Celebrating Pride Month: Discovering and Remembering Influential LGBTQI+ Artists
07 Jun 2023
June is the month when communities around the world come together to celebrate and honor the LGBTQI+ community. Pride Month serves as a reminder of the long and ongoing struggle for equality, acceptance, and celebration of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, and other identities. As we commemorate this month, let us take a moment to recognize and appreciate the significant contributions of LGBTQI+ artists to the world. From painters and writers to musicians and performers, these creatives have left an indelible mark on their respective fields, challenging norms and shaping cultural conversations. Join us as we explore a selection of influential LGBTQI+ artists and creatives who deserve recognition and celebration.
Renowned for his distinctive graffiti-inspired style, Keith Haring‘s art boldly addressed issues such as sexuality, activism, and the AIDS crisis. His iconic symbols, such as radiant babies and dancing figures, conveyed messages of love, unity, and acceptance. Haring’s vibrant and accessible art transcended galleries and found a home in public spaces, engaging people from all walks of life.
As an openly gay artist, Haring also chose to represent the hardships of the LGBTQ community in his work, including gay rights. Inspired by graffiti artists, he began drawing in New York city subway stations; filling empty poster spaces with chalk drawings that people would walk past every day.
Beauford Delaney (b. 1924 – d. 1987)
A major figure in the Harlem Renaissance, Beauford Delaney was a prominent abstract expressionist. Whilst a major mover and shaker in the bohemian circles of the 1970s, he also suffered the societal pressures and persecutions of being both black and gay.
Delaney became part of the gay bohemian culture in Greenwich Village, but he was never comfortable with his sexuality and often hid it from his other friends in Harlem, fearing that his friends would be repelled by his homosexuality. In 1953, Beauford Delaney left New York and settled in Paris, France. Away from America, Delaney felt more distanced from the racial and sexual biases prevalent in American society
Zanele Muholi, a South African social activist and visual artist, uses their artworks to make visible the lives of black lesbian women in South Africa. Muholi’s powerful photography captures moments of quiet bravery and creates an evolving archive of South Africa’s queer community, offering an alternative history for future generations.
Muholi is a South African visual activist whose pronouns are they/them/theirs. Their work tells the stories of Black LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Agender, Asexual)
Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989)
Robert Mapplethorpe was a celebrated photographer whose controversial and provocative works explored themes of sexuality and the human body.
Mapplethorpe’s career flourished in the 1980s and he continued to explore and refine his techniques and formats. He also worked on commercial projects, creating album cover art for the musician Patti Smith and the band Television, as well as a series of portraits and party pictures for Interview Magazine.
Despite (or perhaps because of) being diagnosed with AIDS in 1986, he accelerated his creative efforts, undertaking increasingly ambitious projects. In 1988, a year before his death, he had his first major exhibition at The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
In 1990, his exhibition “The Perfect Moment” became a lightning rod for debates around obscenity and artistic freedom. Mapplethorpe’s acquittal in the subsequent trial affirmed the right to freedom of expression, leaving a profound impact on the LGBTQI+ community and beyond.
Nan Goldin is a contemporary photographer whose intimate and raw images documented the LGBTQI+ community during the AIDS crisis. Through her work, Goldin shed light on the realities, joys, and struggles of queer individuals. Her work often explores LGBT subcultures, moments of intimacy, the HIV/AIDS crisis, and the opioid epidemic.
Her iconic series, “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency,” captures the vibrancy and vulnerability of LGBTQI+ relationships and serves as a visual testimony to the LGBTQI+ experience. The monograph documents the post-Stonewall, gay subculture and includes Goldin’s family and friends. She is a founding member of the advocacy group P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now). She lives and works in New York City.
Horace Gifford (b. 1932 – d. 1992)
Beginning in 1961, Architect Horace Gifford built the first home that would lead to the modernist transformation on New York’s Fire Island, a gay beach enclave set at the tip of Long Island. His striking designs employed cedar-clad siding, large panes of glass, and clean lines to create homes that embraced the coastal landscape and sat in stark contrast to it. He constructed 77 houses there through 1980, creating a refuge for many members of the gay community, and developing a new style that would influence architects for generations to come.
Gifford died in 1992 of complications from AIDS. Though critically praised and published during his lifetime, he was later nearly forgotten, until 2013, when architect and historian Christopher Rawlins published Fire Island Modernist: Horace Gifford and the Architecture of Seduction. The book combines the genres of monograph, biography, and social history to reveal the operatic arc of Gifford’s life and times.
Mickalene Thomas is a contemporary African American artist whose intricate paintings draw from Western art history, pop art, and visual culture. Through her work, she examines ideas of femininity, beauty, race, sexuality, and gender, particularly highlighting African-American gay and lesbian identities. Thomas’s art challenges societal norms and celebrates the diverse experiences of LGBTQI+ individuals.
Thomas bases her paintings on her own photographs, which she reproduces in rhinestones, collage, acrylic paint, and enamel. Her African American protagonists sometimes mimic poses from Western painting tradition, especially those of white female nudes. But they do so while lounging in outlandishly patterned interiors and exuding an aggressive sexuality.
Isaac Julien is a prominent British filmmaker whose documentary film “Looking for Langston” (1989) explores gay identity through a blend of archival newsreel footage and scripted scenes. Through his innovative filmmaking techniques, Julien examines the complexities of sexuality, race, and history, making an indelible mark on LGBTQI+ cinema.
Julien’s first film to explore gay themes, This Is Not an AIDS Advertisement (1987), attempted to counter the anti-sex rhetoric of the 1980s and to promote more diverse representations of gay men on the screen.
Julien’s next film is perhaps his best known, Looking for Langston (1989), produced for British television. This work, a lush and evocative meditation on the life of the black American poet Langston Hughes, is at the same time a sensuous portrayal of the black male body and black homosexuality.
Catherine Opie is a renowned photographer whose work delves into questions of sexual identity, queer subculture, and community dynamics. Her powerful images offer an introspective and intimate glimpse into LGBTQI+ lives and challenge conventional notions of gender and sexuality.
Whether documenting political movements, queer subcultures, or urban transformation, Opie’s images of contemporary life comprise a portrait of our time in America, which she often considers in relation to a discourse of opposition. Her work resonates with formal ideas that convey the importance of “the way things should look,” evidence of the influence of her early exposure to the history of art and painting.