Queer visionaries talk gender

Philadelphia’s renowned Institute of Contemporary Art has a history of promoting queer themes. Continuing that tradition on Nov. 7, ICA will host a panel discussion and art presentation “They/She/He/Who’s Gotta Have it? Art Across Genders, Nations, and Forms.”

Organized and moderated by Ricardo Bracho, the event will focus on contemporary queer artistry in photography, performance, poetry and anime. Zeroing in on queer, trans, Black, Pacific and Asian contexts, They/She/He will look at visual and textual works that complicate divisions of genders, states, languages and cultures.

Bracho recently joined the University of Pennsylvania’s faculty as the Alice Paul Center’s Abrams artist-in-residence, and They/She/He will be his first organized event.

“I want to expose Penn students, faculty, staff and the community to people who I think are the most interesting voices and visionaries nationally,” said Bracho. “I wanted to expand the reach of women’s studies here at Penn, of queer studies, of trans studies. I wanted to sort of play between the in-betweens.”

So, he gathered three panelists whom he admires to participate in the queer event, including Ivan Monforte, Keith Harris and Anne Ishii, he said.

“Ishii is a Japanese woman translator who works in gay male erotica,” said Bracho. “Ivan — well, I don’t know how Ivan identifies himself. Ivan is Ivan. And Keith as a poet, is always kind of troubling.”

Monforte was born in Mexico and currently resides in New York City. His work in performance, installation and photography details New York City’s queer male leather world, queer and trans youth of color, the Fa’afafine community in Samoa, trans men of color and self-portraiture. Poet Harris is an associate professor of English at the University of California-Riverside. His work focuses on Black male homosexuality and the rhetoric of revolution within queer libration and Black nationalist discourses.

Ishii is a writer and translator who works within Japanese and U.S. contexts with gay manga publications. She has written for The Comics Journal, Slate, Publisher’s Weekly, and the Village Voice.

“I think Ivan will probably speak about what he perceives as LGBT privilege,” said Bracho. “Keith will read some of his poetry, and Anne some of her writings, as well as something she’s translated.

Bracho said these three artists are “stars,” and some of the most interesting and innovative thinkers and makers in their respective fields.

“In terms of structure and form, Anne is just an amazing translator,” said Bracho. “The subtlety and fluency she has in Japanese and English is unparalleled. Add the fact that the work she deals with in manga is hypersexual, very masculine and sometimes very violent — she handles that with such interesting affection and wit.”

Of Monforte, Bracho said he is usually objective about his taste in art, “but I find myself weak to his powers, always challenged and seduced by them.”

Harris, Bracho said, has “some of the strongest unpublished poetry in contemporary Black letters.”

The new Penn professor has been working since the summer to pull this event together. He gives credit to his colleagues for connecting him with ICA as a co-presenting partner. The panel is a natural complement to an exhibition currently on display at ICA: fierce pussy amplified.

While this is Bracho’s first collaboration with ICA in Philadelphia, he is not unfamiliar with becoming a part of a new art scene, as he has also worked in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and, of course, Los Angeles.

Of his experience in Philadelphia, Bracho said, “I’ve been focusing on my job, and on getting to know local queer artists and the Left — my people.”

When asked how he thinks audience members will respond to this event, Bracho said, “I wouldn’t presume to know. There is something to be said for spontaneity of response.” 

They/ She/ He/Who’s Gotta Have It? Art Across Genders, Nations, and Forms takes place on Nov. 7 at 5 pm at the Institute for Contemporary Art, 118 South 36th St. For more information, visit sas.upenn.edu/gsws/events. The event is free, and the location is ADA accessible.