Initial Proposal

“Self-defined proposal with supporting research & development work”

What is a “normal” gender identity? This question has been the main driving force behind all my latest research on gender, self-identity and sexuality. The innovative works of Judith Butler and Marjorie Garber as well as research into the representations of gender identities in mainstream visual media brought me to the conclusion that there is no “normal” gender identity. Instead, gender is free-floating, an imitation of an imitation with no essential origin.

Butler through her theory of “gender performativity” stated that: “Gender is the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a hugely rigid regulatory frame that congeal over time to produce the appearance of substance, of a natural sort of being” (p.33).  In other words, gender is “performative” in the sense that we all walk, talk and act in ways which consolidate an impression of being masculine or feminine. For Butler the act of drag attests to the performative nature of gender as well as its contingency. The parody of the drag performance enables 1) the recognition of the mimicry, which is evident in every form of identity and 2) the absence of any authentic source. The drag appearance relies heavily on imitation and re-enactment, lacking any original, essential truth. Thus, the act of drag exposes gender as a cultural code, a mimic, a construct, which is applicable to all identities. By over conforming to gender “norms” the drag artist reveals how fictictious hegemonic “norms” really are. From here I came to the conclusion as did Butler that we are all in fact drag artists and gender is free-floating.

I have been deeply inspired by the works of photographer Bettina Rheims, particularly her series entitled, “Gender Studies” which showcases individuals who don’t recognise themselves as entirely male or female, rather gender fluid. The images are simple with a muted colour palette but hold a strong enigma and political agenda. From this I’ve been influenced to photograph individuals whose gender and sex are not entirely clear, mysterious creatures that push the binary nature of gender.

Gender is nuanced and can exist in multiple forms within any given person. I propose to create simple studio portraits that move away from the rigid gender binary and bring to the forefront the idea that gender can be malleable. I want to reveal how gender has the capacity to be reduced to mere parts: a gesture, a hair style or a flick of mascara.. I want to photograph individuals which express elements of the opposite gender more so than just outfits or wigs, gestures and acts from crossed ankles to wide knees will speak volumes. I want the images to hold a certain enigma, inviting the audience to question the identity before them but what’s more what is masculine and feminine about the individual. I want the elements which give the impression of masculinity or femininity, to be very subtle so the audience has to actively seek out what parts of the individual reveal their gender and sex.

Word count: 498


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