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Lesbians in the Visual Arts

Published in Lesbians in the Visual Arts Newsletter 1995

Sometimes, Being An “OUT” Lesbian Visual Artist Can Be A Struggle
By Lorraine Inzalaco

The first ten years as an artist were spent forming my own voice by creating symbolic paintings that represented my young life's experiences. It was a difficult and isolated existence void of lesbian role models to guide me through my schooling and early career. This denied me the rite of passage of the young artist to redefine that which came before, in order to create something new. Unlike my male-artist predecessors and peers who had the luxury and privilege to reject and rebel against their mentors… I, like many other lesbians, was working alone in a vacuum.

The next several years as a student embroiled me in a constant battle with homophobic art schools, which are extensions of the heterosexual, male-dominated art world. It took me two years to “come out” on canvas! These paintings, honest depictions of my life, created a controversy within the graduate fine art department of Queens College, (Queens, NY) where I was a Masters degree candidate. In my second year there I was placed on probation because of my “out” subject matter. I fought this judgement of the Graduate committee, which was comprised of all men, and demanded an explanation for their punitive action. They replied, “we find your painting world and subject matter to be male exclusive!” (Hey boys wake up! Physical intimacy between two lesbians is male exclusive.) The evolution of my work seemed to threaten them. They acted as though I had crossed over an invisible line into the domain of “male subject matter”. They failed to understand that, I as a woman, painting women's sexuality for female viewers was profoundly different from what Courbet's Sleepers or Rodin's Two Women had accomplished. Beautiful as they may be, they were painted by men for male viewers, which is very different that what I do as a lesbian artist.

Lesbian subject matter is certainly not limited to sexual depictions, however it is essential in the formation of “our” history and especially art history, that it is present and visible. It is also a necessary part of imagery for me as a lesbian artist to claim, enjoy, share, and hold on to. In order to do that I often resist a homophobic world that labels it 'snatch art”, “pornographic” or “inappropriate” subject matter for a woman to paint.

How is it that we have allowed ourselves to abandon and deny our own reporting of our lives, loves and losses that is so valid as true subject matter- our own personal passions. If I can not claim the very subject matter that belongs to me how can I be taken seriously as an artist with other truths to speak? Why don't women continuously paint about childbirth, menstruation and orgasm? It is all our subject matter. It does not belong to the realm of man's experience, nor does lesbianism.

My work frequently depicts the love between two women but I have also painted about my grief and loss of a lover who died and also my loss when friends died of AIDS. From time to time I also paint beautiful Italian landscapes … I paint what deeply moves me.

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