To celebrate the 45th anniversary of one of the most important days of the 20th century we have asked Sang Bleu family and friends to share with us their favourite piece of art or culture which explores a queer lifestyle.
The Stonewall Riots took place on the morning of June the 28th 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighbourhood of New York. This collective rebellion against the police is widely considered one of the most important aspects of history to help in the fight for gay and lesbian liberation.
Not all of the pieces chosen by our friends necessarily directly focus on homosexuality – but the idea of this article is that by thinking beyond the missionary position different progressive behaviours can and have adapted our human behaviour to make the world a more tolerant place.
By challenging what society deems appropriate through sex we’ve looked at both women and men who have questioned how their sexuality informs their gender or place in society, much like how the brave an important individuals did on the June morning of 1969. Some of these pieces of culture chosen may not have physically opposed legal regulations of their sexuality but by creating culture around these ideas they’ve helped us all live in a more humane and loveable world.
Cottweiler – Fireworks by Kenneth Anger, 1947
Fireworks was made by a teenage Kenneth Anger in 1947 and explicitly explored themes of homosexuality and S&M in a time when homosexuality was still illegal in the USA. The film is typical of Anger’s surrealistic and textural vision but its message heavily lies in Anger’s teenager view of the world and how his own sexuality was considered a taboo at the time. We personally love this not only for its progressive story and strong visuals but more because we feel that Anger created this out of instinct. We feel that he made this film as a natural reaction to the world around him, he was expressing his most inner beliefs as something intrinsically natural to him rather than to try and make a strong political statement.
Reba Maybury – Peter Hujar – David Wojnarowicz Reclining (II) 1981
I’ve always found that there is a kind of brutal honesty which exists in Hujar’s photographs all laced with a kind of impossible kindness which makes me love his work in a way that I can’t quite relate to the work of any other photographer.
Hujar had the most incredible way of capturing intimacy with his subjects and through this portrait of his lover and fellow artist David Wojnarowicz it exemplifies that essence of comfort.
His portraits of his lovers and friends present us with a time in the 1970s and 80s New York which was then culturally vibrant but also consisted of an important queer scene. All the timeless elements of gay culture are presented though his various portraits of his friends – outsider-ness, strength of character, eccentricity, glamour and tolerance.
I read a quote recently from Nan Goldin where she described Hujar’s photographs as the closest she’s ever come to feeling like she was inside the skin of a gay man. I loved this quote so much, his images are never shocking like his contemporary Mapplethorpe where aspects of gay sex culture were laid out for everyone to see in the most – quite literally black and white terms but Hujar shows us a perception of sexuality which is really very normal. Its about naked male bodies feeling very comfortable in their nudity, there is no shame involved with these portraits.
Homosexuality is a subtle theme to this photograph and by being so relaxed its shows just how utterly normal and human two men being in love is. Through this particular portrait you can also tell that Hujar and Wojnarowicz were really, really in love, which is a very beautiful thing.
Hujar naming the portrait David Reclining II also plays with ideas of how nudes have been presented in the history of art, where the female nude has been worshipped but Hujar directs our attention to someone that he is in love with and immortalized Wojnarowicz in the most genuine way.
Over the years Wolfgang Tillmans has observed and created a visual landscape of moments that have struck a chord with fans and viewers alike. Here’s one that caught my attention, William of Orange, 2007, a photograph of a portrait that somehow looks timeless, a man from the 17th century or William on his way to a party? Wolfgang’s vigilant lens captures the spontaneity of it’s subject matter with fascinating depth whilst sending me off into flights of fancy.
Martine Rose – Anonymous photographs
I love these images- they were taken by an anonymous photographer who documented the S&M Scene across the East Coast of America in the 70s. They say so much and are shot with such compassion. I just think they are such amazing images, and were part of my inspiration for my SS15 collection.
Jason Farrer – Piss Christ – Andres Serrano 1987
Ed Marler – Dolce and Gabana Autumn/Winter 2011/12
Vogue’s report on this D&G show described it as a homage to Eighties club kids however I’d like to disagree with this as I think its more of a homage to lesbians. Every other look that went down the catwalk showed your boyish looking girl who would then be followed by a more glamourous ‘lipstick lesbian’. How often are lesbians glorified onto the pedestal of the catwalk? Not enough!
