Gender matters, why labels only count when it comes to designer

Gender matters, why labels only count when it comes to designer

Growing up as a girl, there were many things I questioned, but my gender was not one of them. I was lucky, I had parents who did not impose gender stereotyping on me, I was free to play with Meccano as much as Barbies, wear trousers or dresses and I never remember being told that little girls should act differently from boys (at least not by my parents, but there was obviously plenty of gender stereotyping going on in the rest of society).  

Limiting labels

I was fortunate with my parents, but also in the fact that I felt comfortable in my own skin, so I never questioned my gender identity. But many people of my generation were not so lucky, suffering immense anguish, which they had to keep hidden, about the box, or boxes, they were being forced to fit into. Things are not perfect these days in our society, but they are a hell of a lot better. The Kiss My Genders Exhibition at London’s Hayward Gallery (until 8 September) explores and celebrates gender identity, with artists who approach gender not as a fixed set of categories, but as the exhibition says: “as something to be challenged, reconsidered and in some cases rejected altogether.”  

It is a serious subject, with more than its share of tragic stories, but the exhibition is still full of fun with a lot of glamour thrown in. For example, I fell in love with a black ball gown created by artist Hunter Reynolds. This, The Memorial Dress, is a gown printed with the names of 25,000 individuals known to have died of AIDS-related illnesses. Reynolds says: “Making art has been a tool I use to process and deal with my pain as well as transform it.”  

Suffering for art

It may be a cliché to see artists as tortured souls, but one wonders how much true art can be borne out of contentment. Suffering is not to be celebrated, but the fantastic art that can come from it should be. And the people who are able to create something joyful, despite their suffering, are true heroes.  

This exhibition is largely based on photographic works, looking at people who are happy to show their true selves in a way that would have been unthinkable 50 years ago. There is also a video installation of drag artist Victoria Sin and paintings, such as Kent Monkman’s spirit works, as well as sculptures including Jes Fan’s fantastic bodily glass sculptures.  

Mixed messages

There is plenty to see, and much to entertain, yet the exhibition has had mixed reviews, with Time Out’s Eddy Frankel saying: “Once you get to the second room, the images are presented so boringly that you lose interest” and The Arts Desk’s Sarah Kent saying that too many great artists have been left our of the exhibition, adding that although important issues are addressed, it is a “shambles” nonetheless.  

It is easy to criticise, and I don’t feel qualified enough to judge anyway. However, I do know that I had fun, and also had my mind broadened, What more can you ask for?

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