Academe-influenced Queer Aesthetics

By the mid-1980s, many younger, university-trained lesbian and gay artists had begun to explore the social construction of desire, examining it as fluid and changeable rather than fixed. This new era of social commentarians often used irony, employed staged or tableau-style imagery, and emphasized flux in sexual and gender awareness. Photographs might include or be linked to texts. Work produced within this context frequently was directed toward an art world audience and exhibited in mainstream venues.

Hanh Thi Pham (b. 1954) was born in Vietnam and received her B.A., M.A., and M.F.A. in the U.S. She has produced complex, evocative, photo-involved installations. She writes, "As an activist artist, I continue to construct Lesbian-specific imageries (sexual and non-sexual), and to explore metamorphic Asian identities." (Hanh Thi Pham. Fukuoka City, Japan: Fukuoka Art Museum, 1997.)

fig. 32: Lesbian Precepts (detail), 1992
© Hanh Thi Pham

fig. 33: Lesbian Precepts (installation), 1992
© Hanh Thi Pham

With a dry, sometimes acerbic wit, Kaucyila Brooke uses cartoon-style word balloons, juxtaposition, and photographic toning in her large scale photo installations. She writes that it "has always been important to me that lesbianism exist as a contextual issue in my work. It has not been the subject of my work but the frame for other narrative and critical issues about the linguistic construction of meaning." (see K. Brooke's artist statement)

fig. 34: Unknown Deviances (What A Dish!) # 8, 1989
© Kaucyila Brooke

Between 1986 and 1988, Hong Kong-born Gaye Chan (b. 1957), with an M.F.A. from the San Francisco Art Institute, produced a lyrical series of images called "Angel on Folding Chair." The large-scale b&w photographs have a surrealistic, dreamlike narrative quality enhanced by seeing them in a group. Of them she writes "I think that I was trying to prove myself lesbian. Now...I go where my lesbian heart directs, whether the subject at hand is crocheting or tourism." (Letter to the author, December 1997)

fig. 35: from the series "Angel on Folding Chair", 16" x 20",
silver gelatin print, 1986-1988
© Gaye Chan

In the early 1990s, a Vancouver, B.C.-based trio calling themselves Kiss & Tell produced a touring exhibit and two books, Drawing the Line: Lesbian Sexual Politics on the Wall and Her Tongue On My Theory. Collectively they explored the nature of sexual representation through images of staged sexual activity. In the "Drawing the Line" exhibit they asked viewers to decide where the line of censorship should be drawn.

fig. 36: Drawing the Line, cover, 1991, Kiss & Tell
© Press Gang Publishers, Vancouver, B.C. Canada

VIII. Visualizing Identity in the 1990s

All text Tee A. Corinne.