Ria Brodell, Butch Heroes

Portraits and texts recover lost queer history: the lives of people who didn't conform to gender norms, from the fifteenth through the twentieth centuries.

Katherina Hetzeldorfer, tried "for a crime that didn't have a name" (same-sex sexual relations) and sentenced to death by drowning in 1477; Charles aka Mary Hamilton, publicly whipped for impersonating a man in eighteenth-century England; Clara, aka "Big Ben," over whom two jealous women fought in 1926 New York: these are just three of the lives that the artist Ria Brodell has reclaimed for queer history in Butch Heroes. Brodell offers a series of twenty-eight portraits of forgotten but heroic figures, each accompanied by a brief biographical note. They are individuals who were assigned female at birth but whose gender presentation was more masculine than feminine, who did not want to enter into heterosexual marriage, and who often faced dire punishment for being themselves.

Brodell's detailed and witty paintings are modeled on Catholic holy cards, slyly subverting a religious template. The portraits and the texts offer intriguing hints of lost lives: cats lounge in the background of domestic settings; one of the figures is said to have been employed variously as "a prophet, a soldier, or a textile worker"; another casually holds a lit cigarette. Brodell did extensive research for each portrait, piecing together a life from historical accounts, maps, journals, paintings, drawing, and photographs, finding the heroic in the forgotten.

Ria Brodell is an artist and educator based in Boston who has had solo and group exhibitions throughout the United States and whose work has been featured in the GuardianARTNews, the Boston Globe, and New American Paintings. Brodell is a part-time lecturer at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University.


A PSB Be the Change event 

Event date: 
Saturday, November 17, 2018 - 3:00pm
Event address: 
Porter Square Books
25 White St.
Cambridge, MA 02140
Butch Heroes Cover Image
$24.95
ISBN: 9780262038973
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Mit Press - August 17th, 2018

Category: