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American Art: Gay Male, Post-Stonewall  
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Barrie's trial was focused primarily on Mapplethorpe's X-Portfolio, an extended series of photographs produced largely in the late 1970s, which featured elegantly composed and lit images of fist-fucking and other S&M sexual practices. Expert witnesses, testifying on Barrie's behalf, managed to convince the jury that Mapplethorpe was primarily concerned with aesthetic, rather than sexual, matters.

Sexually Explicit Images

Many of those who publicly condemned Mapplethorpe's exhibitions linked the sexual acts depicted in the X-Portfolio to the AIDS epidemic. Confronted with the AIDS hysteria of the late 1980s, numerous gay community leaders called upon artists to avoid explicit depictions of S&M sexuality.

Yet, some artists have continued to create powerful images of the S&M sexual "underground." Prominent among these artists is Mark Chester, who describes himself as a gay radical sex photographer. Although Chester's photographs are often likened to Mapplethorpe's, his work is distinctive in several respects. Although he composes his images as carefully as Mapplethorpe did, Chester avoids the elegant "aloofness" of Mapplethorpe's X-Portfolio in order to reveal the intimate feelings linking his subjects to one another and often to himself.

Moreover, Chester seldom depicts individuals who resemble the handsome, athletic young men who predominated in the work of Mapplethorpe. Instead, Chester celebrates the intense masculinity and sensuality of heavyset middle-aged men, wearing glasses; Hassidic leather daddies, clad in the ritual attire of both Orthodox Judaism and the S&M underground; and others who are usually excluded from erotic art.

Racial and Ethnic Issues

The mainstream media, which gave so much attention to the explicit sexual imagery of the X-Portfolio, tended to overlook the racism of such Mapplethorpe images as Man in a Polyester Suit (1980) and many of his other photographs of African-American men. However, within the gay community, this aspect of Mapplethorpe's work stimulated debate about the dominance of white perspectives in gay erotic art. Prominent cultural critics, such as Kobena Mercer, called attention to the work of gay artists of color and condemned the lack of exposure of their work.

Many recent artists of color have articulated distinctive visions of gay sexualities and communities that challenge the racist ideology evident in much of the erotic imagery created by white gay men. In this respect, their work realizes the goals of unjustly overlooked, earlier twentieth-century artists of color, such as Bruce Nugent.

For instance, in Tongues Untied (1989) and other films, Marlon Riggs celebrated the African-American gay community and investigated how it was impacted by racism, internalized homophobia, and AIDS. Another African-American artist, Glenn Ligon has created photograph "albums" and multi-media installations, such as Feast of Scraps (1995), which reveal the unacknowledged presence of gay men in African-American families and visualize histories and dreams of love and desire among black men.

The essays and videos (such as My Mother's Place, 1991) produced by activist/artist Richard Fung, attack racist conceptions of "rice queens" and present intensely erotic images of gay men within the context of Asian-American families and communities. In such paintings as Intimidades (2000), Eugene Rodriguez has explored ways in which such factors as social class, geographic location, and ethnic heritage affect the formation of intimate relationships among Latino men.

Queer Artists

By the late 1980s, the essential structure of "gay" culture, focused exclusively upon same-sex desire among men, was challenged by a queer perspective. Queer artists oppose any limits upon sexual expressions and gender constructions, and, most often, they seek to blur other types of boundaries that limit human experience.

In his photographic tableaux, for example, Lyle Ashton Harris represents the interaction of diverse gender, sexual, racial, national, and spiritual "categories." Enacting diverse "masculine" and "feminine" roles in Brotherhood, Crossroads and Etcetera (1994), he and his brother, filmmaker and performance artist Thomas Allen Harris, envision the synthesis of Yoruba and Christian religious traditions and reveal the co-existence of violence and love in families and communities.

Queer perspectives have also been articulated vividly by many performance artists. For example, Chicago-based Lawrence Steger, working in collaboration with Iris Moore, has transgressively explored diverse gender roles and sexual identifications in such provocative, surreal pieces as Rough Trade (1994).

Martin Wong's career exemplifies the reluctance of queer artists to be confined by any pre-existing categories. His paintings of the 1980s, depicting the African and Latino communities of New York's Lower East Side, were originally dismissed by critics because they did not conform to the era's limiting "identity politics," which held that artists should articulate only the perspectives of their own ethnic/racial groups.

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