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The Queer Artists Rethinking What Makes a Body Beautiful

tyler Posey

From Da Vinci to Duchamp, Balthus to Basquiat, the human form has been a classical motif throughout art history, as well as a point for departure. Now, an emerging crop of queer artists are helping to expand how beautiful bodies are represented.

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Texas Isaiah, He/Him

For Brooklyn-born Texas Isaiah, photography is an act of care. While working on his debut series BLACKNESS, a project celebrating the beauty and diversity of the diaspora across spectrums of gender and ethnic heritage, he realized many of his subjects were not immediately comfortable being photographed. By creating an ongoing visual archive of Black LGBTQ+ bodies, he hopes to address the historical erasure of these individuals within the medium. “Once a consensual, intentional, and generous space is formed behind the scenes, then we can figure out how we can dissolve the domination that proliferates in the process,” he says. Now working on the West Coast, he’s introduced natural environments into his photos: deep, lush portraiture echoes a profound softness. “I'm interested in how nature simultaneously upholds and dissolves the binary,” he says. “It makes me think of how we navigate this process within our own bodies. We are relating to our bodies in different ways all of the time, and for some of us, we are continuing to create the language that truly speaks to how we exist in the world.” Texas Isaiah’s photos can currently be viewed at the San Diego Art Institute. 

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Shoog McDaniel, They/Them

In one closely cropped image of a torso, stretch marks and cellulite roll across the body like topographical lines on a map, while light and dark scarring gently mark the model’s form as if desert dunes. In another composition, a nest of naked bodies is covered in grapes, pears, and hydrangeas—one large, living floral arrangement. By placing fleshy bodies into outside environments and juxtaposing human forms with various flora, self-taught Tallahassee photographer Shoog McDaniel makes a simple but powerful statement: Being fat is natural, and it is beautiful. “Fat bodies are vast and textured, much like the oceans that stretch out from the land,” says McDaniel, who travels to document people across the United States. “I abstract the body to create pieces that are not easily identifiable, forcing the viewer to challenge their perception of what can be beautiful.” For McDaniel, the process is deeply personal: “Through my work I have learned to love myself in a way I never thought was possible,” they say. “I seek to highlight that joy, often documenting fat, queer people in love, loving each other, pushing their fat against one another, unashamed at last.” 

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Pacifico Silano, He/Him
“My uncle died in 1989 due to complications of HIV,” says the Brooklyn-based artist Pacifico Silano. “After he passed away, it was as if he never existed in our family. There were no pictures or family stories passed down.” This erasure was the impetus for the work Silano makes today, which involves cropping, fragmenting, and re-photographing imagery lifted from vintage gay erotica to create entirely new compositions. Typically sourcing photos from magazines published during the golden age of sexual liberation between the Stonewall Riots and the 1980s, he decontextualizes and dehistoricizes the images to explore themes of loss and melancholy as seen through the lens of the HIV/AIDS crisis within the LGBTQ+ community. “My work involves the fragmentation and absence of bodies to explore the complex emotions queer people feel as a result of having to reconcile a history of loss,” he says. “I’m really interested in the infinite life of a photograph, how its meaning is not fixed but constantly in flux.” Having recently closed an exhibition with the Bronx Museum’s Block Gallery, Silano is preparing for solo shows in Moscow and New York this fall.

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