Limerick, Ireland

Marlon T. Riggs

USA, 1957–1994

Riggs’s seminal documentary on black gay life, Tongues Untied (1989), uses a mixture of styles, such as poetry, personal testimony, rap, and performance (featuring poet Essex Hemphill and others), to confront the homophobia and racism experienced by black gay men at that time. In the fi lm, public expression of black homophobia with undertones of anti-gay violence is revealed: a man is refused entry to a gay bar because of his colour; a college student is le˛ bleeding on the sidewalk a˛ er a gay-bashing; a drag queen feels lonely and isolated in society. Riggs also gives a more a perfomative side of the black gay male experience, touching on dance (vogue), for instance, as a form of cultural resistance, community, and cultural affirmation. He also celebrates the innovation and expression of flamboyant and witty gestures like black queer snapping. In the exhibition, an excerpt from the fi lm focuses on the politics behind snapping as a clandestine form of communication that subverts and bypasses both police control and electronic-based communication lines. Diagnosed with HIV in 1988, Riggs’s continued to produce documentaries as way to interrogate the politics of identity, specifically in relation to masculinity, sexuality, and race. In his own words: ‘My struggle has allowed me to transcend that sense of shame and stigma identified with my being a black gay man. Having come through that fi re, they can’t touch me.’

Marlon T. Riggs was an Emmy Award–winning filmmaker, artist, and gay-rights activist. His films address questions of cultural memory and race relations in America, and more personal topics such as sexuality or HIV. Riggs produced, wrote, and directed several television documentaries, including Ethnic Notions (1986), Tongues Untied (1989), Color Adjustment (1992), and Black Is … Black Ain’t (1994).

(Text: 38th EVA International catalogue)


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