Please visit the Fall 2012 class website project at Queer Arts Los Angeles Website.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Fire In My Belly

Below are the URLs of David Wojnarowicz's videos, the first link is the full version and the second is the shorter edited version. Just copy and paste in your address box:

Long version

Short version

Week 7 - Artist Selection

The artist I chose is Bob Mizer (1922-1992). Mizer is a mid-20th century photographer whose work focuses on male bodies and the aesthetics of masculinity. Oftentimes, the subjects of his early photographs were hyper masculine, muscular young men captured mostly nude. During the time Mizer was producing his early work, the male nude was not only a controversial subject, it was a strict violation of obscenity laws. Nonetheless, Mizer continued producing his art, even finding himself in court for a short time for acting in defiance to these censorship laws. Moreover, his work challenged the restrictions of censorship and the boundaries of taste and acceptability during a time that the gay rights movement was just beginning. I was interested in this artist because of the impact his career had on the aesthetic of the male body and the discreetly homoerotic nature of his photographs. I also am interested in the ways he constructed a queered version of the ‘male gaze’, subverting the typical voyeurism of female bodies.

Artist: Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay is a bisexual writer, activist and a hero of mine (and many others). She is a current literary professor at Purdue and she is best known for her 2014 New York Times bestseller Bad Feminist-- also UCLA's common book for the incoming Bruins last academic year. Her work is centralized around feminist theory analysis through her personal anecdotes around her race, gender-identity and sexuality lens. She is current and relate-able to many, such as myself: I found her Tumblr blog post on Milo Yiannopolous' most recent book cancellation linked on my friend's Facebook feed just a couple of days ago. And she is praised by my friends and myself with reason to her eloquent words: This is yet another example of how we are afforded the freedom of speech but there is no freedom from the consequences of what we say.
Her work is powerful. I resonated with this specific op-ed piece she authored for the NY Times one year ago, and have held her words in my head since first reading them:


I am a writer assistant editor for the Daily Bruin. Many of my columns regard social justice themes, specifically related to the queer community because I am a closeted bisexual to my Mexican parents. This second book not only allows for me to resonate, but also gives me insight on the differing perspectives of even those like me. For example, as mentioned in class, monogamy was such an aversive lifestyle for Cordova and she praised against it plenty. But even as she eventually grew away from the idea, it is not something I had ever connected with patriarchy like she did. I always considered other people's lifestyles their own, but I am able to see a more extensive and inclusive history. Cordova's activism fell competitive with  the work of others. Cordova was a party the middle of this argument elsewhere in the real world: the Daughters of Bilitis found conflict in working with her so much they voted her out of the top executive positions. While the DOB founders were rightfully proud and consistent with their work, Cordova intruded their historically-relevant activism and juxtaposed it with her more progressive activism. Conclusively, while I am pointing this pattern out, I am not pointing at it as wrong and unnecessary. On the contrary, this is exactly what's needed for social, and in extension political, revolution.
Later in Chapter 20, we learn about BeJo and Pody beginning an intimate relationship, which prompts Cordova to become jealous even though at this point she knows she is in love with Rachel. Reading this sparked conversations I have has with my professor for my psychology of intimate relationships class. He urges that we look at relationships not as an additive process, but a complex product of intertwining two lives. We have not, however, talked much about queer relationships given that there is little date published on the topic. But this does inspire readers to consider the complexities of these relationships and to even connect them with the same happenings in heterosexual, cis-gender relationships.

Week 3: Gay L.A. Part II

Hi All,

Upon completing week 3's readings, I was filled with a strange sense of wonder. Everything that I was currently taking in in section II of Gay L.A. is exactly what my generation is currently obsessed with. With the co-optation of working class fashion, style, and culture in this day and age, I merely had a shallow understanding of what the 60's-80's were truly about.  It feels satisfying to understand L.A. through Timmon's recounting since he covers a large portion of the counterculture and how that largely intersected with LGBTQ people in a variety of ways.

For section II, what I really admired was the sense of cultural nationalism occurring across all communities that was born from the intense marginalization of various communities, as well as their political polarization. More specifically, I enjoyed reading about how the various historical events in L.A. played a role in kicking off this era's countercultural upheaval. For example, in chapter 5, it discusses the ways in which cultural nationalism came into being. With the rise of the Black Power Movement, Brown Berets, and other groups, so too came the Gay Revolution. During this time in L.A. there were several unethical laws that were passed with the intention of criminalizing LGBTQ existence. For example, dressing in attire that did not belong to your gender assigned at birth was a punishable by law. People who fell within the swinging range of this unjust law were lesbians, gay men who did drag, and transgender people. Besides the law being on the side of the oppressor, the L.A. locals were very opposed to the sexually liberated mode of living often offered up in LGBTQ spaces back then. Painted as heathens or abominations, it was no wonder that the LGBTQ community in L.A. began to politically mobilize.

