Book reviews, Comments, Culture, In Focus

Celebrating gender diversity

Amrou Al-Kadhi. Glamrou Glamrou, 2017

The catalogue of “Kiss my genders”, an exhibition at London’s Hayward Gallery, does fabulous justice to the range of artists whose work is on display there until 8th September.

 

Sean Sheehan

 

The artists look at identities outside of traditional gender boundaries, celebrating states of non-binary subjectivity that invest traditional categories with variety and mobility.

The catalogue, eschewing an introduction by the curator, rightly opts in favour of an exchange of opinions between some of the artists. Evoking the playfully defiant spirit that led The Pogues to name one of their albums Pogue Mahone – from the Irish phrase póg mo thóin, (“kiss my arse”) – the conversationalists warm to the exhibition’s title. It brings a healthy sense of mischievousness to what is too often presented in a mode of studied seriousness:

“There’s this thing about assimilating queer narratives into terms that can be understood by a mainstream, social-institutional context, and that’s where a lot of things go wrong. We shouldn’t be looking for acceptance, or to be assimilated within the institutional cog-work. We should be looking to be celebrated, and making space.”

These are the words of Victoria Sim, born in Canada but living in London, whose multimedia installation uses text, lip-sync, drag, performance and music to provocatively expose the transformative energy inherent in the nature of desire.

Catherine Opie. Mike and Sky (1993)

Another artist, Catherine Opie, poses questions by using the highly traditional form of portraiture to display “a misrepresented community in a loving and dignified way”.

Why, Opie seems to be asking, do we assume that gays might not wish to pose for a studio photograph just like any other loving couple?

Kent Monkman, mixing his Cree and queer identities, also upends a traditional aesthetic.

The form in question is European history painting; and his version introduces a stiletto-wearing Miss Chief Eagle Testickle. In his Stag Hunting painting, based on a 16th-century Flemish engraving, Miss Chief advances on a group of stags disguised beneath furs. The catalogue notes how the painting uses “strategies of masquerade and performance to upset stable notions of gender”.

The Kiss My Genders exhibition is one of the most exciting shows on in London this summer and the three images shown here are the tiny tip of a carnivalesque explosion of queer art.

The catalogue adds another layer by including a set of thoughtful essays. In one of them, Amrou Al Kadhi reflects on the fracturing experience of first starting drag when he was 19. Born in London in 1990 but brought up in the Middle East, the desire to wear women’s clothes and make up was both empowering and harrowing.

Kent Monkman

Now, he explores the rupturing of cultural identities in collaboration with photographer Holly Falconer – “using triple exposure on film to relay the schizophrenic experience of being in drag as a person of Muslim heritage.”

Another contributor, Manuel Segade, reminds us that, because “history is somatic”, a bodily posture can be a radical gesture. In other words:  kiss my genders.

“Kiss my genders” is published by Hayward Gallery Publishing

(Images supplied by the Hayward Gallery)

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