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How bisexual art impacted our community

Robyn Exton

Apr 12, 2023

How bisexual art impacted our community

Bisexual art has a rich and vibrant history. Queer artists have been doing the lord’s work and representing us gays and our vast multitudes for centuries. Think: Frida Kahlo, Violette Leduc, David Hockney, June Jordan, David Bowie, Marie Laurencin — the list goes on, and on, and on! 

These icons paved the way for future generations by pushing boundaries with steamy, authentic, vulnerable, and magnetic works of art, and for that, we’re eternally grateful. 

So, without further ado, let’s we take a look at some of the most important works of bisexual art of all time — some old, some new — but all bursting with bisexual brilliance! 

“Brian Ridley and Lyle Heeter,” Robert Mapplethorpe, 1979 

Robert Mapplethorpe was a prominent American photographer known for his evocative and influential works that explored the human form and sexuality. Mapplethorpe’s art challenged heteronormtive social norms, and broke down barriers surrounding bisexuality, queerness, and identity. 

“Brian Ridley and Lyle Heeter” is a striking photograph featuring the two titular men, who were Mapplethorpe’s close friends and romantic partners, standing side by side with their bare torsos on display.

Source: Tate

The photograph exudes a sense of intimacy and vulnerability, as the subjects are shown in a moment of physical and emotional closeness. Mapplethorpe’s use of stark black and white tones highlights the contours of their bodies and emphasizes the sense of raw masculinity on display. This beautiful image is not just a portrait of two men in love, but also a representation of the gay community during a time of social and political upheaval in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. 

His photographs often featured male nudes and BDSM themes, pushing boundaries and sparking debates about censorship and artistic expression. Mapplethorpe’s impact on bisexual art cannot be overstated, as his work paved the way for future generations of artists to freely explore and express their sexuality through their art. 

“Three Navy Sailors,” Alvin Baltrop, 1969-72

Alvin Baltrop was born and raised in the Bronx. When he passed away in 2004 after a battle with cancer, he remained unknown in mainstream media — despite now being regarded as one of the most iconic photographers of our time. Baltrop grew up in a working-class family during the ‘50s and 60’s — when cultural, political, and sexual revolutions were all taking place. He served as a medic in the U.S. Navy from 1969-1972, before being honorably discharged. During those years, he amassed a beautiful array of photographs capturing the lives of marines and the post-industrial wasteland that prevaield throughout those years. 

Source: E-Flux

After returning to New York, his work mainly focused on the raw beauty of the LGBTQIA+ community during the ‘70s and ‘80s. His photographs, which often depicted the gritty and sometimes dangerous world of the city’s piers and waterfront, are a testament to the resilience and creativity of the queer people who called these spaces home.

Baltrop’s images are not just snapshots of a bygone era, but powerful testaments to the struggles and triumphs of the LGBTQIA+ community in the face of societal oppression and prejudice. His photographs capture the joy, passion, and freedom of queer life, even in the midst of adversity and hardship.

“Henry Ford Hospital,” Frida Kahlo, 1932

Let’s be real, this wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Frida Kahlo, and her bisexual paintings.  With flowers in her hair and paint on her hands, she was on a mission. Kahlo’s art was a reflection of her queer identity, and her work was a celebration of her Mexican heritage and the vibrant colors and textures that surrounded her.  Her art and life are a testament to her queer and fearless disposition.

Kahlo’s “Henry Ford Hospital” is a colorful and daring masterpiece that radiates queer and fun energy. IT portrays Kahlo lying on a hospital bed, surrounded by a surreal landscape of symbolism and imagery that defies traditional gender roles and expectations. With vibrant hues of red, green, and yellow, the painting invites viewers into the raw, authentic, and resilient world of queer possibility. 

Source: Artsy

In Kahlo’s world, there were no limits or boundaries, only endless possibilities for queer expression and joy. She loved all of her lovers, regardless of gender, and her passion and intensity were a testament to the power of queer love, creativity and desire.

Her art and life continue to inspire us to embrace our true selves, to love boldly and fearlessly, and to celebrate the beauty and complexity of queer identity. With Frida Kahlo as our guide, we can continue to create a world that is magnetic, colorful, and unapologetically queer.

“He is More Than a Hero,” by Sappho

Sappho is our queer mother. She was a Greek poet from the island of Lesbos (yup, that’s where the word lesbian comes from), who lived around 600 BCE. She was known for her lyrical poetry, which often celebrated the beauty of women and expressed her queerness. 

