Kiss My Genders
A Visual Melange of the Private and Political
Written by Daen Palma Huse, 18.06.2019
Photographs by Daen Palma Huse
“We’re living in an era where my existence is political whether I want to be or not. It’s hard and emotionally taxing – humour is my saviour.” This quote by the artist Martine Gutierrez opens the exhibition Kiss My Genders at the Hayward Gallery. Most of us are familiar with gender fluidity and artwork that challenges or rejects gender as a set of fixed categories. Over the past years we have seen an influx of work that thematises the problematics of representation and/or that proposes new ideals through visual exploration in an art context. I have found this exhibition to be an exciting mixed-media melange of artworks that encourage a dialogue through various methods, without raising a finger and running danger of preaching. The majority of visitors that find themselves in the space will be open to exploring the thematic and can enjoy a colourful gallery visit that takes us through works created over the past fifty years and inspired across different continents with photography, sculpture, painting, video installations and much more. We have picked a few artworks that we would like to highlight.
Entering the first space of the gallery with its high ceilings and concrete structures, a large installation captures our attention straight away; “A View from Elsewhere, Act 1, She Postures in Context” shows several bodies and faces projected on white cloth, including mesmerising stage lights. We stop and watch the first video which resembles a portrait, with a person lounging sideways and looking at us with a nonchalant gaze. This recent video installation by Victoria Sin, who lives and works in London, centres around drag as a way to challenge misogyny and racism. The artist subverts familiar systems or ways of looking by providing something that the viewer is used to, before disrupting by providing something unexpected. The work is inspired by Cantonese opera as well as science fiction.
In contrast to Sin’s multimedia installation, a series of beautiful silver gelatin prints by Peter Hujar captures our eye. The portraits, taken throughout the 1970s, predominantly picture drag performers, including Ethyl Eichelberger. The portraits of Eichelberger in Nefertiti-drag strike us with their inherent simplicity and calm. On one of the portraits Eichelberger mimics the Egyptian tradition of perspective, with all limbs showing in side-view, according to the belief that a recorded likelihood of a person in form of a drawing or painting would only preserve all body parts for the afterlife if these were shown. The head is turned to the side in both photographs, and despite the missing direct eye contact, we feel an air of what the mood might have been in the room when the picture was taken by Hujar, who captured mainly friends and acquaintances and said that “My work comes out of my life.”
Two other highlights, that we would like to mention, include a series of colourful self-portraits by Martine Gutierrez and a series of black and white photographs by Ajamu, taken in the 1990s.
Gutierrez produced the photographs in 2018, who masks herself and assumes the guise of Aztec, Mayan and Yoruba deities in order to examine the role that they served within their own cultures, as well as the way in which they have been interpreted and portrayed by the West. Ajamu captured friends and lovers in intimate yet playful portraits, through which Ajamu draws on the “energy, tension and sexual frankness” of pornography. Ajamu started working through the medium of photography at the height of the AIDS crisis and proclaims: “Pleasure is political (…) There is no fixed line between a photographer and an activist – a photographer is an activist.”
Kiss My Genders, Hayward Gallery, 12.06.2019 – 08.09.2019