Art has always been a powerful visual canvas. Politics, identity, sexuality, poverty, despair, war – art speaks and shows where words and speeches fall short.
Gender and sexuality is a concept that many artists reflect on in their work. Art is a successful medium in which to explore desires, question identities and project our own sexuality. In turn, the audience can subsequently question their own.
Here’s list of the most powerful LGBTQ identities in art:
Susan at the house on Hedges Lane, Wainscott, Long Island
Annie Leibovitz and Susan Sontag were lovers for over 15 years. Sontag features heavily in Leibovitz’s work and subsequently Leibovitz’s lens seems to be captivated by the figure of Sontag. Shown here with lethargic grace – legs apart, arms separated – it has a slightly sexual undertone. There is no questioning of sexuality or identity here, nor is it explicit. It’s a fluid, natural and unapologetic showcase of love.
A prominent artist in New York City during the 1980s, David Wojnarowicz’s work took a highly political edge following his diagnosis with aids.
Powerful, unflinching and petrifying – aids was never so visually explicit than in Wojnarowisc’s work, itself titled ‘Visual Aids’. Livid and densely symbolic, his work presents his view as an outsider, a gay man trapped in a homophobic world.
Self Portrait with Cropped Hair
Kahlo was a powerful symbol of the surrealist movement, although she openly denied the term.
Openly bisexual and dressed in men’s clothing, this self-portrait is uncompromising, unapologetic and powerful. She had relationships with both men and women, most noticeably with Josephine Baker.
While this work does not necessarily draw from the sexual, it gives us explicit insight into the many faces of Frida Kahlo. Relentless, passionate, uncompromising, brutal and raw.
His work is explicit, controversial and questionable. He does not hide his sexuality, he openly and brazenly celebrates it. His pseudo-pornographic and glorified sexual style both shocks and intrigues.
His most interesting work is of his exploration of his own homosexual identity. In one self-portrait he stares directly into the camera wearing a full face of makeup. It’s a powerful image that questions the distinctions between male and female.
Her subject matter is shocking but simultaneously classical and composed. Her series of portraits during the 1990s of transgender women and men, drag queens, and leather dykes gained her international acclaim. Opie rejects ideas of voyeurism or naturalism, and rather displays a unique sense of formality with her portraits. It is a controlled composition that totally upends the ideals of gender and sexual binaries.
A transgender artist whose series of photographs titled ‘Relationships’ explores the gender transition of both he and his partner. It is an intimate, in-depth and honest snapshot.
Moments of solitude are punctuated with other photographs of intense privacy. The biennale and every day existence – doing make-up, fondling each other, staring into the abyss, it somehow seems ever more poignant because of the transitions.
The photographs are all the more powerful because Drucker chooses not to explicitly show the gender transformation itself. While it is the main focus of the collection, it is explicitly hidden and therefore somewhat inconsequential.
No artist projected himself more explicitly, more unequivocally into his work than Andy Warhol. His flair and artistic temperament blurs the line between art and advertising.
His portraits, one could argue are more pop culture than traditional art. However, his drawings of the gay underground culture provide an interesting insight into notions of Warhol and his sexual identity. Erotic, voyeuristic and playful, they both confront, challenge and delight his viewers.