presents the exhibition Queerness in Photography
, integrating three exhibitions into one show, Under Cover. A Secret History of Cross-Dressers
from Sébastien Lifshitz’s collection, Casa Susanna by Cindy Sherman and Orlando, curated by Tilda Swinton.
A young man looks gracefully at the camera, his head slightly turned, delicate rouge shimmering on his high cheekbones, lips painted a seductive red, and light blue eye shadow glistening on his eyelids. In this half-portrait, his pink-lacquered fingers touch his right cheek, and a ring features prominently on his pinkie. Is this actually the likeness of a woman? Are we able to determine a person’s identity simply by reading gender-specific visual codes?
C/O examines the representation of identity, gender, and sexuality in photography in three complementary exhibitions entitled Queerness in Photography
, ranging from historical image material that shows the act of photographing as a way to find one’s identity, a documentation of a safe space that is unique in the history of photography, to contemporary forms of expressing gender fluidity, all of which bring up the question of whether socially constructed genders are even topical today.
The three exhibitions reveal a complex panorama and show that photography can also be an act of liberation and self-empowerment. By visualising one’s own identity or documenting the common solidarity in the queer community, new forms of artistic representation are created.
In the exhibition Under Cover. A Secret History of Cross-Dressers
, a collection of amateur photographs that French director and filmmaker Sébastien Lifshitz has amassed over several decades is presented. Since the 1860s people used the medium of photography to question and challenge their assigned gender identity based on clothing or physical traits. Without knowledge of the particular genesis or personal motivation of the individual photographs, these depictions clearly express the wish of the people portrayed to explore themselves before the camera: in addition to the rebellion against imposed social expectations and political regulations they become aware of their own identity in the photographic self-portraits.Casa Susanna
, Cindy Sherman’s collection presents original photographs from the of the same name, which was a safe space for cross-dressers and trans women in Hunter, New York, in the 1950s and 1960s. Within this small community, members could together explore their identities at a time when lifestyles, sexuality, and gender deviating from heteronormative expectations and conventions were stigmatised and even prosecuted. The act of photographing within this community was socially volatile, since the members were documenting something that was not allowed at the time: a life out- side of socially constructed gender roles as well as personal growth that was based on an individual’s own needs.
In 1992 Tilda Swinton played the gender-nonconforming lead role in Sally Potter’s award-winning film Orlando
, which was based on the eponymous novel written by Virginia Woolf in 1928. Woolf’s novel tells the story of a young aristocrat who lives for centuries. Without aging, the character in the novel is also able to mysteriously change his gender.
The works in Orlando
, curated by Tilda Swinton, some of which were created especially for the show, present various perspectives on questions of identity, gender, origin, and sexuality. Through the diversity of artistic approaches and perspectives, common concepts, forms of representation, and power relations are broken. Through the choice of the artists, their artistic new interpretation of the topics, and the identity-bestowing construction of new narratives, generally marginalized or underrepresented views are given a stage. The visual reflection of human existence in its diversity is at the same time an inspiring call for impartiality, empathy, and tolerance in contemporary art photography.