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Portraits and texts recover lost queer history: the lives of people who didn't conform to gender norms, from the fifteenth through the twentieth centuries.
Katherina Hetzeldorfer, tried “for a crime that didn't have a name” (same sex sexual relations) and sentenced to death by drowning in 1477; Charles aka Mary Hamilton, publicly whipped for impersonating a man in eighteenth-century England; Clara, aka “Big Ben,” over whom two jealous women fought in 1926 New York: these are just three of the lives that the artist Ria Brodell has reclaimed for queer history in Butch Heroes. Brodell offers a series of twenty-eight portraits of forgotten but heroic figures, each accompanied by a brief biographical note. They are individuals who were assigned female at birth but whose gender presentation was more masculine than feminine, who did not want to enter into heterosexual marriage, and who often faced dire punishment for being themselves.
Brodell's detailed and witty paintings are modeled on Catholic holy cards, slyly subverting a religious template. The portraits and the texts offer intriguing hints of lost lives: cats lounge in the background of domestic settings; one of the figures is said to have been employed variously as “a prophet, a soldier, or a textile worker”; another casually holds a lit cigarette. Brodell did extensive research for each portrait, piecing together a life from historical accounts, maps, journals, paintings, drawings, and photographs, finding the heroic in the forgotten.
Author: Ria Brodell
Hardback Published October 2018 96 pages (28 colour plates)
“A serious—and seriously successful—queer history recovery project.” —Publishers Weekly
"The ultimate addition to the queer canon, Brodell's Butch Heroes marries comprehensive annotations of queer lives forgotten by history, with exquisite depictions of their most heroic and intimate moments as imagined by the artist. Fashioned as an album of Catholic holy cards, justice is made to our queer foreparents, by making their struggles visible and elevating their accomplishments to heroic status." - Gonzalo Casals, Director of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art