I don’t know if D&G purposefully made this collection to look like it was designed for lesbians or not but its so normal to see re-appropriations of male homosexuality in fashion and you rarely see it for lesbians. You often see a kind of glamourised lesbianism in music and fashion, like two straight looking girls having a snog, but we rarely actually see images of what lesbians actually want to look like in fashion. I’m curious to know whether that is what D&G were planning, its not my favourite collection of theirs but I think its fabulous.
Claire Barrow – Rrose Sélavy – Marcel Duchamp by Man Ray 1921
Most people know Duchamp for his ready made artworks like Fountain or Nude Descending a Staircase but a lesser known project was his female alter ego called Rrose Selavy who was often photographed by Man Ray adorned in the best of 1920s women’s hats and fur stoles.
The name was a pun to sound like the french ‘Eros, c’est la vie’ which translates to, ‘Eros, that’s life’.
I love this image because Duchamp appears as what he think a woman looks like, and I find Duchamp’s creation of a woman particularly beautiful. Every person has an idea of what they think a woman should look like which is why drag is essentially a concept.
The avant garde circles that Duchamp socialised in at this time included many openly homosexual people, I’m not sure if this work is directly queer but I love how comfortable he was with his own male sexuality to dress up like this and feel no shame in a time where it was such a taboo to openly play with notions of gender and sexuality.
George Henry Longly – Image Virus (1987) by General Idea
In the work Image Virus (1987) by General Idea the work of Robert Indiana’s famous “LOVE” logo from 1967 is replaced with the words ‘AIDS’. The mechanics of this work are so precise and perverse that the artists expertly manage to undermine established ways of thinking, stepping beyond the art world into contemporary society – no mean feat. Its not only a great model for how art can function in a wider sense it also played an important part in demystifying a disease at a time when social policy was being led with a homophobic agenda. The work developed into one of the most important bodies of work of the late 20th century. This work is still totally relevant. It manages to be both critical and complicit in the issues that it deals with – its not just about a social issue, it deals with so much more; the mechanics of language, the image of language, the dissemination of information, the practice and commercialisation of art, issues of authorship and mythologies – contemporary issues that artists are exploring today.
Joseph Delaney, Jeff Burton: The Other Place 2005
Taken on the sets of porn shoots while working in the adult entertainment industry, photographer Jeff Burton’s images question the fabricated view of what sex is for gay people.
Not only are the acts taking place merely implied, relying entirely on our own imaginations and, therefore, own discretions, the sexual acts are posed as almost unimportant, inconsequential, irrelevant and at times even intentionally ignored; the most mundane details captured, only a brief glance of the scene reflected in a widow or missing the field of view as his lens focuses on a carefully placed plant or a bottle of water.
The images force us to consider a truth that is perhaps even more prevalent now than when his work was first published: that in a media dominated world our view of sex is skewed, that the preened and perfected acts portrayed in pornography and simulated in media are as false as the pristine Hollywood sets they take place in, and that, in reality, they exist within the context of our mundane and repetitive day to day.
Maxime Buchi – Mr Ghetto – Lion King Bounce
For me this video is an interesting cross of hippie/naturalist and urban culture converging to challenge gender and orientation attributes and relations. Its perfect. All sissy bounce in general but this is not sissy bounce which is even better. All the dudes are booty shaking. Watch it here
Julia Silverman – Athenian kylix from around 475 BC
Although this particular work–an Athenian kylix from around 475 BC–vastly predates the Stonewall riots, it serves as a reminder that judgements about sexuality are fluid and ever-changing. This work, likely depicting a courtesan providing another with what seems to be an intimate massage, is but one example of the works I enjoy. As the West continues to hail Ancient Greece as a golden age for art, culture, and democracy, it’s worth remembering that much of their art depicts homoerotic interactions and crude sexuality that is now condemned in political and conservative social dialogue. I think these works serve as an important reminder that these types of opinions have no basis in anything biological or “natural” and instead are simply arbitrary rules imposed and enforced by society. (But, for the record, as someone who was raised in the United States in the ’90s, I don’t condone pederasty…)
Akeem Smith – Strange Frame Love & Sax by the GB Hajim
Strange Frame Love & Sax by the GB Hajim is a sci fi animation film. The film analyzes contemporary culture, from a ancient standpoint but portrayed through a neoteric lens. The director plays out his story through two lesbian musicians: It has all antidotes of a regular movie LOVE, EXPLOITATION, SEX and “HYPE”, but the formula seems different. This is one of the most visually stimulating pieces I’ve watched in a while, Its just so great seeing a film that isn’t so referential visually and the only thing really being referenced is Life.
