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Presentation
Carving Out Identity: Sadomasochism and the Discourse of Evil in the Work of Catherine Opie
Eighth Global Conference: Perspectives on Evil and Human Wickedness (2007)
  • Lauren L. Gallow, University of the Pacific
Abstract
Cutting. Mutilation. Manipulation. Distortion. As both a photographer and member of the lesbian and sadomasochistic communities, Catherine Opie has embraced extreme and violent actions as a means of fighting against narrow definitions of gender, sexual identity, and family values. During the early 1990s when Opie produced two of her most controversial works—Self-Portrait/Cutting (1993) and Self-Portrait/Pervert (1994)—a discourse of “evil” was often evoked in an attempt to marginalize and disempower the subcultures Opie represented in her photographs. The key players involved in the NEA censorship controversy (1989–1991) propagated just such a discourse, leading to a demarcation of these subcultures as “evil” and “wicked” in the American media and popular culture. This paper aims to deconstruct this “language of wickedness,” uncovering the hegemonic views of the American heterosexual nuclear family and the homophobia that formed the underpinnings of this discourse. I also mean to examine how Catherine Opie’s use of powerful, provocative imagery, particularly in the self-mutilation used in her two self-portraits of the 1990s, fought against the heterosexual values being touted as “righteous” and “moral” by right-wing politicians involved in the NEA controversy. Two such politicians who were at the forefront of the debate, Senator Jesse Helms and Rep. Dick Armey, applied such statements as “patently offensive” and “morally reprehensible trash” to homosexual themed works, working to forward the notion of homosexuality as “sinful” and “evil.” However, in writing on her body and positing a provocative language of imagery for herself as a member of the sadomasochistic and lesbian communities, Catherine Opie actively carved out a place for herself in opposition to this “discourse of evil.”
Publication Date
March, 2007
Citation Information
Lauren L. Gallow. "Carving Out Identity: Sadomasochism and the Discourse of Evil in the Work of Catherine Opie" Eighth Global Conference: Perspectives on Evil and Human Wickedness (2007)
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/lgallow/1/