The American expatriate painter Romaine Brooks actively utilized her artistic autonomy to visually assert a queer identity that did not fit within a rigidly defined gender binary. Previous scholars, such as Joe Lucchesi and Cassandra Langer, have thoroughly explored the homoerotic nature of Brooks’s works, particularly the portrait series from the 1920s where Brooks makes use of her own image, portraying herself and, as an extension of herself, her queer inner circle donning menswear. Expanding upon this scholarship and continuing to look closely at this series, I argue that it is important now to consider how each of Brooks’s figures enacts female masculinity differently, creating a nuanced range of gender performances which Brooks conscientiously chronicled by embracing her queer archive drive to document her “sexually deviant” community. Thus, by producing and controlling a powerful and subversive counter-archive, Brooks rejected the mainstream pathologization of female queerness—labeled “inversion”—and instead asserted a dignified Sapphic identity. Notions of archive power dynamics—they who control the archive control the memory—along with Jack Halberstam’s discussions of female masculinity, function as critical threads running through this study because Brooks kept these gender-nonconforming portraits in her possession until the last year of her life, when she donated the majority of her works to the National Museum of American Art (now the Smithsonian American Art Museum), perhaps to ensure that her own self-image as a female artist and those of her gender non-conforming community might be viewed and understood by a broader, more enlightened future audience.
Gender, LGBT, Queer, Women, Identity, Archive, Arts and Identities
The Arts in Social, Political, and Community Life
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session
Graduate Student, Instructor of Record , Art History, Temple University
My name is Lily Scott and I am a fourth-year PhD student in the department of Art History at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I work on American art and visual culture from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with a focus on women and queer artists. My research interests include the following: American Modernism, trans-Atlantic exchange, queer theory, feminst theory, precarity theory, psychoanalytic theory, and early twentieth-century sexological theory.