As we’re nearing the end of June, I thought I should close out Pride Month by highlighting a few queer artists and their works. Sexuality and gender identity are major driving forces in any artwork whether consciously or unconsciously included, and the specific struggle of LGBTQ+ artists has for generations inspired a unique lens in creating. It is important to remind ourselves of artists that could very well have been forgotten or even suppressed by closed-minded societal eras.
Given the recent vitriol surrounding gender identity, I find it essential to highlight first the French photographer Claude Cahun. Though born a woman and mostly utilizing feminine pronouns, Cahun pushed the limits of gender conformity in the 1920s, referring mostly to themself as “neuter” or genderless/androgynous. Cahun mostly produced self-portrait photographs in various theatrical facades both masculine and feminine. These pieces gained popularity decades after their time, as many posit that Cahun’s portraits were a method of discovering many sides of themself, a goal not unlike those who take pictures of themselves today. Cahun (and their partner Marcel Moore) provides an inspiration for queer youth, especially those who are gender nonconforming.
Next is not only the foremost queer female artist of the nineteenth century, but also one of my personal favorite artists: Harriet Hosmer. Hosmer was considered radical in the way she lived against conformity, but her art style was distinctly Neoclassical displaying a beauty that one would imagine a strict traditionalist creating. Her subjects were mostly women and mythological or literary characters, just one facet that alludes to her exceptional intellect. She was fiercely independent and unafraid to challenge her male counterparts, who slandered her and claimed plagiarism out of jealousy. Hosmer was a great influence on the women’s suffrage movement in America, and she remains an icon for queer women today.
Finally, a contemporary example in South African artist Zanele Muholi, whose work aims to recount the queer history of South Africa and the discrimination therein. Muholi produced photographic series of black gay and transgender individuals as a form of visual activism. They form a specific relationship with their models, transforming them into an active participant in the creation of the piece. Muholi also avoids displaying overt mentions of the violence against the LGBTQ+ community, instead opting to focus on showing the sitter in a positive light. They state that this is to craft an idea of queerness that is not rooted in victimhood or the spectacle of violence. Muholi is one of many artists creating a space for queer voices in the art world and society as a whole.
These are a mere few of the many LGBTQ+ artists deserving of our attention. I encourage everyone to discover them and hopefully find comfort in your own identity through them.