Her poem, “He is More Than a Hero,” is one of the most beautiful depictions of yearning and love of all time. It’s a piece that’s dedicated to feeling envious of “he” who gets to sit beside, listen to, and love the person that the speaker is in love with. Rumor has it that it’s a poem Sappho wrote for a female student she became enamored with, and couldn’t have.  Featuring lines like, “he is a god in my eyes— the man who is allowed to sit beside you,” and “if I meet you suddenly, I can’t speak — my tongue is broken,” it’s no wonder this poem is considered one of her greatest works. 

Source: Wikimedia

Despite attempts to erase her legacy, Sappho’s work has endured through the ages, inspiring generations of LGBTQIA+ artists and activists to embrace their own identities and celebrate the beauty of love in all its forms.

“1977: Poem for Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer,” by June Jordan

June Jordan was a writer, teacher, and activist who was born in Harlem in 1936 to Jamaican immigrants. Jordan’s legacy truly can’t be overstated. She was one of the most prominant figures and voices throughout the civil rights and LGBTQ+ rights movements — the imprint she left on the world, immeasurable. She was one of the people who pushed for Black vernacular in poetry, alongside Langston Hughes, changing the landscape of Black literature forever. 

Her writing largely focused on issues of race, gender, sexuality, and social justice, and she was unapologetic in her advocacy for marginalized communities. Jordan’s writing was deeply personal, often drawing from her own experiences as a queer Black woman, and her work challenged dominant narratives that perpetuated oppression.

Source: LitHub

Her poem, “1977: Poem for Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer,”  pays tribute to the fierce and unapologetic Fannie Lou Hamer, a queer, Black civil rights icon and leader in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. 

Jordan’s words burn with a fiery devotion to honoring Hamer’s life and legacy. In her poem, Jordan lauds Hamer’s unwavering bravery and perseverance in the face of entrenched racism and oppression, while also exalting her pivotal contributions to the ongoing fight for civil rights in the United States. 

Jordan’s passionate and poetic eulogy serves as a powerful reminder of the transformative power of activism and the lasting impact of those who pave the way for marginalized communities.

“one full Black lily   / luminescent   / in a homemade field   / of love”

The Bisexual Pride Flag by Michael Page, 1998 

How could we not talk about the bisexual flag when talking about influential bisexual art?! On a sunny Floridian day in 1998, Michael Page was cooking — and I’m not talking about food. I’m talking about debuting what we all now know to be the bisexual flag on a website that’s no longer active (RIP) but was called 

The colors in the flag were inspired by the bi-angles symbols that Liz Nania created back in 1985. The pink in the flag is meant to represent attraction to women, the blue to men, and the purple symbolizes an attraction to both. 

It was created in order to help bring more awareness to the bisexual community, and create an annual Bisexual Sexuality Day. Best of all? It worked! Since 1999, bisexuals everywhere have been celebrating their bisexuality on every 23 of September.

Contemporary bisexual artists making waves

Today, contemporary artists continue to explore bisexuality through their works, challenging heteronormative traditions and promoting acceptance, instead. 

Artists like Lady Gaga, who’s loud and outspoken support for the LGBTQIA+ community has been present since the very start of her career (who can forget her iconically thanking God and the Gays? Not me!). 

There’s also Colombian popstar, Kali Uchis, who said, “I’ve been bisexual my whole life. […] I want more people in the Latin community to feel like they can express themselves freely and not have to confine themselves.” She also gave us one of my favorite music videos of all time for her song, la luz, (fín) which features a sapphic plot. 

And the incredible Clifford Prince King, whose photographs beautifully encapsulate the softness and tenderness of queerness in a way that feels safe, and like coming home. Telling Vogue, “My hopes for the LGBTQ+ community is for an abundance of support, justice, creative recognition and prosperity on every level. There has been progress due to the courageous efforts of Black trans women—but there are still obstacles and barriers that need to be dismantled.

Source: Clifford King Prince

Validating LGBTQ+ folks as pioneers and cultural shifters; normalising our existence in society is my hope as well. I hope we can continue to reclaim our history, take up space comfortably, thrive in every way, and see the fruits of our labour while we are still living.”

So, whether through abstract paintings, photography, writing, or performance art, bisexuality remains a vibrant and essential aspect of the artistic landscape, reminding us that love and desire can never be confined to one narrow definition.

Robyn Exton

Robyn is the CEO & Founder of HER. Find her on Twitter.

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