You might remember my post Queer eye for the migrant worker (Feb. 2nd, 2007). In it I took issue with a Manhattan gallery exhibit featuring painted portraits of migrant workers who had been paid to pose for a gay artist in Los Angeles.
I didn't question the artistic merits of the exhibit but I did ask whether the paintings were truly a "collaboration" between painter and subject - as the New York Blade writer described it - or whether the men were "not objectified" as the gallery assured potential visitors.
Never mind that, according to the article, the artist had "become fascinated with the mostly Mexican and Central American immigrants hoping to be hired for a day’s work as they wait on street corners near his Los Angeles studio."
Turns out this might be a trend!
Today Christopher Murray has an article in Gay City News ("Painting Cuba") about New York gay artist James Rauchman and his series of paintings depicting day to day life in Cuba. I won't be as harsh to Rauchman as I was to the other artist because I've checked his site and actually love some of his stuff (including the painting above) but the article certainly plays to the objectifying angle by featuring images of a Cuban male hustler in bed in the print edition as well as the online edition. Rauchman also says that his infatuation with depicting Cuba involved an "Ill-fated infatuation with a male hustler there" which seems to play out through some of the images on his site.
This rubs a raw nerve in me because I recently found myself in an online debate about gay rights in Cuba (always a thorny topic in itself) in which someone from Europe argued that Cuba was not the anti-gay bastion that people in the United States depicted (for the record - I agree that it's not).
His reasoning? A friend who had just returned from Cuba on an academic visa had told him that he'd been able to bed as many young Cuban hustlers in his hotel room as he wanted, that the police didn't seem to care that he'd picked them up in plain daylight, and that the hotel staff didn't seem to mind him bringing men to his room. Proof, according to him, that same-sex liaisons were permitted in the island and not seen as out of the ordinary.
Call it a pet peeve of mine but I abhor sexual tourism and particularly in Cuba where hustlers are out to make a buck from wealthy left wing tourists - sometimes out of necessity - but still do not have the means to leave the island or are allowed to do so if they so desire.
At least Rauchman addresses some of the dynamics at play in Cuba in the GCN interview.
As for Cuba, I do believe that there has been a sea change in the government's approach to LGBT issues and the BBC reports today on some of the advancements ("Castro champions gay rights in Cuba"). And I predict that Cuba will continue to advance on LGBT rights and perhaps have a same-sex union bill by 2010.
It still does not allow dissident and non-dissident LGBT rights organizations or leaders to speak for themselves. Or acknowledge the wrongs it has done to the LGBT community in the past. Until that day, I will still criticize Cuba on LGBT rights.
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