Recent Articles
Conversation Piece
4 Reasons to Collect Mark Mann's Paintings of Sunburnt Tourists
See Here
A Guide to Eating an Erwin Wurm Hot Dog in a Kusama Garden: 7 Public Art Installations in NYC You Can’t Miss This Summer
The Phaidon Folio
"Shut Down Our Clinics and We Will Shut Down Your ‘Church’": David Wojnarowicz's Writing on the AIDS Epidemic That Took His Own Life
In Brief
An Underwater Sculpture Park, A Fire in Chelsea, A Lawsuit Against PS1 & More Art News for the Week of July 9 2018
Q&A
“LIFE IS PAIN”: Petra Cortright on Live Tweeting World Cup Soccer
In Depth
The Other Art History: The Forgotten Women of Bauhaus
Artful Traveler
Summer 2018's Most Popular Vacation Spots—And What to Do There If You're an Art Lover
Artist to Watch
7 Artists to Watch July 2018
Conversation Piece
4 Reasons to Collect Daniel Arsham's "Hourglass"
The Phaidon Folio
Q&A with Snarkitecture—The Design Studio You Need to Know (And Probably Already Do But Don't Know It)
The Take
New Study Shows Artists "Like" Being Poor—But the Starving Artist Stereotype Has Got to Go
Q&A
The Top Curators You Need To Know in 2018
Q&A
Q&A: Chris Doyle Animates the Progression of Society Towards Digital Culture—And the Environment Towards Destruction
See Here
A Dealer Arrested for A Giant Heroin Spoon, Another Spanish Botched Restoration, & More Art News from the Week of June 25, 2018
In Focus
Do You Have What It Takes To Pose For A Masterpiece? Models Describe Sitting for Lucian Freud, Alex Katz, Kehinde Wiley, and Others

The Phaidon Folio

Three Artists Queering Classical Portraiture

By

Three Artists Queering Classical Portraiture
Heather Cassils, "Cuts: A Traditional Sculpture," 2011

Despite the democratization of self-representation in "selfie culture" (anyone with a phone can take and share their own portrait), portraiture has not always been as inclusive as we think of it today. Up until the nineteenth century, portraiture was a privilege that belonged exclusively to the aristocracy. But with the invention of photography, the social nature of portraiture changed fundamentally. Cheaper, collectively available, and triumphing the illusion of painting with realism, photographic portraiture was opened up to a new class of diverse subjects.

However despite the medium's supposed democratic nature, portraiture soon became a tool of racial categorization and ethnographic "Othering." In other words, the photographic portrait became the means to document the "visible truth" of the differences between bodies. Today, queer artists have re-appropriated the medium in order to reclaim the right to represent themselves using very tool that demarcated them as "Other." This week we look at three queer artists from Phaidon's Art & Queer Culture who are "queering" classical portraiture in photography in order to challenge the camera's categorization of bodies, gender and skin color. 

- Amelia Ames

 

 

HEATHER CASSILS & ROBIN BLACK 

 

Heather Cassils & Robin Black, Advertisement (Homage to Benglis), 2011 

 

Fascinated by Lynda Benglis’s notorious double-headed dildo advertisement in Artforum, Heather Cassils decided to turn her own body into the phallus rather than holding a phallus in front of her body. To sculpt the body photographed here, Cassils altered her diet to add twenty-three pounds of muscle in as many weeks, took regular doses of steroids, and worked out relentlessly. In doing so, she not only paid homage to Benglis but also reversed the narrative trajectory of Eleanor Antin’s 1972 conceptual piece Carved: A Traditional Sculpture, in which Antin recorded herself daily as she starved in order to chisel a thinner, more fashionable body. In Advertisement (Homage to Benglis), Cassils transforms a woman’s body into a riveting transgender spectacle of white hypermasculine androgyny, a confounding image that Cassils and Black then circulated by means of a zine, LadyFace/ManBody, which in turn moved through the internet on various transgender and gay blogs.

 

Heather Cassils, still from Hard Times, 2010

 

 

 

LAURA AGUILAR 
   

Laura Aguilar, Nature Self Portrait #7, 1996

 

Since the early 1990s, photographer Laura Aguilar has worked to create her own version of “queer raza” by unsettling smugly positive depictions of both the Chicano and gay Los Angeles communities. In the series of nudes from which this photograph is taken, Aguilar adds to her representational challenges the resplendently overweight female body. In this photograph, woman occupies the space of nature with a body that is the polar opposite of the cultural ideal. The raking sun theatricalizes her flesh, producing a deeply shadowed indentation in the small of her back and a dramatic cleft between her buttocks. Aguilar both references and unsettles seventies lesbian-feminist goddess worship. The weight of her form echoes the weight of the boulders in the foreground, and they, in turn, tell us that the nature in which she sits is a road track in the desert partially blocked by boulders. 

 

Laura Aguilar, Three Eagles Flying, 1990

 

 

 

ZANELE MUHOLI 

Zanele Muholi, Puleng Mahalti, Embekweni, Paarl, 2009


"The reality," says Zanele Muholi, "is that black lesbians are targeted with brutal oppression in the South African townships and surrounding areas." In "Faces and Phases," the extended series that includes this image, Muholi uses portraiture to create an archive of resistance to hate crimes such as "curative rape." She set out to make positive images of black South Africans—lesbians, women, and transmen—in order to register a queer presence in the visual record and to honor the victims of hate crimes. (Indeed, some of her subjects died of anti-queer violence before the photographs were exhibited.) The individuals photographed represent various occupations and hail from various townships. They also trouble stereotypes of lesbian and female appearance. Muholi's subject here—Puleng Mahlati—could be biologically female or a transman. We see only wide shoulders, a jacket usually worn by men, a stunning head and an utterly self-possessed gaze aimed directly at the viewer. 

 

Zanele Muholi, Miss Lesbian I, 2009

 

[related-works]

DISCOVER

a treasure trove of fine art from the world's most renowned artists, galleries, museums and cultural institutions. We offer exclusive works you can't find anywhere else.

LEARN

through exclusive content featuring art news, collecting guides, and interviews with artists, dealers, collectors, curators and influencers.

BUY

authentic artworks from across the globe. Collecting with us means you're helping to sustain creative culture and supporting organizations that are making the world a better place.

CONNECT

with our art advisors for buying advice or to help you find the art that's perfect for you. We have the resources to find works that suit your needs.

INSIDER ACCESS TO THE WORLD'S BEST ART

Artspace offers you authentic, exclusive works from world-renowned artists, galleries, museums and cultural institutions. Collecting with us helps support creative culture while bringing you art news, interviews and access to global art resources.

  • COLLECT FROM 300+ GALLERIES & MUSEUMS