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Boffin, Tessa (1962-1993)  

dyke activist Tessa Boffin was a photographer and performance artist. The first British lesbian artist to produce work in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, she was a founding member of the London-based AIDS and Photography group. Together, she and Sunil Gupta curated the travelling exhibition "Ecstatic Antibodies: Resisting the AIDS Mythology," and edited the accompanying book. Her Angelic Rebels: Lesbians and Safer Sex (1989), remains one of the most important photographic artworks to address AIDS from a lesbian perspective.

Living and working in London at a time when lesbians and gay men were starting to call themselves "queer" and when sadomasochistic sex play moved out of the margins in this new queer culture, Boffin was an outspoken advocate of lesbian sexual freedom. Working with her partner, Nerina Ferguson, she developed a queer sex-show "Crucifixion Cabaret," performed in 1992 to great controversy.

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Ferguson also participated in a photographic sequence Two Dykes and a Strait Man, The Sailor and the Whore (1992), in which a butch lesbian in sailor drag romances a gay man in full femme get up.

Boffin's work celebrates queer gender-fuck as liberating for lesbians, a stance that challenged the earlier lesbian-feminist doctrine that lesbians should, at all costs, beware of being "male-identified."

Boffin was active in promoting the importance of lesbian photography, and in bringing it to a largely ignorant audience. In 1991 she co-edited with Jean Fraser Stolen Glances: Lesbians Take Photographs, the first collection of its kind. As a photographic artist she took the staged tableau-sequence formula, used most famously by gay photographer Duane Michals, and molded it into a subtle language with which to articulate specific aspects of the lesbian experience generally erased in mainstream culture.

In her 1991 tableau-sequence The Knight's Move she presents as lesbian heroes such iconic figures as the knight in shining armor, his leather-jerkined squire, Casanova and a lady-in-waiting, all played by women. Joining them is a lesbian angel, a fantasy figure that features in much of her work.

In the accompanying commentary in Stolen Glances, Boffin writes that she wants to place herself and her fantasy figures "into the great heterosexual narratives of courtly and romantic love: by making the Knight's Move--a lateral or sideways leap."

Unselfish with her time and energy, and eager to explore and support innovation in the lesbian arts, Boffin participated in the work of others far more generously than is usual with creative artists. She may be seen, for example, as one of the actors in short tableaux between the main features in Lesbian Lycra Shorts (1992), a collection of short films from independent lesbian filmmakers.

Sadly, her continuing creativity and her growing reputation as an artist were not enough to bring her contentment. In October 1993, Tessa Boffin took her own life, in the bathroom of her London home.

Tamsin Wilton

     

    
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   Related Entries
  
arts >> Overview:  AIDS Activism in the Arts

In response to the AIDS epidemic, a number of activist groups, including Gran Fury and the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, have used art as a means to raise awareness about the epidemic.

arts >> Overview:  Erotic and Pornographic Art: Lesbian

Considering the unique set of problems facing lesbians who want to produce erotic art for the enjoyment of other lesbians, it is remarkable that so much lesbian erotica has been produced in so brief a time.

arts >> Overview:  Performance Art

Performance art has been embraced by queer artists as a means of challenging the very idea of traditional in art and culture.

arts >> Overview:  Photography: Lesbian, Post-Stonewall

Since Stonewall lesbian photographers have created an enduring archive that documents lesbian lives, searches for a lesbian sensibility, and explores various issues of particular import to the lesbian community.

social sciences >> Overview:  United Kingdom II: 1900 to the Present

Twentieth-century efforts to reform British law and public opinions about homosexuality met with mixed results, but at the beginning of the twenty-first century the United Kingdom has emerged as a leader in recognizing the rights of its glbtq citizens.

arts >> Caja, Jerome

San Francisco visual artist Jerome Caja is known for his small, sensuous combinations of found objects, which he painted with nail polish, makeup, and glitter, as well as for his drag performances.

arts >> Michals, Duane

American photographer Duane Michals represents same-sex love and spirituality as compellingly as he does same-sex desire.


    Bibliography
   

Boffin, Tessa, and Sunil Gupta, eds. Ecstatic Antibodies: Resisting the AIDS Mythology. London: Rivers Oram, 1990.

_____, and Jean Fraser, eds. Stolen Glances: Lesbians Take Photographs. London: Pandora, 1990.

Smyth, Cherry. "Dyke! Fag! Centurion! Whore! An Appreciation of Tessa Boffin." Outlooks: Lesbian and Gay Sexualities and Visual Cultures. Peter Horne and Reina Lewis, eds. London: Routledge, 1996. 109-112.

Smyth, Cherry. Damn Fine Art by New Lesbian Artists. London: Cassell, 1996.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Wilton, Tamsin  
    Entry Title: Boffin, Tessa  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated October 26, 2002  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/arts/boffin_t.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  
 

 

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