Tag: Colonization



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.

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.

Paul Gauguin- The Sorcerer of Hiva Oa (1902)

Paul Gauguin- The Sorcerer of Hiva Oa (1902)

Featured Artwork: The Sorcerer of Hiva Oa (Marquesan Man in the Red Cape)

Date & Location: 1902 in Hiva Oa, an isle in French Polynesia

Media: Oil painting

Significance to Queer Art History: This painting’s inspiration was drawn from Gauguin’s travels from France to the Polynesian Islands where Gauguin thought the lives and surroundings would be “untouched” by European influence and colonization. This painting depicts a māhū individual from Hiva Oa (not a man in a cape, as Gauguin describes the individual to his western standards of gender) who identifies with a third gender that can encompass both male and female roles, presentation, and even some spiritual aspects as māhū individuals were revered as healers as this person that Gauguin describes as a “sorcerer”.

Symbolism to note: The conversing fox and bird at the bottom right of the image are natural enemies with many differences. This is perhaps Gauguin’s way of portraying male and female genders “conversing” and getting along with one another to symbolize the māhū individual’s gender.

Editors Note: Gauguin’s view into the lives of the indigenous folks of Hiva Oa and the areas he visited in the Polynesian Islands may be untruthful and deemed offensive as he often exploited spiritual and cultural practices and added his own westernized European influences and concepts to his works while traveling to “un-touched” and un-colonized (the Polynesian Isles had already been colonized years before by the French) areas.

Resources & Further Reading:

Reed, Christopher. “Gender- Transcendant Homosexuality: Polynesia and North America.” In Art and Homosexuality: A History of Ideas. Oxford: University Press, 2011.

“The Men-women of the Pacific.” Tate. Accessed August 2017. http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/men-women-pacific.