"Robert Mapplethorpe Self Portrait, image obtained from Elvert Barnes' flickr"
by Asri Alhamdaputra
Mapplethorpe is my hero.
I've never felt like more of a stereotype than by saying these words. As an artsy femme queer majoring in art, claiming my love for Mapplethorpe is like saying the sky is blue. First of all, he's fine AF. Have you seen his self portraits? Leather zaddy alert. But more importantly, his works are deliberately irreverent, putting jarring homoerotic depictions of male sexuality in front of your face. In the 70's, capturing close-up pictures of dicks was unheard of, let alone celebrated. Mapplethorpe was the O.G. gay that paved the way for all of today's instathot gays; Mapplethorpe walked so Adam Rippon could run.
But his ingeniousness goes far beyond the idea of taking explicit homoerotic pictures. He blurs the line between high art and pornography; his photographs are soft and intimate, yet simultaneously harsh and upfront. He normalizes BDSM subculture and elevates it onto a pedestal for the mainstream to acknowledge. Namely, Mapplethorpe laughs at 50 Shades of Grey, representing the BDSM community accurately instead of romanticizing it to fit the fantasies of a middle-aged suburban white mom. He questions the notion of censorship in the world of art, and explores many unconventional iterations of the nude form.
Needless to say, Mapplethorpe's sensual while critical portraits of erotica awarded him the reputation of being the L'Enfant Terrible of the art world. Many museums canceled Mapplethorpe’s show during his solo exhibition tour in the late 80’s on the basis of their hesitation to political involvement with his art.
But let’s be real, all art, with or without intention, is political. That’s just the T. In the late 80’s, during the pinnacle of the AIDS crisis, the heat of the ACT UP’s movement, a time where people still believed AIDS was sent by god to punish gay people, turning down a chance to exhibit Mapplethorpe’s Self Portrait with a Bullwhip (1978) is not just contradictory to what museums are supposed to do (serving for the public’s greater good), it’s discriminatory to an entire group of people who are literally dying by huge numbers daily.
Perhaps that’s what makes Mapplethorpe a legend; his ability to make the viewer scrutinize the politics of museums and the art world in general. Mapplethorpe’s portraits are not only close-ups of dicks; they are close-ups of dicks with the intent of normalizing images of male genitalia for the mainstream to see. It inquired deliberately why the female nude is considered high art while close-up of dicks is subversive and political. It’s close-up of dicks, and it’s art, deal with it!
But sis, let’s address the elephant in the room. Do you think Mapplethorpe was a bottom? I mean, Self Portrait with Bullwhip? Truly this is what the entirety of this column is about, discussing how much of a power bottom Mapplethorpe truly was. He was the messiah us bottoms want and deserve. As a femme non-binary queer, I can only dream of taking a straight up bullwhip up my ass and pose so effortlessly to take a fierce photo. This, of course, adds to the long list of reasons why Mapplethorpe is an important icon in my life. He spearheads media representation for bottoms. Because it’s fun and games for the straights to be an ally for the gays, until the images of penetrative gay sex are publicized. Then, all of a sudden, it’s seditious.
by Gillian Robin
Detroit’s earrings in Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You (2018) Image obtained from racked.com.
“What’s all this?” I asked as I walked into my Unit 3 dorm room, exhausted after reading a 36 page journal article about gold leafing in illuminated manuscripts. I was a freshman and those were the light-hearted, pre-Trump days where my biggest problem was the budgeting of meal points.
“Beads,” my roommate, Kate, replied, “for, like, making earrings.”
I immediately dropped my backpack, forgot my fatigue, and picked up some wire and pliers. As a newly-liberated, almost-official person (I was still 17), I often looked to sparkles and hair dye as equipment for personal cultivation. Kate, my partner in self-determination, encouraged and paralleled my crafty endeavours, from going “halfsies” on an overpriced glitter face stick, to letting me borrow her purple lipstick, to buying ink and rubbing alcohol for our dorm room stick and poke parties. These fleeting and often foolish experiments resulted in nothing more than fun instagram posts and compliments at themed parties. But when I walked in on Kate’s explosion of beads, I felt a certain radicalness in crafting, in making something to embellish or express myself that didn’t rely on permanent body modifications or shelling out $30 for lipstain. I felt, for the first time, that my representation was genuine, that by removing naive impulsion or the mediation of market I was free to honestly create myself.
In Boots Riley’s chillingly-relatable, authentically “Oaklanish” Sorry to Bother You (2018), Cassius Green’s sign-spinning, performance-artist partner, Detroit, used earrings as not only a method of expression, but as a form of aesthetic protest, a means of appropriating femininity and gendered clothing and politicizing. In a world of pussy hats and vagina patches, Detroit’s earring collection represents the true potential and liberation of craft that I discovered in my dorm room. Within craftwork, there lies an ability to co-opt historically feminine skills and qualities (dangling earrings, knitting, embroidering, quilting, etc.) in order to erase binaries and expand conceptions of gender. By having control and technical aptitude with a needle and thread, we are able to use our skills and perform our gender as a way of collapsing those very notions of gender. When I see artsy, men or male-presenting people with painted nails and one dangly earring, I can’t help but feel empowered, as if the slippage of between art and craft mirrors this slippage of gendered binaries that our generation fights so ardently for.
Kate and I weren’t the only one’s picking up trash around campus to make earrings out of. I looked around, and most of my femme friends made or inherited earrings that meant something bigger and deeper that freshman year boredom. We were following our foremothers, using our boundaries of femininity to our advantage. Except instead of making essential tools, like baskets and blankets, we represent our utility to the world by actively forcing ourselves into it, one pom-pom earring at a time.