The Dynamics of Color and LVA: Lesbians in the Visual Arts

Community-based groups have thrived on the West Coast. A multi-cultural group of lesbian artists, curators, and commentators has gathered under the umbrella of San Francisco based LVA: Lesbians in the Visual Arts, established in 1990. Photographer and LVA founding director Happy/L.A. Hyder (b. 1947) uses her self-awareness as an American of Lebanese ancestry to encourage diverse participation.

fig. 19: Ivy & Acey, 1996
© Happy/L.A. Hyder

LVA grew out of the powerful response to "The Dynamics of Color: Lesbian Artists Respond to Racism" exhibition. In the show, the mixed heritage of the curators combined with the draw of the theme and the venue in which it was mounted to produce a broadly representational exhibit. Hyder writes of the exhibit that it "was a way to include artists as activists and to make clearer to those who are politically active how crucial our artists are to political work. As it was also a way to visually demonstrate the lesbian community's vital, thinking and active part in the civil rights struggle." (LVA newsletter, undated.)

Victoria Lena Manyarrows (b. 1956) was one of the photographers whose work was included in "The Dynamics of Color." Manyarrows, of Tsalagi, Eastern Cherokee and Italian ancestry, exhibited images of lesbian and gay Native activists, some of which were later published in Forbidden Subjects: Self-Portraits by Lesbian Artists. (see Making Space / Taking Space below.)

fig. 20: Today We Will Not Be Invisible
© Victoria Lena Manyarrows

Lesbian Photographers of African Ancestry

Jean Weisinger (b. 1954), of African and Native ancestry, has celebrated lesbians and other creative, intellectual women by traveling and photographing around the world. She has published portraits of prominent lesbian authors like Audre Lorde and Merle Woo, but stresses that it is the spirit of a subject which attracts her, not the sexual preference or the gender. Imagery: Women Writers, a calendar/datebook collection of Weisinger's portraits, is the only photo book by an openly lesbian photographer of African or Native ancestry published in the U.S. at this time.

fig. 21: Seeing Myself Through Alice Walker's Eyes
© Jean Weisinger

Work by another lesbian of African ancestry, H. Lenn Keller (b. 1951), has appeared in a variety of publications including Bridges and Aché, A Publication for Black Lesbians. Margaret Sloan-Hunter, a founding editor of Ms. magazine and admirer of Keller's work, says that "it is deliberate, poignant and memorable." (Letter to the author, January 1998.)

fig. 22: Untitled, mixed-media photograph
© H. Lenn Keller

Making Space / Taking Space

Single individuals with a passionate sense of urgency can make a substantial difference in the discourse of any given time. African American critic/curator Adrienne Fuzee has participated in many LVA events and often publishes in their newsletter. Notable for the clarity of her commentary, she is currently examining the cultural impact of lesbian photography.

The impact of the writing/editing/publishing activities of Caffyn Kelley, a Canadian of European ancestry, is immense. Through her quarterly Gallerie: Women's Art (1987-1993) and Gallerie monographs published out of North Vancouver, B.C., Kelley created an intellectual space for women artists, including lesbians, to share their work. A lesbian herself, she edited and published Forbidden Subjects: Self-Portraits by Lesbian Artists which, like Gallerie, promoted difficult-to-locate work by a diverse and multi-cultural group of women artists.

Los Angeles-based photographer, curator, and teacher Laura Aguilar (b. 1959) was featured in Gallerie and again in Forbidden Subjects. Aguilar's "Latina Lesbians" series used words and images to foreground the lives of women she knew and lives which she felt had been hidden. Her self-portraits, especially the nude images which use the voluminous folds of her own body, are stark and provocative.

fig. 23: from "Latina Lesbians"
© Laura Aguilar

V. Sexuality

All text Tee A. Corinne.