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Performance Art  
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Other contemporary artists have revived the idea of the body itself as artistic material. Ron Athey produces elaborate rituals that evoke both ancient blood rites and the terrors of modern medicine. His work features on-stage piercing, scarification, and drag queen nurses.

In 4 Scenes in a Harsh Life (1994), Athey sticks needles into his arm and scalp while describing his heroin addiction and attempted suicide. Raised as a fundamentalist Pentecostal, Athey evokes the spirit/body connection inherent in such traditional martyrs as St. Sebastian. Athey's work has also generated controversy through the use of his own HIV-positive blood in his performances.

Habeas Corpus (partners Mark McCusker and Darrell Taylor) also centers work on the body and all its functions, metabolic and metaphoric, often augmented and mediated through video and computer technology. In Naked Camera Toss (2001), the duo, joined by audience participants, play a game of catch with a video camera that projects images onto the gallery wall behind them. As the piece evolves, the running, sweating, breathing, and weight of the live bodies is contrasted to the clean, stark, weightless image created by the camera in flight.

Parody and Subversion

As queer artists have embraced the means to communicate to a wider audience, they have also critiqued the power structure maintained by the media. For example, the campy drag king ensemble Backdoor Boys spoof the inherent of popular boy bands. The group croons parodies of bubble-gum pop tunes while stroking their prosthetic penises. Marketed through the popular press and Internet, they have subverted the iconic status of popular media figures.

The ability to be both familiar and foreign is what makes performance art such a powerful tool particularly well suited to the queer community. Performance art is a practice as all encompassing as the community itself.

Jeffery Byrd

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arts >> Overview:  Censorship in the Arts

Many gay and lesbian artists who have defied the legal and social prohibitions against explicit or sympathetic depictions of homosexuality have seen their art censored or suppressed.

arts >> Overview:  Contemporary Art

Contemporary Art, which designates new currents in art since 1970, is identified with postmodernism; during this period an art addressing gay and lesbian identity emerged.

arts >> Berber, Anita

Expressionist exotic dancer and actress in German silent movies, Anita Berber epitomized for many the decadence of Weimar-era Berlin.

arts >> Blake, Nayland

Versatile African-American artist Nayland Blake creates--in a variety of media--work that reflects his preoccupation with his racial and sexual identities.

arts >> Cage, John

The music of controversial American composer John Cage contains little autobiographical or gay content, but his ironic emphasis on the importance of silence in music may comment on the imposed silence of the closet.

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 >> Cunningham, Merce

One of the twentieth-century's most influential dancers and choreographers, Merce Cunningham avoided political statement and self-expression in his work, but his collaborative model may be said to represent a queering of the creative process.

arts >> Epperson, John

Talented actor and writer John Epperson has had an extremely successful career performing as the glamorous and hilarious drag diva Lypsinka, among other characters.

arts >> Hughes, Holly

Lesbian feminist performance artist Holly Hughes has a flair for telling the outrageous stories of everyday lesbian life.

arts >> Mantello, Joe

Having staged a variety of well-received and award-winning productions, actor-turned-director Joe Mantello has emerged as one of the most accomplished artists now working in the American theater.

arts >> Miller, Tim

Performance artist Tim Miller presents shows that are rooted in his own life experiences, but that are also a powerful form of glbtq activism.

arts >> Saint, Assotto

Through his contributions to literary and popular culture, Haitian-born American poet, performance artist, musician, and editor and publisher Assotto Saint increased the visibility of black queer authors and themes during the 1980s and early 1990s.

literature >> Sapphire (Ramona Lofton)

Bisexual African-American novelist, poet, and performance artist Sapphire came to public attention with works that focus on the harrowing realities of inner city existence.

arts >> Tyler, Robin

Charismatic performer and activist Robin Tyler has spent much of her life enmeshed in the struggle for gay and lesbian rights, from planning national marches to promoting same-sex marriage.

literature >> Wolverton, Terry

Throughout her varied career as a writer, editor, teacher, and performance artist, Terry Wolverton has consistently worked to document glbtq history and increase the visibility of the community.


Carr, C. On Edge: Performance at the End of the Twentieth Century. Hanover, N. H.: Wesleyan University Press, 1993.

Cooper, Emmanuel. The Sexual Perspective: Homosexuality and Art in the Last 100 Years in the West. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986.

Goldberg, RoseLee. Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present. Rev. ed. London: Thames and Hudson, 2001.

_____. Performance Art: Live Art Since 1960. New York and London: Thames and Hudson, 1998.

Hendricks, Geoffrey. Day Into Night. Odense, Denmark: Kunsthallen Brandts Klaedefabrik, 1993.

Lippard, Lucy. Overlay: Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory. New York: The New Press, 1983.

Schimmel, Peter. Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object 1949-1979. Los Angeles: Museum of Contemporary Art and Thames and Hudson, 1998.

Schlager, Neil. Gay & Lesbian Almanac. Detroit: St. James Press, 1999.

Stiles, Kristine, and Peter Selz, eds. Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

Warr, Tracey, and Amelia Jones. The Artist's Body. London: Phaidon, 2000.


    Citation Information
    Author: Byrd, Jeffery  
    Entry Title: Performance Art  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated August 16, 2005  
    Web Address  
    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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