Taking a “Pink & Bent” Look at Art

As experienced at the
exhibition, a fundamental and shared priority from the 1970s onward is the
basic act of making oneself visible as a queer woman. That visibility
imperative may take the form of documentation, such as the photography selected
from Phyllis Christopher, legendary chronicler of the San Francisco dyke scene
in the ’90s; or recasting, as occurs in the paintings Grace Moon makes of
classic lesbian pulp novels like The
Price of Salt
; or maybe, incitement, as practiced by Guerrilla Girls Inc.,
the radical feminist artists whose critique of sexism and racial imbalances in
the museum world and Hollywood influenced the film Itty Bitty Titty Committee.

Grace Moon, Nicole and Julie,
2004

Some of the earliest
visibility efforts highlighted in Pink
& Bent
come from the pioneer Joan E. Biren, also known as JEB. Her
tender images of women in everyday situations, taken in the era before
Photoshop, catch viewers off guard because they capture the sensuality of
seemingly innocent scenarios.

"I wouldn’t call
them sensual," JEB coyly responded to the observation. "I wouldn’t
call them erotic. I would call them lovely to look at."

JEB,

Priscilla and Regina, 1979

© JEB (Joan E. Biren)

JEB, Claire and Joan, the 10th anniversary celebration of the Lesbian Herstory Archives, 1986

© JEB (Joan E. Biren)

JEB says she started her
work in the 1970s in response to a void she noticed after she came out.

"I had never seen
photos like that, and I desperately wanted photos like that to exist," she
explains. "My life’s work has been to make the invisible visible."

She recalled that, for
her first lesbian photograph, she kissed her lover while pointing a camera at
them from arm’s length. Other women at that time were reluctant to be subjects
for documentary photos.

Although lesbians in
general today are considerably less averse to self-promotion, due in no small
part because of JEB, she thinks that the quality of mainstream portrayals could
use some improvement.

"You can make an
argument that we have visibility, but what I think we don’t have is authentic
visibility," JEB said, classifying the status of mainstream imagery as
overwhelmingly femme, thin, white and middle-class. "We need to be more
diverse."

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