featured gallery for September 2019

The Melody of the Flesh

"Is this about discrimination? Of not having the opportunity to come to your side? Of not being able to forget that you are afraid to enter me?" (Marta Dillon, 2004: 69-70)

The eruption of HIV transformed social relations and the forms of governing bodies, bodies imagined without desire and without sex. There is an existential fear that a possible romantic partner might reject you for fear of contagion. Society normalizes, demonizes or rewards certain behaviors. There has been a lot of talk about AIDS since the early 1980’s but little discussion about what happens in intimate relationships and the rediscovery of sexuality in a patriarchal, anti-erotic society.

For this web gallery, I'm highlighting the visual path of artists for whom the body and eroticism are central axes of resonance in their dissident works. The selected artists explore the intersection between HIV/AIDS and the revolutionary function of eroticism. Their work explores sadomasochist fantasies and BDSM subculture, punk sensibility, fearless transparency, sexy aliens,Egyptian myths, and a neo-dada spirit in a taboo territory,. Eroticism provides a means of basic communication with a rebellious tendency. An invitation to experience the body and disease, activating dissident modes of survival through erotic imagination.

In the words of the inspiring Douglas Crimp, who recently passed away (rest in power), there is a necessity to build creative and erotic bonds, landscapes of resistance and pleasure:

“Having learned to support and grieve for our lovers and friends; having joined the fight against fear, hatred, repression, and inaction; having adjusted our sex lives so as to protect ourselves and one another – we are now reclaiming our subjectivities, our communities, our culture…and our promiscuous love of sex.”
(Douglas Crimp, “How to Have Promiscuity in an Epidemic,” 1988)

This web gallery offers counter-images, radical aesthetics against the stigmatizing and hegemonic rhetoric about people living with HIV as suffering and dying patients who need to renounce pleasure. Instead of representations of domesticity and normative sexualities, these artists display sexual disobedience, the necessity of intimacy, the therapeutic possibility of sexual availability, and a poetic eroticism of the body. An intergenerational, cross cultural dialogue with explicit rejection of the hegemonic narratives of HIV/AIDS and the biopolitical management of the flesh. A pact of visual resistance putting bodies on the line to overcome despair, a boycott of institutions of discipline and control that regulate sexual behaviors.

Liliana Maresca (1951–1994) was an Argentine artist born in 1951 in Avellaneda, Buenos Aire. She died of AIDS-related complications in 1994. Her artwork includes sculpture, painting, graphic montages, art objects and installations. Her artistic journey began in the early 1980s, duringf the Argentinian post-dictatorship. Her art embraces processes that involve the body, intimacy and the historical tragedy of her native country. Body and eroticism were the central axis of her performances. In the selected pieces above, Maresca can be seen in active relation with her work. “Eroticism is the most primary communication, and I am talking about love, about meeting, about friendship with another. I am rescuing the possibility of enjoying my body, which was not made to suffer but to enjoy." (Liliana Maresca documentos : selección de textos publicados e inéditos y de otros documentos sobre Liliana Maresca (2006), edited by Graciela Hasper)

Steven Arnold (1943–1994) was an artist, visionary filmmaker, spiritualist, and photographer born in Oakland, California, and pioneer of the contraculture of San Francisco in the late sixties. Arnold was consistent in his activism as drag queen, starting with The Cockettes, a San Francisco psychedelic drag troupe that was highly interested in the demolition of social constructs. His vibrant surrealist photographs in black and white were conceived in an old Factory in Los Angeles which he called Zanzibar Studio. Arnold was a Salvador Dalí protegé and helped to build Dalí’s Theater-Museum in Figueres, Spain. His films were deeply influenced by the spiritual and the subconscious, Jungian archetypes, Eastern philosophy and ancients rituals, and erotic encounters between lovers.

Marguerite Van Cook's work utilizes an amalgam of low and high tech to create cinematic images that open spaces for the imagination and enable the viewer to experience color as a vehicle for exploration. She invites the viewer to enter "untold" stories in the sequential imagery of her "unmade" film series. Van Cook came to New York with her punk band The Innocents after touring with The Clash. Her other credits include poet (she was awarded the Van Rensselear Prize while at Columbia), writer, critic, comic book artist, and actor. Her current graphic novel in collaboration with James Romberger is a generational autobiography entitled "The Late Child and Other Animals." Her collaborative project with David Wojnarowicz and James Romberger, "Seven Miles a Second," a graphic memoir of Wojnarowicz‘s life and death, is in its second edition in America.

