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Thursday, February 23, 2017

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.

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