscripts and Special Collections.

Summary

Since these images are so connected to the story, here is a brief summary of these three “queer” characters and their role in the plot:

**Please note: Various gendered pronouns are used here to discuss the narrative, and I do not want to negate any trans/non-binary interpretations, which I think abound. Please interpret them in whichever ways resonate for you. Additionally, these characters face violent endings so, while this is a piece of the history of queer representation, this is a loving heads-up before you dive in.**

Silence

Silence is initially described as a woman, but raised as a man after the king decrees that daughters can no longer inherit.

Silence is revealed to be a woman by Merlin at the end of the narrative, and she is then married to the king.

Silence’s body had taken on physical masculine features before being revealed, though, which are described as being “refinished” by Nature (ll. 6457–6460).

It is also worth noting that Silence had desires to make the transition permanent. He sought out Merlin to that end, but was foiled by Eupheme (ll. 6457-6460).

He is also accused of liking “young men a lot” and being an “herite” (ll. 3945-3947).

“Heretic” came to be synonymous with “sodomite” in late medieval France.

Eupheme/Eufeme

Eufeme/Eupheme is sent to marry King Evan to stop a war. She arrives with her black hair on a boat which also carries black horses to be gifted to the king (ll. 231-233).

She falls ill upon arrival delaying the wedding, but it happens three days later.

She tries to seduce Silence, and is described as being “highly skilled in such matters” (l. 3713). She is also described as loving and feeling “anguished yearning…/for this young man who was a girl (ll. 3698-3704).

Another of Eupheme’s lovers is a nun who is revealed to be “a man” near the end.

This plot point has been referred to by other scholars as further suggesting her preferences for women.

The gendered hegemony is perpetuated at the end of the narrative when Eufeme is executed by equine quartering (l. 6656). This was a common sentence for sodomy.

Adjectives used for Eufeme include: “female satan/cis sathanas” and “lady harlot/la dame fole” (l. 6273).

The Nun

A nun is in Queen Eupheme’s entourage when they intercept Silence bringing Merlin to the king.

While dressed as a nun, she/her pronouns are used for this character: she said/fait ele (l. 6250).

The nun is then revealed by Merlin in his long, riddle-like speech to be “Eufeme’s lover/… deceiving [the king] in woman’s dress” (ll. 6531-6532).

The gendered hegemony is reinforced once again when the nun is made to strip before the king (ll.6570-6571), and then executed with Eufeme (ll. 6655).

Blackout

Blackout

Blackout
Artist: Indira Allegra
Date & Location: 2015, Digital
Media: Digital Weaving Installation, Dimensions Variable

Significance to Queer Art History

In Indira Allegra’s online portfolio this work is described as:

a large scale video text/ile installation studying the weave structure of police uniforms alongside statements made by families of those lost to police violence including: Aiyana Stanley-Jones (7), Tamir Rice (12), John Crawford III (22), Amadou Diallo (23), Tarika Wilson (26), Eric Garner (43), Yvette Smith (45), and Eleanor Bumpurs (66). In six black and white panels, these grief stricken texts scroll and scan endlessly, struggling to articulate themselves through the presence of serge twill – the fabric used to manufacture police uniforms across the nation.

https://www.indiraallegra.com/blackout

Queer activism and art history cannot be anything but intersectional — if they are not intersectional, they will only serve to reinforce the fabric of systemic oppression and violence. Be queer, and be proud, and if you’re a white queer (as I am) be active about using your white privilege to dismantle the systems and cultural narratives that created it.

The realities of systemic racial violence demand both an immediate response, and deeper longterm changes. Racism needs to be dismantled by our performances, by our dinner conversations, by our curricula, by our websites, by our canvases.

To all of the BIPOC queer folx who visit this website, thank you for checking out this digital collection, and I would like to centre your voices here. If you have feedback and/or art work you would like to see featured please reach me at: queerarthistoryqah@gmail.com

Hear Indira Allegra discuss “Blackout” in her own words
Ladies of the Zenana on a Roof Terrace

Ladies of the Zenana on a Roof Terrace

Ladies of the Zenana on a Roof Terrace
Artist: Ustad (Master) Ruknuddin
Date & Location: c. 1666, Bikaner
Media: Watercolour, ink, and gold on paper
Where can I see this artwork? Metropolitan Museum of Art (not currently on display)

Significance to Queer Art History

A piece such as Ladies of the Zenana on a Roof Terrace makes us ask the question: what qualifies as ‘queer art history’?

Ustad Ruknuddin was a master painter at the Rajput Court of Bikaner between 1650-1697. His patron was Maharaja Anup Singh. In its historical context this painting is rife with political commentary, and it is a hybrid of Mughal and Rajput painting traditions. It was likely commissioned to present the women as luxurious goods and signifiers of Anup Singh being an insan-i kamil (an ideal man and ruler).

Laura Mulvey has written about “the male gaze” — and her scholarship has many critics and successors. Considered in its historical context, this painting is well-suited to an analysis of “the male gaze” and the representation of women by men for the pleasure of other men.

But this painting also still exists. It is in the Metropolitan Museum right now. I would propose that we can queer (verb) this painting. Contemporary lesbian viewers might also connect to — and derive pleasure from — this 17th century representation of intimacy and affection between two women.

What’s to stop us from claiming the contemporary “lesbian gaze” and bringing this piece into our own ‘art hirstory’ collections?

Interactions between contemporary lesbian (or otherwise “heterosyncratic”) viewers and this painting could create new meaning(s) and give it new relevance.

Shared Vocabulary

The term “heterosynchratic” is adapted from the work of Karma Lochrie to imply all gazes beyond the cis-heteronormative “male gaze.”

Mulvey’s “the male gaze” focuses on the way film is designed “according to male fantasies of voyeurism and fetishism,” and it is easily applied to other media, such as painting.

Resources

Chaudhuri, Shohini. Feminist Film Theorists: Laura Mulvey, Kaja Silverman, Teresa De Lauretis, Barbara Creed. London: Routledge, 2006.

Kim, Dorothy. “Remaking History: Lesbian Feminist Historical Methods in the Digital Humanities,” in Bodies of Information: Intersectional Feminism and Digital Humanities,
ed. Elizabeth Losh and Jaqueline Wernimont, 131-156.

Lal, Ruby. “Hierarchies of Age and Gender in the Mughal Construction of Domesticity and Empire.” In : University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Lochrie, Karma. Heterosyncrasies: Female Sexuality when Normal Wasn’t. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.

Manlove, Clifford T. “Visual “Drive” and Cinematic Narrative: Reading Gaze Theory in Lacan, Hitchcock, and Mulvey.” Cinema Journal 46, no. 3 (2007): 83-108. Accessed April 2, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/30130530.

Ramos, Imma. “‘Private Pleasures’ of the Mughal Empire.” Art History 37, no. 3 (2014): 408-427.