Although gay, lesbian, and queer theory are related practices, the three terms delineate separate emphases marked by different assumptions about the relationship between gender and sexuality.
The Harlem Renaissance, an African-American literary movement of the 1920s and 1930s, included several important gay and lesbian writers.
Oscar Wilde is important both as an accomplished writer and as a symbolic figure who exemplified a way of being homosexual at a pivotal moment in the emergence of gay consciousness.
Langston Hughes, whose literary legacy is enormous and varied, was closeted, but homosexuality was an important influence on his literary imagination, and many of his poems may be read as gay texts.
Conflicted over his own sexuality, Tennessee Williams wrote directly about homosexuality only in his short stories, his poetry, and his late plays.
Erotic and pornographic works have been written in many cultures since ancient times and recently have flourished with the relaxation of censorship.
Feminist literary theory is a complex, dynamic area of study that draws from a wide range of critical theories.
James Baldwin, a pioneering figure in twentieth-century literature, wrote sustained and articulate challenges to American racism and mandatory heterosexuality.
Detail from "Raymond Maxwell" (1986) by George Dureau. Courtesy Higher Pictures Gallery.
Dureau is best known for his male figure studies and narrative paintings in oil and charcoal and for his black-and-white photographs, which often feature street youths, dwarfs, and amputees. Critic Kenneth Holditch has observed that his best work is laced with paradoxes: "the joyful and painful, the beautiful and ugly, the spiritual and sensual, and most significant of all the real in sharp juxtaposition to that which is vividly imagined."
"Wilbert Hines" (1977) by George Dureau. Courtesy Higher Pictures.
In his glbtq encyclopedia entry on Dureau, Claude Summers writes that "Dureau's photographs have often been compared with those of Robert Mapplethorpe. But the influence runs not from Mapplethorpe to Dureau but from Dureau to Mapplethorpe. The photographers were friends in the early 1970s. Mapplethorpe was greatly moved by Dureau's photographs, even to the point of restaging many of Dureau's earlier compositions."
Dureau and Mapplethorpe--both white men--have often chosen African-American subjects for their art. Mapplethorpe's Black Book (1986) is better known than Dureau's work, but it is also quite different. The book comprises a series of brilliantly composed photographs of black men as seen through the lustful eyes of a white gay photographer. The book's images present black men as deliciously alluring objects of the homosexual male gaze and little else. African-American artist Glenn Ligon effectively characterized Mapplethorpe's work as racist in his own piece Notes on the Margin of the Black Book (1991-1993), which juxtaposes Mapplethorpe's images with comments by accomplished African-American leaders and intellectuals. Ligon's piece has the effect of turning Mapplethorpe's one-dimensional sex objects into complex, interesting people.
"Raymond Maxwell" (1986) by George Dureau. Courtesy Higher Pictures.
George Dureau's work is not susceptible to the same criticism. As Claude Summers has observed, Dureau's work is distinct from Mapplethorpe's chiefly because it is characterized by an empathy and kindness absent from Mapplethorpe's photographs. It is that empathy and Dureau's interest in depicting and finding beauty in amputees, dwarfs, fat men, and others who are not usually considered beautiful that makes his work such an important contribution to the gay male tradition in photography.
Visit the Higher Pictures website for more information about the exhibition's hours and location in New York City.