Pride 2020: Spotlight on students and alumni exploring gender and sexuality – Part 2
We’re continuing our celebration of the wealth of work from the RCA community past and present that explores liberation in its diverse forms.
Sunil Gupta’s (MA Photography, 1983 and Tutor) photography spans a period from the 1970s to the present day. The focus of much of his work is on the intersections of race and sexuality with series on queer life, the migrant experience and the experience of BAME communities in Britain. His early work captured the gay liberation movement in 1970s New York. In the 1980’s, his Exiles series responded to the invisibility of Indian men in queer cultural production by documenting gay male Indian subjects in architectural spaces across New Delhi. More projects on queer life followed, notably “Pretended” Family Relationships, a project on queer couples in London. The title refers to Clause 28 of the UK’s Local Government Act which prevented schools from teaching children about same sex relationships until its 2003 repeal. The clause referred to homosexuality as a ‘pretended family relationship’. Intersecting with these projects on queer life, were photo series including The Black Experience, which documented the experience of black communties in London and Asians/Bradford, which was made in response to a school in Bradford that refused to serve halal meals to its students.
Through documenting subjects whose lives were perceived in the late twentieth century to be outside of the ‘centre’, Gupta’s work positions its viewer at the site where subjective viewpoint becomes political perspective - the public space. His major works are collected in Sunil Gupta: Queer (2011) and his photography of queer 1970s New York is collected in Christopher Street, 1976 (2018).
The RCA’s first Professor of Fashion, Madge Garland was an influential figure in the British fashion scene prior to her time at the RCA. She was most notable for her work in the 1920s as Fashion Editor of Vogue, working alongside her partner, Vogue Editor Dorothy Todd. Under their direction Vogue moved away from only reflecting trends within the fashion industry towards reflecting the wider culture of modernism and the avant-garde with pieces by Virginia Woolf, Vita Sackville-West, Gertrude Stein and Jean Cocteau. The queer undertones of Vogue’s new editorial and its mismatch with publishing house bosses led to Dorothy Todd being dismissed in 1926. When she threatened to sue, Condé Nast threatened to expose her relationship with Garland. Despite their short tenure (1922–26), their achievements at Vogue are testament to their romantic and creative partnership which was able to push subversive ideas into the mainstream.
Madge Garland went on to became the first Professor of Fashion at the RCA in 1948. She created much of the structure that continues to characterise the programme today, marrying art with industry and bringing in tutors from the fashion trade itself. She also founded the London Fashion Group which would later become the British Fashion Council.
Working between art performance and queer nightlife spaces, Victoria Sin’s (MA Print, 2017) drag was recently described by i-D magazine as a “genderfucked mix between Jessica Rabbit and Marlene Dietrich”. Their work aims to disrupt the gender binary and reveal the performativity of gender as well as the constructedness of raced imagery – a critique which Sin applies to the lack of diverse representation in queer spaces themselves. Recently their work has taken them to the 58th Venice Biennale to perform a piece entitled If I had the words to tell you we wouldn’t be here now, a lip sync performance to a monologue written by Sin on the limits of language.
Current MA Fashion student Adam Frost is a queer, working-class artist whose work combines performance and fashion design. His work is eclectically inspired by Tracey Emin, Róisín Murphy, Cindy Sherman, Queen Elizabeth I and Björk. His designs have been worn by rapper Brooke Candy and were recently worn in i-D magazine by drag queen Shea Couleé. When he’s not making clothes, he can be found performing at Queer club night WIMP in East London. Last year, he toured his musical performance piece BRENDA on class, sexual health and his inner saboteur in London and Hastings. On this year's Pride, Adam said: ‘If it wasn't for trans women of colour leading the way at Stonewall in 1969, we wouldn't be where we are today. But there is still more to be done. We are seeing now what we saw back then, things need to change and we need to educate ourselves in particular with the Black Lives Matter and Black Trans Lives Matter movements.”
The RCA SU is celebrating Pride month by taking part in Campus Pride 2020, a digital pride festival for university staff and students across the UK. This year, in response to the pandemic, Campus Pride have taken their events online finding new ways to stay connected with the LGBTQ community through the global health crisis. Their online events include panel discussions on LGBT+ Higher Education, DJ Sets, lectures on trans history, film screenings and cook-alongs. The events are accessible to all RCA staff and students. The SU have also been responding to the current amplification of the Black Lives Matter movement by collating a list of Black-led LGBTQIA+ organisations, alongside a number of events organised to create a forum for black voices at the RCA.