After writing my essay about feminism in art it seemed logical to embark on a project exploring the topic of gender. More and more people are identifying as non-binary gender roles and although the fight is far from over there is much greater awareness surrounding the experiences of transgender individuals, especially within contemporary art. This isn’t surprising as art is often the safe haven of expression and diverse world of misfits where people on the fringes of ‘normality’ can seek support, understanding and acceptance.
While previously someone’s gender may have been considered nothing more than a biological fact (and that was that, thank you very much) in our current society the divisions are becoming blurred and it is now considered possible to switch or even transcend gender, allowing individuals to select the gender term that reflects their own identity.
I wanted to explore what happens to someone’s image when the visual clues of gender are obscured or removed. One of the artists I came across while researching for my essay was Emily Roysdon, specifically her “Untitled (David Wojnarowicz Project)” (2001-2007). In this series of 12 black and white photographs Roysdon poses in public and private settings, her face obscured by a mask of David Wojnarowicz. He was a New York artist working in the 1970’s and 80’s, who produced a photographic series that inspired Roysdon’s work. This series,”Rimbaud in New York”, featured the artist wearing a mask of French poet Arthur Rimbaud, posing in various scenes of urban life around the city. Adopting Rimbaud’s identity highlighted parallels between their lives; both abused at an early age, the feelings of denied freedom, desire to escape a ‘bourgeois environment’, and the fact of their homosexuality. The work documents the places and habits of the arts and queer communities that Wojnarowicz mixed with, juxtaposes Rimbaud’s experience with his, and explores the subject of queer visibility in contemporary art.
Roysdon’s series adopts the idea but updates it to the experience of a queer feminist woman in the 21st century. I was interested in these images firstly because it seemed that Roysdon wanted to portray a female viewpoint on a similar experience. But I was also inspired by the mixing of genders (male mask, female body). The sharp black and white of the mask stands out amid crowds, and serves to de-personalise and remove any identity from the figure. In one intimate image Roysdon lays seductively on her bed but the mask interrupts this openness and stops dead any connection for the viewer.
In one image Roysdon sits on her bed topless. The male face contrast sharply with her naked breasts. When we look down we see that she is wearing mens underwear.
This confusion of visual clues is what I aim to produce with my work. However I intend to do this through collage and stitch techniques.