In celebration of LGBTQ+ history month 2020, which began 1 February, I have rounded up five amazing contemporary artists…who are not straight white cis men!
Prodger is known as the artist who “won the Turner Prize with a film shot on her iPhone”, something phrased quite derogatively because it often seems like only really expensive films and rich artists should be taken seriously. But when you see past that discourse, Prodger’s films actually showcase loving, meditative thinking on queerness and nature; exploring what it means to be queer when you’re alone, or in the wild, the conventions of naming, and the blurring of ancient and modern voices. Her most recent work has combined poetic, pensive writings with reflective shots of the Scottish countryside she grew up in, creating deeply personal narratives that also speak to universal queer experiences.
Victoria Sin works through drag, performance, film, and writing to create work challenging the construction of identities, particularly the feminine and the queer. Sin’s films illustrate the lush make-up and immersive performances through which individuals take control of the exoticizing white, cis-male gaze and confront the established systems of being ‘female’. My personal favourite work of theirs is an ongoing series of prints in which, after every drag performance, Sin removes their make-up with a wipe and then takes a print of it, creating a watercolour-like rendering of their face as a relic of this changing, performed identity.
Best known for their beautifully composed black-and-white photographs documenting the Black queer communities in South Africa, Muholi describes their artwork as “visual activism”, showing the beauty, tenderness and strength of individuals facing extreme homophobic and transphobic violence and discrimination in the country despite its ‘liberal’ reputation. Their photography is both intimate and defiant, contrasting the safety and love of queer couples in their homes with the bold bravery of living in an unaccepting public sphere. As part of their activism, Muholi has also co-founded collectives for Black lesbian solidarity and queer media in South Africa, advocating for artistic representation as well as formal political change.
Not strictly contemporary but considered a pioneering artist and thinker of queer identity in the early twentieth century, Claude Cahun, along with their partner Marcel Moore, explored constructions of gender through Surrealist photography, costumes, collage and writing. Cahun used self portrait photography wearing masks and make up that more recent artists such as Cindy Sherman have taken huge influence from, questioning the violently constrictive binaries of gender while producing beautiful and gently humorous images.
And finally, the artist who painted Obama’s presidential portrait, Kehinde Wiley, whose queer identity was all-too-conveniently erased in much of his subsequent press coverage. Mixing historical and contemporary references, in particular in relation to the representation (and lack thereof) of people of colour in classical art, Wiley produces gorgeous large-scale, intricate canvases with trademark vibrant floral patterns that are both visually striking and highly symbolic. In placing young Black people in compositions historically occupied by white men, Wiley questions the meaning of ‘power’ in both a political and artistic context.
Last modified: 19th February 2020