X Y magazine was an American publication which documented gay youth culture and ran from 1996 to 2007. The content that it included was staged editorials exploring young gay life. I feel like it was almost an antidote to the theory that being gay is defining of your personality and thats there is individuality within the community – theres not a a definite homogeneous gay identity. What I like about this cover is that X Y magazine made the connection between anime and gay teens. I think its common that disenfranchised youth identify with anime and the fantasy of it, as well as there being lots of themes of homo-ertoica within anime.
Jon John – Dawn Davenport (Divine) Who wants to die for art ? in John Water s film Female Trouble 1974
This sequence has a special meaning to me, not only because of the amazingness of the piece itself (it is a major inspiration for me) but also because it led me to discover and put me under the influence of so much queer art and history. However it is this film which would eventually lead me to collaborating and becoming friends with the one and only Ron Athey.
Harman Bains – Carolee Schneemann -Vulva Morphia 1995.
This visceral sequence of words and images, where the personification of the vulva combines with ironic analysis undermines gender issues, religious, sexual and cultural taboos, Marxism and semiotics. It is a celebration of sexuality and situates the female organ as the centre of exploration. It calls for alternative ways to address both the female body and theories on sexuality and feminism, whilst realigning and challenging existing discourses.
Daryoush Haj-Najafi – Chelsea Manning
There’s a million more indie references I have wanked over, but Beautiful Thing, the film it took me three years to pluck up the courage to watch solo at the National Film Theatre on Valentines day still makes me cry. Partly because I was the same age as the boys in the film when it came out and somehow a year after watching it I’d meet my own boy who lived in a council flat with his own hard as nails single Mum with a useless boyfriend and we even both had beautiful black female best friends. But probably more because it’s Gay as something happy and sunlit and importantly forever. I believe in bisexuality, it seemed very real when I took that boyfriend and girlfriend home from Trash that time. Really I’m as queer as a bottle of crisps and left unsatisfied by cinematic and musical depictions of homosexual experiences as nostalgic lost forever treasured memories of the bisexual or straight author. Or there’s the homoerotic as an exploration of the psycho-sexual dynamics of male bonding thing ala Barry Dignam’s short clip Chicken. But I don’t want to be stuck with Morrisey like tendencies to worship what I can’t have.
Recently it’s Chelsea Manning and Glenn Greenwold who have made me really proud to be LGBT. Whenever people ask me if I want kids I think Plato and his division of society into warriors and farmers. Sure, it’s important to separate the fantasies played out at The Hoist and in the fashion world—I can’t help but dig Komakino, Laibach and Tom Of Finland—from the reality of too much Puritan, Spartan lust for unity and brotherhood. Having your collaborators behead you after trying to instigate a military coup might have seemed hot to closeted author Yukio Mishima but probably is a bit fucked-up. Yet I can’t help but think being the sort of gay who doesn’t want kids is a great privilege. Without the financial and familial responsibilities of fatherhood we are able to take risks for the benefit of art, of music, of enterprise, of society.
In recent years the real punks, the real artists, the real heroes it seems have been those taking greatest risks for freedom of all kinds, those exposing the illegal surveillance of everything we do online and recording of our most intimate secrets for some unspecified future use. Amongst the most prominent is Glen Greenwold the gay journalist who worked with Edward Snowden to reveal the NSA’s illegal snooping on just about everyone on earth. His hunky Brazilian boyfriend David Miranda became a bit of a gay pin-up after being arrested and held for 9 hours under the Terrorism Act whilst travelling through Heathrow back to their home in Rio.
Probably the biggest hero of them all is the 5’ 2” tall Chelsea Manning. Who released 500,000 army reports and 250,000 diplomatic cables. Including infamously the horrendous helicopter gunship footage provocatively named by Wikileaks Collateral Murder. Showing an attack on civilians in Baghdad, including two journalists working for London based news agency Reuters and two kids. For this she has been imprisoned for 35 years, including a ten month spell pre-trial in naked solitary confinement. Apparently while living in the army as a man, Manning would fight back, she was used to being bullied, —if the drill sergeants screamed at her, she would scream at them—to the point where they started calling her “General Manning.” Now that’s what I call fabulous. And the fact that Manning pre Chelsea was a very cute blond twink has nothing to do with anything of course.
