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African-American and African Diaspora Art  
 
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Sunil Gupta (b. 1953), a gay Canadian, India-born photographer considered "black" in his adopted Britain, focuses both his images and writings on the black, often African, male body. He is a member of Autograph, the Association of Black British Photographers, which was founded in London in 1988 to provide a forum and venue for photographic artists in Britain of Caribbean, African, and South Asian origin.

Among the early (and current) members of Autograph whose work has been heavily promoted and published by the organization are, in addition to Gupta, gay photographers Ajamu (b. 1963) and co-founder Rotimi Fani-Kayode; lesbian photographer Ingrid Pollard (b. 1953); and gay American photographer Lyle Ashton Harris (b. 1965).

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Gay British filmmaker Steve McQueen (b. 1969) emerged in the late 1980s with films exploring issues of displacement and exile. The journal Ten.8, published in Birmingham, England, has also been a rich source of discussion regarding sexual and gender identity.

Because many black British artists are not native-born or are first generation Britons, their work often addresses questions of both national and sexual identities. Ajamu's work, for example, articulates the dualities that black gay men experience. "Being a black queer photographer in England is akin to surviving in enemy territory," the artist wrote in 1998. "My mission is to create radical, challenging and innovative work that cuts through the bullshit surrounding the unsatisfactory/dishonest way that sex/sexuality and those with culturally forbidden lives/desires are represented (or hidden) within British society."

Rotimi Fani-Kayode, from a family of Yoruba priests, explored his sexuality through intimate self-portraits and portraits of male friends in which the body becomes both icon and metaphor for cultural displacement, spirituality, and sexuality.

Ingrid Pollard's work explores environmental racism, class, gender, and lesbianism in subjects ranging from self-portraits positioning the black woman's body in the traditional English landscape and diaristic tableaux about coming out to architectural details in cyanotype.

Another black lesbian artist in Britain is Jacqui Duckworth (b. 19??), a filmmaker whose work focuses on her battle with multiple sclerosis. She compares her "coming out" as a lesbian with "coming out" as a person living with a disease.

African-American Gay Male Artists

Several gay and lesbian African-American artists have also achieved recognition; and, as in England, artists incorporating photographic imagery are at the forefront. Some artists employ explicit gay male imagery while others are more subtle in explorations of their sexuality.

Among the best known African-American artists is filmmaker Marlon Riggs (1957-1994), whose Tongues Untied (1989) is a controversial yet groundbreaking representation of black gay sexuality. Riggs' other films, such as Ethnic Notions (1987), Color Adjustments (1991), and Black Is . . . Black Ain't (1995), explore the history of race and ethnicity in the United States.

Some artists use self-portraiture to explore issues of the representation of gender and sexuality in the media and popular culture. New York-based Iké Udé is an important black presence as an artist, writer, and publisher of aRUDE magazine, which focuses on art, fashion and culture. He is not gay or bisexual, but his style might be described as "Victorian dandy" and is deeply influenced by African gender-role playing.

For his 1996 "Cover Girl" series, Udé recreated a series of popular magazine covers, from Town and Country, Time, Ebony, Vogue, and others, using self-portraits not only to subvert the dominant definitions of male and female roles but also to take shots at specific figures within the culture, such as Michael Jackson and Mike Tyson. In collaboration with Lyle Ashton Harris, Udé has also produced evocative works that challenge gender roles in popular culture and art history.

In his own self-portraits, Harris constructs a gay narrative through fantasy and cross-dressing. Harris' sexually explicit self-portraits are confrontational, calling attention to the exclusion of such images from the dominant media. Harris also collaborates with his brother, gay filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris (b. 1962).

Their 1994 triptych "Brotherhood, Crossroads, Etcetera" depicts the nude brothers embracing while holding guns and kissing while Thomas points a gun at Lyle's chest. The work explores notions of intimacy--not necessarily sexuality--between black males. "The images . . . speak to the ambivalence around two people who love each other critically," explains Lyle, "yet have dealt with issues of mirroring, envy and competition. This is nothing new for we are all familiar with the Cain and Abel biblical narrative."

Other artists have taken a more documentary approach to represent communities. For example, a portrait series by Vincent Alan W. (1960-1996), "Queens Without a Country: Afro-American Homosexuals Who Have Changed the Face of Berlin" (1986-1987), depicts black expatriate gay men in Europe. Previously, W. worked primarily in New York, where he photographed gay black life. The straightforward and honest Berlin images are coupled with the subjects' own words and shed light on a marginalized group as they speak of their desires, aspirations, and frustrations.

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