When political mobilization occurred in the Gay Rights movement, it gave rise to two different types of politics. One was the of reformists, LGBTQ people who sought to assimilate into society. Their appeal to their oppressors was through respectability politics which was demonstrated through protests in which all attendees were suited up to seem relatable to the common person. The other type of politics present was that that surrounded anti-assimilationist. These groups did not care to appeal to the average person, instead, they demanded equal treatment. These radical groups were filled with a type of unapologetic queer militancy.

Upon reflecting on this history and the rise of the Gay Revolution, it makes me realize how politics appealing to the assimilation of LGBTQ individuals has largely dominated the movement present to this day. Though there are still radical LGBTQ groups present in the United States who engage in direct action rather than in the political system, it is apparent that a certain type of politicking has been devalued. That is not to discount the work that these radical activists do, but rather it proves how neoliberalism has effectively co-opted the LGBTQ rights movement in a way that has stifled efforts in actual LGBTQ liberation. I am not at all surprised at the uprise in direct action movements that have sprung forth during the Tr*mp presidency. As someone who studies political science, I find that having reflected on the Queer history of L.A. has contextualized the politics behind the organizing that are presently ongoing.

Week 7 - Artist Selection

I decided to move forward with another artist for my project. I will be focusing on Kelow, a Black rapper from the DMV. Although much of her lyricism and play on words has to do with her relationships with women, I'm mostly interested in her music videos and how she chooses to portray herself. Her work is visual stimulating with vivid colors and images that force our minds to create something out of it. In addition to her music, Kelow is also a painter. Many of her paintings depict positive and reinforcing imagery of blackness. On top of that, she also has a very unique style which draws from both the feminine and masculine. She performs a gender and personal expression that I don't see often. With all her talents combined, one can definitely note that her artistry thrives in all aspects of her life. I personally consider Kelow an all-around artist because it almost seems as if her life is her art, which is a quality that draws me to her work. Below are some and photos of for reference.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Blogpost week 7 - Alok Vaid-Menon

For this course, I picked the poet/writer/activist Alok Vaid-Menon. They are an artist I have been following for a couple of years now, first part of a duo and now solo. The first piece I would like to talk about is the poem “street tax”.

street tax

today a man on the street pointed to me & said
“what the hell is that!?”

i wanted to turn around,
tell him that i got this dress on sale
& i got this body for free
but you have been making me pay for both
ever since.


This is the first poem I ever read by this artist and I think it is beautifully depicts a real-life situation. It is a short and simple poem, only 7 lines, and it has no capitalization, and no rhyme. Even though it is a very non-traditional poem, it is in my opinion a poem nonetheless. It is touching in a way prose can never be, and it has a flow to it that defines it as a poem for me. It discusses the topic of street harassment. The fact that the writer is trans-femme explains the last couple of lines. The man on the street is commenting on combination of the body the writer has been born in and the dress they are wearing. The poem is posted on the website of the writer where we can see pictures revealing they are not conforming to the gender binary, which is what the street harasser is referring to.

            Another interesting thing is the theme of capitalism. The mention of the dress being on sale and the body being free introduces an idea of payment for something you wouldn’t think to include in a commercial area. The body is something we usually do not see in the context of transaction. However, in this case the writer says that they have been “paying for both” the body and the dress. This payment is not in money but in emotional capital. The street harassment takes a toll on the writer, and that is what is being told here.

Rakeem Cunningham

Due to a lack of response from Jade Phoenix, I have decided to switch artists to Rakeem Cunningham. He is a gay African American photographer. He attended UCLA and graduated in 2014 with a degree in Design and Media Arts. I first encountered his work on Instagram when he did a collaboration with my friend Jeremy Gozzip, who is also a queer artist. The subject within his work is usually people, although he does occasionally shoot landscapes. Recently he has shifted in to shooting self-portraits because he wants to change the perspective of black bodies as a mere fetish; his work aims to show the beauty of queer black men through his own lenses.