Matthew Josephs – Saint Sebastian – Pierre et Giles – 1987
I’m not sure if there is a camper image in existence other than this piece of work by Pierre et Gilles, I find it totally tasteless while simultansouly being very tasteful. Its kind of confusing, you don’t know whether it makes you feel a bit nauseous with how over the top it is or whether its the most beautiful image ever made. I wouldn’t usually associate this with what I usually classify as beautiful but the casting is just so good- the boy looks like he’s come straight out of a porno. I like Pierre et Gilles stance on taking something religious and making it a bit smutty. I’m not sure what else to say other than besides from the image being a really naff its actually totally gorgeous and I suppose its that juxtaposition which I love.
Ron Athey – San Francisco Pride 2013
I’m a Pride-Scrooge out of general principle, but occasionally I get suckered into a walk-through. Last summer we were staying at the end-spot of the San Francisco parade, in SOMA, and couldn’t escape it. Walking out we ran into Nao Bustamante and the late Jose Munoz. The night before Fakir Musafar and Cleo Dubois had recommended we visit the Radical Fairey Village at the festival, which i said, no we wouldn’t, but yes we did. And somehow climbing through the generic crowds we found the village. Nao snapped this shot of Dorothy w/Chihauhau. And of course there was nudity and homemade rainbow everything.This year my friend Aldo Hernandez attended festivities at Thompkins Square Park in NYC, and the back of this head reminded me that i do love pride as long as its the Cockettes! I still don’t want to go to a mob of Pride but let me be in awe of this decorative headgear.
Klaus Jurgen Schmidt – Sylvester’s record cover artwork for ‘All I Need‘ by Mark America. 1982
Although now living in Southern Canada, much of Annie Pootoogook’s body of work depicts the realities of contemporary life in the Canadian Arctic. Born and raised in Cape Dorset, Nunavut, Pootoogook’s work addresses themes such as substance abuse, violence, domestic life, and of note here, sexuality. Erotic Scene – 4 Figures follows in line with much of Pootoogooks work with a focus on interior spaces, and places as much emphasis on the details of the space itself as in the four figures engaged in both oral sex and intercourse. For Pootoogook, it is likely that the representation of such a scene is not taboo, as it is merely a representation of day to day life as she has either experienced or witnessed. While Pootoogook is not the first Inuit artist to bring erotic themes into her work, she is one of the most recognized, and by doing so she widens both the dialogue on Inuit art subject matter, and more broadly, sexuality in the Arctic.
Susu Laroche – Jan Saudeks – Chains of Love, 1989
This is an image from Jan Saudeks series ‘Chains of Love’. Saudeks universe looks like one long orgy where clothes only remain as rags and concepts like gender and sexual preference are totally extinct. Utopia.
Keehnan Kohnyah (SAFE HOUSE USA) – Mark Morrisroe – Fascination, C-Print, 1982
I spent a great deal of time at The National Portrait Gallery’s “Hide/Seek” exhibition, either overwhelmed with joy, openly weeping, or somewhere between the two. And while there are simply too many pieces of importance included, Mark Morrisroe’s portrait of then-boyfriend and fellow artist Jack Pierson, “Fascination, C-print, 1982) stands out to me for several reasons.
The intimacy of a lover photographed in bed, who could be, if one isn’t familiar with their history, simply a friend, a one night stand, a house guest; the warmth of the image’s tone itself, inviting but for the context; but lastly, the dynamic between the cat, the canary, and Pierson himself, his body acting as an axis and site of protection and safety.
To me, I see the cat as a representation of the world outside, the canary, the love shared between the photographer and the subject, homosexuality, and beauty itself, Pierson’s gesture communicating “You are safe here with me, in this bed, in this moment. I will keep you from harm”
Squish the scanned faces of gay men residing in San Francisco and out emerges an elegant blob – illegible and unreadable but still, undoubtedly, human. The Fag Face Mask (2012) by Zach Blas is a flubbery pink protest against facial recognition that claims to read sexual orientation from our nose, eyes and chin. Hyper-queer in a way that ironically defies technological analysis, sex (or it’s digital rendering) is sealed shut within it’s glossed fluorescence. The face is reaffirmed as a complex and private site for self identification where pleasures and preferences can’t be decoded and filed in a database. But we are not so innocent either. Our hunger for new shiny things (often offering nothing more than colour variability) has got us in a space where fingerprints and Iris’s seem like optimum currency for the latest tech. Data becomes deity, condensing emotions and quirks into highly scannable and scalable info. Can we blame biometric technologies for thinking sexual preference is in an arched brow? The Fag Face Mask knows, within its shiny defiance, that what we give is exactly what is taken.