Category: Transgender & Gender Non-Conforming

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>.

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.

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
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.

Juliana Huxtable (1987-

Juliana Huxtable (1987-

Untitled (In the Rage) Nibiru Cataclysm

Artist: Juliana Huxtable

Date & Location: 2015, New York City, NY (USA)

Media: Photography

Where can I see this artwork?: Guggenheim Museum, NYC

Significance to Queer Art History:

Juliana Huxtable is an intersex and transgender visual artist, performer,writer, and DJ. In her multidisciplinary career she often conveys her ideas through a afrofuturist lens blended with modern science fiction.

This piece brings together parts of her identity that she wants to draw attention to via a sexualized position to celebrate her body and identity in her surroundings which recall Nubian and Egyptian settings.

Resources & Further Reading:

“Juliana Huxtable | Untitled in the Rage (Nibiru Cataclysm) (2015).” Artsy. https://www.artsy.net/artwork/juliana-huxtable-untitled-in-the-rage-nibiru-cataclysm.

Sargent, Antwaun. “Artist Juliana Huxtable’s Bold, Defiant Vision.” Vice. March 25, 2015. Accessed July 19, 2018. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/exmjkp/artist-juliana-huxtables-journey-from-scene-queen-to-trans-art-star-456.

“Untitled in the Rage (Nibiru Cataclysm).” Guggenheim. July 17, 2018. Accessed July 19, 2018. https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/34476.

 

Marilyn Roxie- Non-Binary Pride Flag (2011)

Marilyn Roxie- Non-Binary Pride Flag (2011)

Marilyn Roxie is a genderqueer writer, musician, and digital media designer. They, created genderqueerid.com/ on Tumblr while attending San Francisco City College. Roxie, along with being a designer and musician, manages an online record label called Vulpiano Records. They currently attend San Francisco State University for Digital Media and Emerging Technologies. Learn more about them here: http://marilynroxie.com/

Featured Artwork: Non-Binary/ Genderqueer Pride Flag

Marilyn Roxie created this flag for a project in 2010 to find a visual identity similar to other pride flags such as the transgender flag (created by Monica Helms in 1999) and bisexual pride flag (Created by Michael Page in 1998) with colored bars representing specific meanings. Roxie came up with three colors after various revisions and simplifications that fit this criteria:

  • Lavender: A blend of traditional “male” and “female” birth assignment colors (pink and blue) to represent those who categorize themselves fitting both binary genders.
  • White: to represent those who are completely outside of the gender binary.
  • Dark Chartreuse Green: An opposite of lavender to represent those who feel neither male nor female in their identities.

After the flag’s creation, it was spotted in rallies and pride events around the world and is used widely by non-binary communities. However, Roxie still accepts submissions for new flag ideas and color palettes for community discussion. Visit http://genderqueerid.com/ for more information on genderqueer and non-binary identities as well as more information on the flag and its history. 

Resources & Further Reading:

Roxie, Marilyn. “About the Flag.” About the Flag. Accessed August 2017. http://genderqueerid.com/about-flag.

Roxie, Marilyn. “Marilyn Roxie.” Marilyn Roxie. Accessed August 2017. http://marilynroxie.com/.

 

ACT UP Los Angeles- Sir Lady Java

ACT UP Los Angeles- Sir Lady Java

Featured Artwork: Sir Lady Java poster by ACT UP Los Angeles

Date and location: Los Angeles, CA (USA) (1990)

Significance to Queer Art History:

This poster is a piece of “artivism” used by ACT UP Los Angeles that features a painting of Sir Lady Java (1943- ), a black transgender performer who was prominent in the 1960s and 70s nightclub scene in Los Angeles. This was carried around in Los Angeles and Orange County Pride parades.

In 1967, the Los Angeles Police Department began shutting down Java’s performances citing “Rule Number 9”, a city ordinance that banned “impersonation by means of costume or dress a person of the opposite sex.” This led Java to consult with the ACLU to overturn this measure. Courts ruled that only individual clubs could sue performers. Rule Number 9 was later shut down in accordance to a separate issue. From Sir Lady Java during the time of her fight for the right to work: “I feel strongly about discrimination against male-females and female-males. I am fighting to have our kind accepted on merit and merit alone.” 

Resources & further reading:

Artist Unknown, “Sir Lady Java” Sign Carried by ACTUP/Los Angeles in Los Angeles and Orange County Pride Parades, Part of a Larger Series of Placard Signs Honoring LGBTQ Pioneers in Southern California, circa 1990. ONE Archives at the USC Libraries.” ONE National Gay Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries. Accessed August 13, 2017. http://one.usc.edu/motha/motha007/.

Roberts, Monica. “Sir Lady Java- Trans Civil Rights Warrior.” TransGriot. January 01, 1970. Accessed August 13, 2017. http://transgriot.blogspot.ca/2010/12/sir-lady-java-trans-civil-rights.html.

“5 Black Trans Women Who Paved the Way.” Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition. February 24, 2016. Accessed August 13, 2017. http://www.masstpc.org/5-who-paved-the-way/.

 

Greer Lankton (1958-1996)

Greer Lankton (1958-1996)

Greer Lankton was an American Artist based in East Village in New York City. She created and re-purposed dolls as expressions and interpretations of herself, her imagination, friends, and influential celebrities. Lankton, a transgender woman, was born in 1958 and physically transitioned and was subject of a few news articles in this time before college at the age of 21. She attended the Art Institute of Chicago and Pratt. Lankton, since left a legacy of her work having been featured in the Whittney Biennial and the Venice Biennale in 1995 before her death in 1996. Her work has since been featured and remembered in the US with the 2014 exhibition, titled: “LOVE ME”

Featured Artwork: Bust of Candy Darling

Date & Location: 1989 in New York City

Significance to Queer Art History: Candy Darling, a transgender actress who was featured in several of Andy Warhol’s films was one of Lankton’s icons that she also looked up to as a trans woman. Inside the bust is a valentine-style heart next to a human heart that Lankton has fabricated. This could allude to the idea that, as a friend of hers, Julia Morton writes: “the artist’s life was sustained as much by fantasy as reality”.

Resources & Further Reading:

Morton, Julia. “Greer Lankton, a Memoir.” Artnet Magazine. January 27, 2007. Accessed May 2017. http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/morton/morton1-26-07.asp.

Nastac, Simona, and Massimo Grimaldi. “Unalterable Strangeness.” Flash Art. July 27, 2016. Accessed May 2017. http://www.flashartonline.com/article/unalterable-strangeness/.