Expressing Lesbian and Queer Identities in the Works of Three Contemporary Artists of New Mexico

Article excerpt

Recommended for Grades 10-12

Three artists from New Mexico who identify as lesbian or queer create work that is informed by their life experiences. Their works show no literal explanations but depict symbolic resolutions. Who they are and what they have experienced have had a strong impact on their work. Through specific materials and distinct color palettes they share certain elements of their identities and experiences with viewers. It is the viewer's task to try and discover what the works are about and what each artist has communicated.

Knowing about artists can help us to understand their art. Just as art teachers discuss the lives of artists who identify as straight, they can also include information about the lives and works of artists who identify as lesbian, gay, or queer. Often students only see depictions of heterosexual identity in the curriculum. Including artists that represent other sexual identities can not only help lesbian, gay, and queer students develop a positive sense of self when they see such representations in the curriculum, but can also help all students understand the meaning of living in a democracy.

This instructional resource will focus on the lives and works of three contemporary artists from New Mexico. Two of these artists, Harmony Hammond and Helen Cozza, identify themselves as lesbian, and another, Erin Forrest, identifies herself as queer. Defining oneself as queer or lesbian is a personal choice. The term "queer" is used by some as an "umbrella covering multiple gender identities," and can include such oppressed communities as "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, intersexual, two spirited, curious, and supportive . . . peoples" (Cosier, Lampela, Moreno de la Gamica, Sanders, Smith-Shank, Rhodes, & Whitehead, 2005, p, 76). In addition, queer theory "calls attention to the ways gender, race, class, and sexualities are perpetually performed and perceived by performers in different spaces, cultures, and times" (Cosier et al., 2005, p. 82). Although the work of Hammond, Cozza, and Forrest may not overtly reference their sexual identity, it is definitely informed by it. Recognizing how an artist's identity can be symbolically or metaphorically conveyed in his or her work can help all students better understand how their own experience of life can inform their art.

About the Artists

About the Works

Harmony Hammond

Hammond, who identifies herself as queer lesbian, is a first-generation lesbian feminist artist. She was born in 1944 in Chicago, Illinois and grew up in a lower middle class housing project on Chicago's south side. She received a Bachelor of Arts in painting from the University of Minnesota in 1967 and moved to New York City just months after the Stonewall Riots' in 1969. During the late 1960s, Hammond was married for a short time and later gave birth to a daughter. During the 1970s, she met weekly with a group of feminist artists to discuss each other's work. In 1973, she came out as a lesbian and initiated several lesbian art projects. Furthermore as a pioneer of the feminist art movement, Hammond is well known tor her wrapped fabric sculptures of the 1970s and early 1980s. During the 1990s, Hammond focused on large-scale, mixedmedia installation paintings that combined the tradition of oil painting with assorted materials such as human hair and corrugated roofing tin (Lampela, 2007). Her works from 2000-2009 are near-monochrome paintings that both engage with and subvert the history of modernist painting, particularly their fugitive color and surface, constituting what might be called queer space (Hammond, personal communication, March 13, 2009). Hammond has been praised as one of the big hitters of modernist abstraction (Reed, 2005). Hammond retired as a Professor of Art at the University of Arizona in 2005 where she had taught for 17 years. Moreover, Hammond (2000) is the author of the pioneering book Lesbian Art in America: A Contemporary History, which won the Lambda Literary Award and is considered the primary text on contemporary lesbian art. …