Anthony Luvera: Let Us Eat Cake / Reviewed by Emma Campbell / 04.12.17
Let us Eat Cake is an exhibition of photographs created over a 9-month period by the artist Anthony Luvera and LGBTQ+ people living across Northern Ireland. Made collaboratively and actively revealing the input and processes of each person and the artist, this revealing method is suited to the online space of the blog, www.letuseatcake.blog but it is also highlighted in the accompanying booklet.
The title is a knowing reminder of the infamous Northern Irish court case involving baked goods, where Evangelical Christians and the DUP pitted themselves against the rights of LGBTQ+ people and those who support them. The cavalier tone of this title hides beneath it something far more serious; the acknowledgement that a government permitted to belittle a huge cross-section of its own citizens, through a lack of support for equal rights and continued use of discriminatory language, is one which directly contributes to the mental ill-health, hate crime and disadvantage of its own people and their families.
There are multiple threads through this work, brought to life by Anthony, that call to mind the artist Martha Rosler. The overtly political nature, the collaborative process, the disregard of current art-world collectability as well as complicating the use of documentary as a mode of portraiture. Speaking about a series of her own images, Rosler has said,
“I’m suspicious of the iconic portrait—the physiognomic fallacy suggests we can learn something significant about a person from looking at a facial representation. Really, how much can you read from a person’s photograph? Mostly we tend to fetishize what we’re looking at. Since the people in these photos are not public figures, it didn’t seem right for me to just show pictures of them taken at a relatively random moment.”[i]
Anthony along with Chris, Ciaran, Natalie, Paul, Rachael, Raymond and Sarah has revealed the journey leading to the end-point we see on the gallery walls. This self-reflexive and deconstructed mode of production engenders a greater level of trust in the viewer and deals with Rosler’s problemitisation of portraiture as a tool of representation. Inviting the audience to sneak ‘behind the curtain’ and see the process on practical, political and personal levels appears to create a sense of embodiment for each participant, as a recognized rights-holder, as an emboldened citizen, out, visible and unapologetic.
This is beyond the mawkish voyeurism common in portrait series but represents instead true collaboration, taking seriously the duty implied within Azoulay’s ‘citizenry of photography’[ii] and applying it to the LGBTQ+ community in Northern Ireland.
As someone also using photography to undermine the regressive politics of Northern Ireland, I appreciate the requirement for individual narratives in a sea of depressing statistics. I doubly appreciate the refusal to let such work become a victim’s gallery where the specter of othering the subject often looms large. Instead, here we are allowed in, into the method, into the minds and into the lives of our queer brothers, sisters and non-binary folk.
There are many routes to dismantling stigma on individual, community and societal levels and these self-directed, assisted portraits address some of them visually and conversationally.
– reviewed by Emma Campbell
[ii] The Civil Contract of Photography by Ariella Azoulay, Zone Books, New York 2008
Below, installation views of Let Us Eat Cake at Belfast Exposed, November 2017. Photos: David Copeland. Middle image – Anthony Luvera (with cake)
Belfast Exposed Photography
The Exchange Place
23 Donegall Street
Belfast BT1 2FF