Author: Baylee Woodley

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.

Saint Wilgefortis

Saint Wilgefortis

It is my sincere pleasure to introduce you — my sparkly, queer, and quarantined friends — to my favourite medieval Catholic saint.

Saint Wilgefortis shown on the cross with a beard, a crown, and a light blue dress with a fiddler at her feet. There is a column of text to the left of the image.

Date & Location: 1678, (currently) Städtisches Museum, Braunschweig, Germany

Artist: Unknown

Media: I believe it is pigments and ink on a wooden panel, but I will keep investigating! I wanted to get her name out to you all even while awaiting the reopening of libraries.

Significance to Queer Art History:

Saint Wilgefortis (or Saint Kümmernis) was martyred on a cross — the same martyrdom as Christ. According to her hagiography (the formal term for stories of Saint’s lives), she was being forced into marriage by her father, but wished to remain a virgin married only to God. She prayed to God to save her from her fate. He responded to her prayers by giving her masculine features, such as a beard, so that no one would want to marry her (perhaps the medieval version of finding freedom through the defiance of cis- het- standards)! Her father sentenced her to death for her disobedience and had her crucified.

Since she has a beard and died on a cross, images of the gender-bending Saint Wilgefortis are often easily mistaken for images of Christ. Some distinguishing features are: her missing shoe on the right foot, a fiddler, and sometimes a gown.

Saint Wilgefortis is a valuable component of the web of intersectional queer and feminist art “hirstories.” She is commonly seen as the Patron Saint of Abused Women, and she makes us question premodern/medieval constructions of gender and sexuality. Transformation between binary genders, as well as non-binary characters like Saint Wilgefortis herself, abound in the medieval imagination from biblical narratives to courtly romances.

The Vatican also removed her Feast Day from the Catholic calendar in 1969, and so her story continues in the discourse of trans- and homophobic exclusion, the resilience queer cultural memory, and contemporary art activism.

German image of St Wilgefortis. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

Resources:

Friesen, Ilse E. The Female Crucifix: Images of St. Wilgefortis since the Middle Ages. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2001.

Creation of Adam — Sistine Ceiling (1508-1512)

Creation of Adam — Sistine Ceiling (1508-1512)

Date & Location:
1508-1512 in the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City, Rome, Italy.

Artist:
Michelangelo Buonarroti

Media:
Fresco (paint applied to still-wet plaster, once dried it becomes integral to the wall)

Significance to Queer Art History:
Michelangelo has become iconic as a “gay man” with a place in the “Canon” of Art History. Renaissance Italy was a very homosocial culture for aristocratic men, and it was public knowledge that younger men (such as apprentices) often had intimate and sexual relationships with their mentors. Michelangelo was openly a part of this culture. Artistic expressions of his desire for other men have also survived for us to enjoy today. Especially, his poetry and drawings for Tommaso de’ Cavelieri have become famous for their passion. The kissing men in the Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel are likewise relevant as representations of queer desire as well as Michelangelo’s concern for his soul.

Michelangelo Buonarroti, Last Judgement (detail), 1536-1541, Sistine Chapel, Vatican City, Rome. Fresco.

He is also an inspiration for contemporary queer artists in their own projects to reclaim and retell queer “art hirstories.” Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin is a Swedish photographer. Her work centres trans men and women, non-binary folx, lesbian and gay couples, and drag queens. She often centres them in scenes inspired by medieval and early modern renderings of biblical stories. One example, is her version of “The Creation of Adam” (“Creation”) from 2001. Her powerful reference to Michelangelo’s ceiling in the Sistine Chapel reclaims his work for contemporary queer audiences.

Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin, Creation, 2001. Copyright @ Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin.

References:
William E. Wallace. Michelangelo. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Joyene Nazatul

Joyene Nazatul

A black background with white text reading "To Mum (Love, Me)" in handwriting.
Click image to watch: To Mum (Love, Me) by Joyene Nazatul

To Mum (Love, Me)

Artist (director): Joyene Nazatul

Date & Location: 2015, Singapore

Media: Film

Where can I see this artwork?: viddsee.com/video/to-mum-love-me

Significance to Queer Art History:

Joyene Nazatul is a non-binary multidisciplinary artist hailing from the tiny island state of Singapore. Joyene was a filmmaker and writer who currently spends most of their time creating furniture in their new home in Victoria, BC. They also performs as the drag artist Noah Lott and continues to create art through a variety of media.

Ethel May (Monte) Punshon (1882-1989)

Ethel May (Monte) Punshon (1882-1989)

Untitled
Artist: Ethel May (Monte) Punshon
Date & Location: c. 1923-mid 1950s, Australia.
Media: Scrapbook (newspaper clippings, primarily)
Where can I see this artwork? Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives

Significance to Queer Art History

Monte Punshon’s two scrapbooks are a collection of clippings many of which focus on women in same-sex relationships and women challenging gender norms. She was also a photographer, visual artist, performer, and teacher. Punshon created these scrapbooks for over three decades, but lived to be 106. She came out at 103 and met her last partner, Margaret, at the age of 101.

On a personal note, I chose Punshon’s work because this is my first post as curator of Queer Art History. She is iconic in many ways, and certainly as a collector of pieces of visual culture that affirmed her identities. What did Casey do here, and what will I do here, if not something similar for all of us?

Monte Punshon, facing slightly left, wears suit and tie with slick hair and a soft smile in this black and white photograph.
Monte Punshon, c. 1930s. Published in City Rhythm magazine, 1985

Resources and Further Reading

Brickell, Chris, and Judith Collard. Queer Objects. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2019.