Gender Boundaries

[Fall 2019]

By Jacques Doyon

The artists brought together in this issue’s thematic section explore different issues related to the boundaries of sexual identity and their transgression. Personas, transvestism, and role mutations are core to these artists’ approaches, as they address various issues fundamental to establishing a society based on inclusion rather than on narrow concepts of identities and, by extension, cultures. The quest for such a redefinition involves challenging inequalities and prejudices flowing from a closed and hierarchical vision of identities. The artists in these pages do just that: open our eyes to full recognition of the traditions and wealth of cultures, their multiplicity, and their cross-fertilization.

The first European settlers to arrive in the “new world” were perturbed when they discovered the berdache (or two-spirit), a person, highly respected in Indigenous cultures, whose gender was not based on physiology. It is this tradition, which is little known if not systematically suppressed, that is at the heart of Kent Monkman’s practice. He has created the character of Miss Chief Eagle Testickle to serve as the keystone for works that range from paintings to performances, films, and photographs, as he revisits artistic modernity to challenge the dominant colonizing culture and its will to eradicate Indigenous tradition. Gender interplay is envisaged not only as fantasy but also as bringing to light fixed historical social categorizations based on domination and violence.

JJ Levine pursues his quest for a decomplexified representation of queer culture by adding to his series of naturally and sensitively composed portraits and his series based on transvestism and double gender. These new images offer an updated and broadened vision of family. JJ and his spouse, Harry, decided to conceive a child at the same time as many of their friends and acquaintances were doing so, leading to this new series of images – and thus to reflection on a notion of family that now includes not just close relatives but also an entire community of affinity and friendship. Sexual identity is a quest that renews the gaze on life as a whole.

Identity issues are also among Erasmus Schröter’s concerns in his recent series of portraits taken on the site of a wave goth music festival in Leipzig. Here, transvestism and interplays of sexual ambiguity are blended with a fascination for piercing, tattoos, and scarification; military uniforms and simulated traces of blood, mud, and violence; and animal hybridizations. It’s a world of provocation, revolt – a world of the marginal – but it’s drawing more and more people. The Leipzig festival, which features a wide range of contrasting interests and attitudes, is a splendid crucible for intermingling and exploring mutant identities in which, once again, gender is simply one among many markers.
Translated by Käthe Roth

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