Reza Abdoh (1963–1995) was an Iranian-born American theatre director and playwright known for his groundbreaking, experimental productions; violent, erotic and highly politicized. Abdoh died of AIDS-related complications in 1995 at the age of 32, having created an impressive body of stage spectacles known for their sensory overload, ferocious energy; a mix of rage and pain, and hallucinatory dreamscapes, often compare with Artaud, Goya and Baudelaire. Abdoh was an enigmatic and prolific creative force, constantly trying new things and pushing the boundaries of theatre.

Rebecca Guberman-Bloom is an artist, filmmaker and painter born in California, living in Portland, Oregon. Her photo collages and paintings portray a universe where femininity mingles hauntingly with darkness and despair. Guberman-Bloom has been living with HIV since she was diagnosed at 17. She is the creator of the documentary film, Bloodlines, about HIV and youth.

Jack Waters is a visual artist, filmmaker, writer, media artist, choreographer and performer. His visual art was represented in 2014 in the Visual AIDS exhibition “Ephemera as Evidence” at La Mama Galleria. He is the creator of the digital art work Superschmoozio, the game of the international Art Market. Waters was a co-founder of Naked Eye Cinema, a component of Abc No Rio's film program, and an international venue for experimental film from 1985-1992. He was a founding contributing writer for Color Life, the news journal for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered and two-spirited people of Color, and for LGNY, New York City's LGBT news bi-weekly.

Rotimi Fani-Kayode (1955–1989) was born in 1955 in Lagos, Nigeria. His father was a politician and chieftain of Ife, the ancestral Yoruba capital. In 1966, amid the Nigerian Civil War, 11-year-old Fani-Kayode moved with his family to Brighton, England. Fani-Kayode´s photographs are radical and erotic, particularly focusing on black male bodies, sexuality and desire, inspired by Yoruba divinity and cosmology. With an abstract and expressive approach, the theme of displacement, identity and otherness are also vital in Fani-Kayode´s photographs. "I see parallels now between my own work and that of the Osogbo artists in Yorubaland who themselves resisted the cultural subversions of neo-colonialism and who celebrate the rich, secret world of our ancestors."

Jimmy De Sana (1949–1990) was an American artist, and a key figure in the East Village punk art scene of the 1970s and 1980s. De Sana's photography has been described as "anti-art" in its approach to capturing images of the human body, in a manner ranging from "savagely explicit to purely symbolic". William S. Burroughs wrote the introduction to his collection of photographs Submission, which was self-published in 1980.

Leonard Fink (1930–1992) was an amateur photographer who documented over 25 years of gay life in New York including parades, bars, and especially the west side piers. He worked in complete obscurity and was apparently very reclusive. His photographs were seen by only a few close friends and were never exhibited or published in his lifetime. He seems to have taught himself photography using an old 35mm camera and a homemade darkroom in his small apartment on West 92nd street. (Biography excerpted from The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center.)

Martin Wong (1946–1999) was a painter whose meticulous visionary realism is among the lasting legacies of New York's East Village art scene of the 1980's and a precursor of the identity-driven work of the 90's. He was 53 when he died in 1999 and had lived in San Francisco since 1994. In the heyday of the East Village, where the local styles tended toward graffiti art, neo-Expressionism and late Conceptualism, Mr. Wong carved out a territory all his own. His art was as culturally complex as his appearance, which was usually distinguished by a Fu Manchu mustache and a cowboy hat.

David Cannon Dashiell (1952–1993) was a painter that emerged into the Bay Area art scene in 1986. Dashiell served on the board of The Lab and volunteered as a mentor to fellow artist living with AIDS at Visual AID (a San Francisco-based organization with a parallel mission to Visual AIDS). His body of work addressed the ostracism of homosexuals and people with AIDS. Dashiell's panoramic masterpiece Queer Mysteries, owned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, is a room-sized mural featuring twenty-eight acrylic emulsion reverse paintings on plexiglas panels. is.

Patrick Angus (1953–1992) was born in North Hollywood, CA and later moved to New York City where he was deemed “The Toulouse-Lautrec of Times Square” for his works depicting young male erotic dancers at the Gaiety Theatre. His work centered around the underground gay life in Los Angeles and New York in the 1970’s and 80’s. He was inspired by Picasso, Matisse, and Hockney in particular. With bold colors and brilliant iridescence, Angus painted large canvases based on his personal obsession with erotic loneliness, depicting scenes in bars, bathhouses, porn theaters and strip shows.