This self-portrait by Cunningham is displayed in the queer magazine, Cakeboy. It was included with an interview called “Meet the Squad of Babes Who Can’t With Your Instagram” where Cunningham and two other gay men talk about their experiences with representation of gay POC in media through platforms like Instagram. They talk about the responses that they receive from other gay men—white or POC—about their bodies. Initially when Cunningham first entered the dating scene, he had anticipated a sense of welcoming into the gay community but he found that that was not the reality. There was a lot of rejection of certain types of bodies and Cunningham was at the receiving end of one of those experiences. He noticed that within the gay community, beauty standards were categorized by body types and were very Eurocentric. There was a praising of white chiseled men or white bears while Cunningham felt excluded as a POC with a body type that was kind of in between these categories. These sentiments were also echoed by the other interviewees as well.

Cunningham’s photography puts the bodies of queer POC men on display in a softer setting. He highlights the curves and features of their bodies as they are, as opposed to the dominant fetishizing perspective. They (literally) embrace the beauty of their skins and bodies as they are.

                       Issac Julien is a British filmmaker & installation artist who rose to cult fame with the release of his 1989 documentary Looking for Langston. The film combines archival footage and photographs of Harlem in the 1920's, is shot in black and white, and in a specialized slang known as speakeasy. In the opening credits, the film states it is "a meditation on Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renassaince." Julien created this film as a celebration of black and gay identity, during a time period where homophobia, oppression, and denial run amok in Harlem, New York. The film hopes to give voice to an oppressed community, who often subsumes their queerness for their blackness, and “creating reference points and a narrative for black queer identities in the late 80’s.” Langston is portrayed as an icon who does not deny his race but reclaims it by not simply conforming to “black bourgeoisie standards whose overriding goal concerned fuller social integration.” Julien attempts to break down these barriers and self denial by being one of the few films to show a queer relationship between two black male characters, Langston Hughes and Beauty.
            Upon coming across this work I was surprised to learn about the Langston Hughes’ sexual identity. Apparently, he was very private about his personal life, alongside the fact that his estate “refuses to relax its position on censoring all academic inquiry into Hughes’ sexual identity.” The estate even asked Issac to remove any and all visual or textual references to Langston Hughes in the film. Luckily, Issac refused and choose to proceed with the release of his film.

Sooreh Hera is a queer Middle Eastern Muslim visual artist. She works in multiple fields and mediums, but I will be focusing on her photography. Queerness and identity inform all her work greatly. Intersectionality is a main theme in her creations, as well. She works and tells the stories of the intersection between queerness, brownness, Muslim identity, third-world identity, and immigrant identity. Her works, in this way, have a strong transnational theme to them, as well.
In this piece, queerness is put on display during a moment of a kiss shared between two people. The kiss is between two masc people. Furthermore, one of the people is a visibly physically disabled person. So queerness is set as not just that which happens between non-heterosexual beings and genders, but also through which bodies get involved. Disability and specifically disabled sexuality is not often portrayed or narrated. Hera’s decision to make this visible and centered is important to unmaking the absence of such a narrative.
The kiss is happening in the left half of the photo, taking up primarily the bottom and rightmost quarter of the square. Most of the photo is dedicated to negative space with a light gray wall. As the eye is drawn into the action of the kiss, the movement of the kiss becomes clear. The movement is happening from left to right – the person at the left is leaning into the person on the right, who is leaning backwards. This movement sets the story of the kiss. The person on the left initiated the kiss. This happens to also be the physically disabled person.  The narrative of disability gets spun around in this simple technique. The physically disabled person is given agency and sexual power. In the damaging monolithic narrative of disability as that which is infantilized and deemed asexual, giving the disabled character in the photo the agency and initiation of the kiss is powerful, and spins this narrative around. 
However, I can't but critique the piece for its potential transparency and objectification of the disabled body. With one person clothed and one not, my attention is immediately drawn to this clothing/nudity disparity and dichotomy. The disabled body is nude while the able body is clothed. What does this mean in terms of objectification, fetishization, and rendering as fully transparent for the disabled body? I'm curious as to the artist's choice to not have both models be nude, or have both be clothed.  

Hera also portrays identity and culture in her work. In this piece, the queer act between two masc people is hidden, potentially for the safety of the models themselves or purely out of an artistic choice on Hera’s part alone, by the cover of two masks, who look to be of the same person. I read this to be a narrative of the two act of violence that occurs for people of color, and in this case Muslim and Middle Eastern people. While we work to protect our community from the violence of the outside world, constantly standing up for our own people and upholding their voices and stories, we also face violence in our own communities by our own people, especially as queer people. We face homophobia within our own communities, and racism and homophobia in the outside world. The hiding of the models’ faces potentially shows this double labor of violence, and thus protection of oneself, that goes into being a brown queer. This piece is very moving and powerful. 

