What is a “normal” gender identity? This question has been the driving force behind my research on gender, self-identity and sexuality. The innovative works of Judith Butler and Marjorie Garber, coupled with research into the represented gender identities in mainstream visual media, elicited the conclusion that there is no “normal” gender identity. Gender is free-floating, an imitation of an imitation with no essential origin.
Butler’s 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). Gender is therefore “performative”. We all behave 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. Drag thus exposes gender as a cultural code, a mimic or construct, 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.
The works of photographer Bettina Rheims have been inspirational, particularly her series entitled, “Gender Studies” showcasing individuals unrecognising of themselves as entirely male or female, rather gender fluid. These simple images with a muted colour palette 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 exists in multiple forms within any given person. I propose to create simple studio portraits that contest the rigid gender binary, supporting the work of Garber and Butler and reinforcing the idea that gender can be malleable. I will explore gender in its capacity to be reduced to individual components: a gesture, a hair style or flick of mascara. Each element building to the complete performance. I will photograph individuals who express aspects of the opposite gender, experimenting with posture and gesticulations as much as clothing. I believe that positions such as crossed ankles or wide knees will be hugely indicative of gender to the observer. I aim to provoke thought and invite the audience to question the identity before them. Images will introduce ambiguity, the status of masculine and feminine becoming an enigma. This will expand upon the work of Rheims, moving from her gender fluid subjects to stripping back the established gender of the model. I will reveal elements giving the impression of masculinity or femininity, but subtly, enticing the audience to actively seek out which parts of the individual truly convey gender and sex.
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