Queer Feminist Art!

Curatorial statement by Birthe Havmøller

No one, two or three words can ever accommodate the sheer expanse of cultural practices that oppose normative heterosexuality. The authors of the seminal book, Art and Queer Culture (Phaidon, 2013) state, ‘Writing queer culture into art history means redrawing the boundaries of what counts as art’.

Queer Feminist Art often speaks to the world about the LGBTQ* communities, the issues of identity politics and human rights for everybody(!) or it focuses on the individual artist’s sense of identity, desire, sexuality, home and belonging. At other times the artists may decide not to reflect any of these issues in their creative practice, and still be somewhat ‘other’ or ‘queer’, creating works that reflect their queer lifestyles. In a male-dominated world, women’s lives and creative practices are always political.

Feminine Moments – a queer feminist art visibility project

Feminine Moments is a one-woman, no-budget project to promote and support lesbian, bisexual and queer women artists around the world. I have created this online platform that helps make queer feminist artists visible to a wider audience on the Internet. I publish articles about contemporary queer feminist artists and our dead female ancestors. I felt that the world – especially LGBTQ* communities – needed a coherent body of resources about contemporary art made by lesbians and queer women artists so I launched Feminine Moments in November 2003.

Feminine Moments, the visibility project and art resource site, grew out of isolation; my isolation, not having had a network as a lesbian and as an emerging artist in the 1990s; not knowing how to create an in-person network as my local LGBTQ community was small in the early 2000s and there was little to no awareness about queer art or will to support it. Making a website, and disseminating knowledge and pieces of art news in this way was an attractive option. The Internet seemed to be an egalitarian tool; I had found a new voice. I could have my say in the internationally male-dominated art world by highlighting queer feminist art projects on the Internet.

My aim as an editor is to present the creative worlds of self-identified queer feminist artists as well as to highlight contemporary artists’ artworks, projects, or art events. The living artists know best how to describe their works of art, and I love publishing artists’ statements, images and video presentations by the artists themselves on the art blog. I welcome collaborations and have a running open call for materials in 2023-2024.

Now, 20 years after I launched the visibility project, I am still curious about where my art research is taking me next, and I am still as honored as I was in the early days when women artists take their time to send me materials for publication. The art blog has grown into a wonderful tool for creating a queer feminist art archive. To explore the archive just click on the artist’s name tag or browse an art category archive page.

I love queer feminist art!

The European queer feminist art herstory has not yet been written. There are huge language barriers in Europe that limit the sharing of knowledge about art and queer culture. There is no informal “canon”, because the LGBTQ* organisations hesitated for decades before they opened their eyes to utilizing art by LGBTQ artists as a means of starting a dialog about queer lifestyles, pride, queer rights, and issues of belonging in a world that is increasingly hostile and homophobic. I am grateful to all the women artists who have contributed to Feminine Moments’ art blog throughout the years.

Feminine Moments is biased in that it is made for an English-speaking readership and that I pre-dominantly present artworks/art projects for “white cubes”, museums, galleries, and/or public spaces, and resources such as Feminine Moments’ bibliography with art books, catalogues and monographs, most of which are in English. However, I am working on extending what I see as artworks to include subcultural phenomenons such as queer crafts, zines and graphic novels. Furthermore the category of “Birthe’s pick” features videos about pieces of art news or short films with artists’ talks from Europe, in other languages than English (sometimes with subtitles). The wealth of contemporary visual art made by lesbian, bisexual and queer women artists around the world is huge. The art world should pay more attention to it. As I am Danish queer feminist activist, Feminine Moments offers a unique Euro-centric approach to the phenomenon of queer feminist art around the world.

Who is who?

It is tremendously exciting to explore the diverse niche of queer feminist art. However, in the early 1990s, prior to the launch of Feminine Moments and before the Internet happened, my world was a world of lack: Where are the lesbian and queer women artists?

The Lesbian of the 1970s was by inherent nature a ‘feminist’. The street-level use and reclaiming of the derogative term ‘queer’ happened in the 1980s but it wasn’t until a decade later that the term queer turned into the polite catch-all, almost “neutral” adjective and non-sexualized term for LGBTQ+ people as in ‘queer woman’ or ‘queer feminist artist’. The queer communities presented a new ‘queer’ archetype to the world: the political activist that would fight for human rights issues and tell you that you must not assume anything about their sexuality as well as protest against the ‘old’ political agendas of the LGBT organisations. In the early 1990s, philosopher Judith Butler, a lesbian herself, and her queer colleagues created the “Queer Theory” about our identity as gendered beings and our self-presentation being a repetitive act of daily ‘performances’, presenting the individual to the world in their varying degrees of gender normative or gender non-conforming expressions. Through the 1990s the Queer Theory caught on in academia as a new method by which to analyse anything and everything, including works of art by LGBTQ artists. In the 2000s the world was beyond the point of no return: The field of ‘queer art’ had come to Europe. But the waters were muddy and I guess more women identified as lesbian artists than as female queers back then.

With the different iterations of the art blog, I improved the tagline. In 2013 my slogan and USP tagline was “Fine art by lesbian and queer women worldwide”. However, the porn industry highjacked the term “lesbian art” to the extent that, at one point, Google image searches no longer would show artworks by actual living lesbian artists but lots of soft lesbian erotica made by men. Then I adopted the term “queer feminist art” and I coined the slogan “Queer Feminist Art Worldwide”. Now, public debate and censorship have made Google remove almost all erotic imagery from their search results so that today, in a Google image search for “lesbian art”  shows drawings of queer comics characters or lesbian pulp fiction cover images, and I’ll continue utilizing the term ‘queer feminist art’ as long as it serves my cause.

The general awareness about lesbian/queer feminist art herstory was low when I launched this visibility project. Unfortunately, it still is low in Europe, where most curators of queer (feminist) art lean into the American queer art debates. I believe there were creative lesbians living and expressing themselves through art right from the beginning of the late 19th. century, however, there are big gaps in the art history timeline. The queer art history teachers will usually fill in the gaps with stories about the lives and oeuvres of famous gay male artists. I appreciate their work to reach out to the LGBTQ communities, but their queer strategy just isn’t good enough for me.

I want to know who our creative lesbian ancestors are. Their artworks may not have been discussed in a “lesbian/queer” sense when they were created but they are a part of our queer feminist art herstory, and these artists and their artworks deserve to be remembered rather than hidden in art museums around the world or in their families’ attics if their works were “private” and only meant as “erotic conversational pieces” to be shared with their dearest queer friends while they were living. I am happy to see now that the number of rediscovered lesbian artists is growing and that the European lesbian and queer feminist art herstory is rising out of the darkness of the 20th century.