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Monday, February 27, 2017

Fire in My Belly

“A Fire In My Belly” by David Wojnarowicz displays images of working class Mexico alongside provocative images of pain, sex, animals, and fire. Themes of marginalization and poverty persist through the video. The people that are so repressed and forgotten within society, are brought to the forefront of David’s video. In fact, they are brought to the forefront in such a way that is inescapable to the viewer. The gruesome animal images create a parallel between the treatment of marginalized populations and the status of vermin and insects. The film feels full of fury and rage, possibly pointing to the hypocrisy of religion’s role in society. The title of the film seems to point at the idea of an internal rage, but is also placed against images of actual fire, burning the globe, a mask, etc. The image of his lips being sewn shut is evocative of a painful, forced, silence. Placed against images of bread being sewn back together, evokes a sense of bodily objectification, but could also be a reference to the body of Christ. The controversial image of the crucifix on the ground, covered with ants, to me signifies the forgetting of religion and morality. The anguish felt by those poor and marginalized people is in part exacerbated by this morality left behind.

It is interesting that the film was never completed, and personally feels indicative of the everlasting anguish felt by these people. However, it is important to note that while these images are full of pain and create a powerful mesmerizing effect on the viewer, what is even more powerful is when they are played alongside the chants of HIV/AIDS protests. This signifies the strength and unity that comes from such pain and marginalization, and the endurance to keep fighting against adversity. The determination, or the fire in his belly, is stronger and louder than any attempt to force a painful silence. The fires and gruesome images spark a different kind of fire, the fire of determination to create/demand change.

Week 8: Fire in My Belly

I think the longer version of David Wojnarowicz's A Fire in My Belly is meant to evoke a rising, smothering sense of panic, eventually culminating in the burning, fast-paced, frightening series of videos from which the shortened version displayed in the Smithsonian was pulled that takes your panic and amplifies it, giving a sense of urgency, fear, and bewilderment. A Fire in My Belly demands an answer to the AIDS crisis, leading on criticisms of masculinity (in which the lucho wrestlers are compared to circus animals being dragged in circles on leashes and roosters fighting to death in the streets and in which boys breathe fire to try to impress passerbyers and earn a living) and capitalism (the Loteria cards, the crown and the boot, stood out to me, and part of the message denounced the commodification of masculinity, panning along toy lucha wrestlers and cutting from the monkey performing tricks to a blurred video of a performer balancing a rod on his face) and then shifting to images of all of this overlayed with death and fire. The culture of masculinity and capitalism are the culture that ignores the AIDS crisis, because AIDS primarily affected gay men, so Wojnarowicz criticizes that culture for its lack of compassion, its blindness, and its inherent toxicity to all of society. The video ends screaming its anger, fear, and frustration that, like a circus of pacing, caged animals or disabled street beggars and performers, people watch the AIDS crisis as if a sad and bizarrely cruel spectacle for their passing entertainment.

I'm sort of surprised that the museum curators decided to add audio to the shorter version of A Fire in My Belly, since I think the silence is part of what makes the longer version so powerful-- an echo of the silence of those watching the AIDS crisis burn and yet do nothing, but given the the lead-in is cut, I see why the protest chant is helpful to explain the video. The chant of Wojnaroicz at a protest itself becomes part of the horror show, when combined with the images of the mummies, it sounds ritualistic and eerie, waiting for an answer, demanding an end to the horror show of images on the screen. I was also surprised that they censored the video of the man masturbating, since the open sexuality was part of the message, centering how the entire thing is bodily and is a horror show taking place in the bodies of the people it effects as well as being very honest that HIV/AIDS often has to do with the sexualities of the people it effects.

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.