Wednesday, June 19

“˜Queer Art’ symposium to explore facets of censorship


If Bravo’s “Queer Eye For the Straight Guy”
has taught viewers anything, it’s that proper lighting in a
living room, much like a hit television show, can illuminate
desirable qualities and obscure undesirable aspects at the same
time.

The often narrow portrayal of gays and lesbians in the media
spotlight will be one of the topics discussed in “Queer Art
and Censorship: Freedom of Expression and Contemporary
Culture,” a symposium that will be held at the UCLA Hammer
Museum this Friday and Saturday.

“There have been different kinds of prohibition and forms
of constraint imposed against gay and lesbian visibility within
art,” said Richard Meyer, a symposium participant and an
associate professor of modern and contemporary art at USC.
“(The panel is) interested in not only explicit censorship,
but also more subtle forms of suppression ““ things that never
get shown because no museum will exhibit them.”

Co-sponsored by the Hammer, the Williams Project on Sexual
Orientation Law and Public Policy and the UCLA School of Law, the
event is based around Meyer’s book “Outlaw
Representation: Censorship and Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century
American Art.”

Judith Halberstam, currently a professor of gender, culture and
film in the literature department at UC San Diego, will join Meyer
as a member of the faculty at USC next fall, as well as in two
conversations on Saturday. In “Contested Visibility,”
Halberstam plans to talk about the proliferation of good images to
counter bad images as a formula for visibility.

“(People) have a tendency to think that some kind of
liberation politics hinges on simply having more good
images,” said Halberstam. “When you get those so-called
good images, the results aren’t always great. For example,
you might get images of lesbians on that new Showtime show
“˜The L Word’ that people think are breaking
stereotypes, but they’re very formulaic images in and of
themselves. While they give you visibility in one realm, they give
you invisibility in another. The lesbians that you might see in a
real club in L.A. are not going to be represented in “˜The L
Word.’”

In “Censorship in the Real World,” Meyer and
Halberstam serve as moderators in a panel discussion among artists
who’ve experienced restrictions on their freedom of
expression.

“The lecture will engage both overt and covert censorship,
but it will also be arguing that censorship doesn’t only
squash artistic production, but also produces new artistic
production and response,” said Halberstam. “Sometimes
it’ll be as simple as the way in which you caption the work.
Instead of saying two lesbians, you might say ““ as in a Diane
Arbus photo ““ “˜two friends.’”

Artist and panelist Alex Donis believes queer art is very
thought-provoking, but homophobia often prevents people from giving
it a chance.

“Whereas some queer art is very overt … I prefer being
very subtle and coy with my use of imagery,” said Donis.
“I’ve heard comments about my work: “˜Oh my god,
he puts Hitler and Holocaust survivors together having sex.’
That’s not what I do, but it puts a seed in people’s
brains regarding a subversive sense of what queer eroticism is
about.”

In 2001, Donis’s exhibition “War,” which
features 14 paintings pairing Los Angeles Police Department
officers with gang members in suggestive dancing, was pulled from
the Watts Towers Art Center by the Los Angeles City Cultural
Affairs Department a few days after its opening.

“I know the difficult situation between the LAPD and the
disenfranchised youth. I wanted to raise that line of hatred
““ kind of blur it ““ and for a moment, create a sort of
fantasy,” said Donis. “A lot of what that exhibition
was about just got lost in the whole sensationalism of what a lot
of community members were going on about the images being
pornographic. Frankly, I think a lot people who were upset about
the show never really saw the show.”

While the timing of the conference seems fitting with the
ongoing debate over the legality and morality of same-sex
marriages, Meyer notes that the conference aims to demonstrate that
alternative sexual lifestyles expand beyond heterosexual norms such
as marriage and the nuclear family.

“Issues around gay and lesbian expression and equality go
beyond marriage to include the freedom to decide that you
don’t want to get married or model your life on the dominant
culture ““ you want to create other ways of being in the
world,” said Meyer. “The artists who will be speaking
are interested in producing versions of queer visibility that
don’t mimic or conform to heterosexual standards, that
aren’t about the couple, having kids or following rules of
the culture.”

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