Rafa Esparza and the Bowtie Project

In May of 2015, Rafa Esparza and and choreographer Rebeca Hernanzdez held a performance piece titled: A simulacrum of power on top of a a sculptural installation by artist Michael Parker called The Unfinished. Esparza had enlisted members of his family to make adobe bricks by hand, using materials sourced from the Los Angeles river, where the performance took place, and then laid those bricks atop The Unfinished. Esparza's father was a bricklayer who'd built his own first house out of bricks back in Mexico. Dressed in ceremonial Native American garb, Esparza used a round mirror to reflect sunlight onto them as he Hernandez, and four other dancers moved around the obelisk. When they finished, Esparza did a brief native dance before climbing onto the obelisk for the final act: a slow crawl, from the flat bottom of the obelisk to its pointed top. His mostly naked body scraping its way along the path of handmade bricks.When he finally reached the top, he paused for a moment with his behind eating on the point, which looked as if it were penetrating him from behind. He then proceeded to calmly dress himself in a Western-style suit and tie that had been lying on the ground waiting for him. He finished the performance by lighting branches of sage on the tip of the obelisk. The question of "what and whose ground?" weighs heavier on the minds of those who are constantly under surveillance such as artists of color, and those who identify as members of the queer community. Esparza uses the identities of young queer people of color, people with immigrant backgrounds and artists who have been pushed out by the art-community and integrates them not in galleries but in public spaces.

Blog Post Week 7-Artist Piece

For my artists report, I am researching a transgender artist by the name of Zackary Drucker. She is an independent artist, television producer, and an activist who deconstructs the way we view gender and sexuality. Queer consciousness is always at the forefront of her artwork and photography—giving a strong voice to the LGBT community.

Her main pieces include both photography and video; however, for this assignment I will only focus on her still image pieces. The pictures below are all part of a project called “5 East 73rd Street” where Zachary Drucker photographed documentary-style raw images of Mother Flawless Sabrina (Jack Doroshow) in her upper-Manhattan home. I chose this piece because I really feel that it captures the essence and novel exploration of trans-identity. Drucker explained these photographs as “A time capsule and a transformer as this work remains a junction for eclectic queers who echo the voice of The Queen”. These pictures thus capture the fluidity of gender identity in an extremely candid way. 

In the image above, you can see Mother Flawless Sabrina laying on a couch in her loft. Although the picture seems quite simple, it speaks in many ways. This image is the first in the series that Drucker produced and goes through the timeline of her getting ready from start to finish. Below I have included the other photographs that came along with this photo so you may see the timeline-like essence to this work of art. Mother Flawless Sabrina is known to be an icon in the queer community and these pictures serve as a statement piece for all people. These images are very subtle, yet they such a powerful message.These pictures really do capture the unattainable nature of gender, and portray confidence and ignite confidence through the LGBT community. 

Week 7 Blogpost - Felix D'Eon

     The image I've chosen from D'Eon's many pieces is this one called "El Diablo." For this art project, D'Eon has taken a very popular Mexican playing game, "La Loteria," and has inserted many queer motifs from within the LGBT community. For this picture in particular, I see the motif of the dom/sub dichotomy playing out. You have the diablo, or devil, exerting his power over the very eager and submissive man-boy. The devil is bending the man-boy to his will, and if you look closely enough, you can see the artist's depiction of the man-boy's face: titillation with ever so subtle worry.
     In the original loteria, the devil card is actually called "El Diablito" and not "El Diablo." I feel that by choosing to use the word diablo instead of diablito amplifies the dominant persona that the devil eminates in this image. In essence, by reclaiming the term diablo in it's entirety, rather than in it's diminutive or subjugated form (-ito), the diablo is truly dom.
     Another way this could be interpreted would be in regards to the discussion in class we had about "los 43." In the top left of the piece you see the number 43, and as we know, the 44th man that partook in that fiesta de maricones, was pardoned by his governmental elite relative. Indirectly, or directly, the artist could be poking at that person with a literal (devil holding the trident against the man-boy's butt) and figurative stick (the depiction of the devil dominating the man-boy). The phrase, "the one that got away" comes to mind, and this person may have escaped public dismay, but the devil didn't forget. The devil is cashing in the punishment now by exerting his power over the man-boy for the sin he committed.

     I would like to point out that D'Eon takes photographs or has in-site models for many of his pieces. I feel that by doing that he captures some of the reality of the situation enhancing his images to reflect something human. Here is a picture of such.