Thursday, February 23, 2017
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.