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Lesbian Queen: Judy Springer

Judy Springer, Lesbian Queen, 1995. Ceramic, wood. Canadian Clay & Glass Gallery Permanent Collection. Gift of the artist.

When first confronted with Judy Springer’s Lesbian Queen, it is easy to be taken aback by its bold, and unsettling imagery. The unexpected, and highly emphasized illustration of a toothed vagina is not for the easily perturbed. However, among these seemingly impudent signifiers is a pugnacious representation of feminism, and pride.

Lesbian Queen is a wall-hanging piece composed of two ceramic tile slabs within a singular wooden frame. The piece depicts a portrait of a woman – an illustration reminiscent of the Queen’s portrait in a deck of cards, further emphasized by the size and orientation of the clay canvas. The colour of the clay body is not dissimilar to the wooden frame surrounding it, giving the piece an overall antiquated quality, as though aged and worn. Yet, its imagery and allegories are very much contemporary.

Of course, the imagery of a snaggle-toothed vagina is inundated with anti-misogynist rhetoric; the power of women, their unwillingness to yield and placate sexual aggressors as meek victims. It is aggressive and demands the viewer’s attention, and while overwhelming, it is impossible to ignore. Pairing this imagery with the title – Lesbian Queen – it is clear that this proverbial queen is representative of Lesbian strength and power. The resolute defiance of being reduced into a fetish for the male gaze. Curly lines – representative of long, coiled pubic hair – jut out from her pubis and further emphasize that this woman – this queen – was not meant for men. She is the harbinger and symbol of women who refuse to abide by socially-accepted norms perpetuated by a long-running history of male-influenced visual culture. She brandishes her fish – her femininity – with pride, gazing headstrong towards the viewer as if to say; “what are you going to do about it?”

Pieces like these are immensely important – both for queer representation in art – as well as for what they do in challenging male dominance in the history of art. For centuries, art has been overwhelmingly influenced by the opinions of male viewers, with male artists receiving the most attention and respect. Judy Springer is finished with that mentality. She has created a piece that is unapologetically queer, and actively challenges the viewer – especially those that are male – to confront a powerful icon of femininity.

Cheyenne Mapplebeck
Gallery Coordinator

To learn more about the our collections and Gallery programs with more essays in our IMPACT Magazine, click here.