The first Pride March was held on June 28, 1970 to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Crowds of resilient queers and strong-willed activists marched from Christopher Street to Central Park, and the tradition soon spread like Shane/Jenny gossip on the L Word.
Over forty years later, Pride parades and events are hosted around the world. Some take New York Pride for granted as a festival of neon, glitter, and shirtless men on floats, but in many countries Pride events are still a crucial platform for publicly embracing queerness and opposing homophobia. Homosexuality is illegal in 65 countries and punishable by death in 10, as of June 2016.
We have certainly come a long way since 1970, although we have a long way to go. And where exactly are we headed? In honor of Pride Month, let’s take a moment to highlight some fresh(er) faces who confront contemporary issues of sexuality and gender identity. There are the all-stars in recent art history: Robert Mapplethorpe’s homoerotic and hyper-masculine photographs, Catherine Opie’s documentation of San Francisco’s queer leather subculture, Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s action pieces on the 1980s HIV/AIDS crisis. No one would deny their importance (or their place in our collective heart), but who is shaping what it means to make queer art in the twenty-first century?
Here are a handful of emerging artists and their exciting, challenging, and uplifting bodies of work.
Muholi is a South African photographer known for her stunning black and white portraits. The same year that South Africa legalized same-sex marriage she began the series Faces and Phases in 2006 to document black lesbian and trans communities in the face of rampant violence. She invites her queer and gender-nonconforming subjects to participate in the making of their own image, and she encourages others to learn photography through her visual activism project Inkanyiso. In 2015, Muholi not only published a book but also presented her work in the solo exhibition Isibonelo/Evidence at the Brooklyn Museum.
Reed noticed the trend of disappearing spaces for queer women while travelling around the U.S. She set out to create an interactive installation that would both honor lesbian bars and address their potential extinction. The resulting “Eulogy for a Dyke Bar” first showed at Wayfarers Gallery, Brooklyn in 2015 before becoming a social media star of PULSE New York in March 2016. Reed’s installation was sadly temporary, so don’t forget to support your local Cubbyhole (only if you’re not a dude, please and thank you)!
In his Art Institute of Chicago profile Preston-Myint explains his art as “Exploring the Possibility of Radicalizing Contemporary Queer Night Life, Body Hair, Doubt, [and] the Problematics of Aestheticizing Community.” Preston-Myint urges viewers to enact their ideal, utopian futures and communities and reject accepted teleological definitions in projects such as the paper “Who’s Afraid of Pink, Purple and Brown?” where he mines social ties to color. In a 2011 interview he explains “[Pink] is a pretty amazing color, not enough people take it seriously. Transgression, difference, queerness, sex, repulsion, obsession, fantasy….it’s all there in that one color.” Throughout his work he is critical of what constitutes a queer issue, and he explores the relationship of the physical body to queerness and political structures.
CAROLINE WELLS CHANDLER
What’s not to love about Chandler’s crocheted, brightly colored installations of genderqueer figures? At this year’s NADA New York, Chandler was difficult to overlook at the Roberto Paradise booth with his larger-than-life knitted character spreading its legs and displaying its nether-rainbow to the world. His figures are joyful and playful, and they proudly celebrate their FTM surgery scars. Chandler deliberately draws on the tradition of feminist craft art, and he is triumphant in his affirmations of queerness. A jolly group of her figures are on view in the summer group show “Common Threads” at Danese/Corey through July 29.
You might recognize her as the talented dancer who vogued through the streets of Bogotá in Pillar Point’s music video for Dove. A dancer, photographer, and native New Yorker, Labeija creates multidisciplinary work at the meeting of community, politics, and activism. She shares her experience of living with HIV since birth in her self-portrait series 24, and she advocates for those who are often forgotten in the discussion of HIV/AIDS: women, women of color, and children born positive. Labeija confronts viewers with the urgency of HIV/AIDS and its daily reality.
Udall prefers to call himself a storyteller, not a photographer, although he shoots exclusively on film. He questions the way we see femininity, especially when expressed or embodied by men. Udall’s intimate portraits explore what masculinity entails and gently push against our perception of erotic images of men. In 2015, he published Auguries of Innocence through Amour Press.
Tsang is a video and performance artist who is fascinated by the making and maintaining of community. Her 2012 documentary Wildness chronicles the cultural clash between queer performance artists and Latina immigrant transwomen at the Los Angeles trans bar Silver Platter. She carefully portrayed both groups involved, and the film first screened at MoMA. That same year, her work was included in the Whitney Biennial and New Museum Triennial. Her most recent short film, Duilian (2015), depicts the life and accomplishments of Qiu Jin, a queer Chinese feminist who was executed for her political resistance during the Qing dynasty.
Happy Pride Month, everyone!