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Sexuality and Identity

Interview by Jana Astanov.

Eva Mueller, born in Germany, is a New York based artist. Her education in graphic design and her love for the German design academy Bauhaus led to her iconic minimal style and composition, often paired with an unusual twist that elicits a startled double take. Her work has focused on the core constructs of our human existence; such as race, gender identity, and sexuality. Her current exhibition “Flowers &Chocolate” can be seen at Art During The Occupation Gallery, Bushwick. You can follower her on IG @evamueller.

3:AM: In your current exhibition, “Flowers &Chocolate” you are showing intricate sculptural forms made of black erected penises and flowers. If you were a white man taking photographs of black vaginas this project would face a lot of criticism. So far, however, you have only had positive reactions to your concept. What’s your take on this cultural attitude? Are penises less political than vaginas?

Eva Mueller: Gender issues have unfortunately become extremely political in our society especially now with the administration trying to roll back hard fought for rights for transgender people.

I chose the black penis as my current subject because I feel it needs to be seen in its beauty and outside a pornographic or purely sexual context. It can be seen political, especially nowadays where racial tensions are on the rise and unarmed black men keep getting killed by white cops. Why? Is there a hidden inferiority complex  nobody wants to talk about? I feel that most people who came to the opening understood what I am trying to say. Many commented on the pure beauty and how non aggressive they perceived the penises despite being erect. Also the black men I talked to felt pleased that the black male sexuality found its way into the arts, as they felt that Black people have been vastly underrepresented as artists and subjects.

3:AM: Your work can be seen as provocative, what are the themes that you explore?

EM: I don’t even see myself as provocative but if people look at my work that way its not a bad thing. I guess I like to provoke a new view, re-consideration of opinions, assuming a different point of view.  I’m interested in our basic instincts and desires and also who we are when the layers of our chosen identities are peeled away. What drives us what lights the fire in us. I’m interested in all aspects of sexuality and identity.

3:AM: What made you become a photographer?

EM: I always looked at photos and photographers work. In Germany I didn’t see how I could go a path as a photographer but after I arrived in NYC it was clear that I had to become a photographer. It was a calling in the truest sense of the word.

3:AM: Could you tell me about some of your notable past projects?

EM:Black Face was a series I created in 2012-14. I was interested to see what happens if I painted people of all races and ethnicities pitch black, photographed them close-up without any hair visible as to give away possible origin. It was fascinating to see how each face changed and even the persons gender became uncertain. all that was left to look at was human face, no gender, no race, just a person. The only entry point for the viewer were the subjects eyes and the saying that the eyes are the windows to the soul became very apparent in this pictures.

After that I created a portrait series GenderFuck of people who blur the gender-lined, whether by their careers as drag performers or being trans or just by not committing to one gender. Again the viewer was left guessing whats going on, and that’s exactly where I want to get people. To realize they can’t compartmentalize but it also doesn’t matter. Its about acceptance.

Right now I’m showing a new series, Flowers & Chocolate which features light boxes with photographs of black erect penises paired with flowers in a dark gallery space filled with flower smell.

3:AM: Looking at your work within the past few years and series such as “GenderFuck” and “Black Face”, what at first seems to be controversial and shocking – whether as a concept or the choice of subjects – is in fact a praise for diversity, equality, and acceptance. Would you describe your work as political in that sense?

EM: I don’t think either series was shocking, maybe controversial, yes. These days anything can be politicized so if that’s what inspires a viewer, sure. But I see the works more sociological. It’s about who we are and how we choose to identify as human beings within the society we live in.

3:AM: Since moving to Bushwick in 2012 your subject matter has revolved around a community of artists you have cultivated both personally and professionally. Last year you photographed one portrait per day for the entire year, all 365 days. To what extent is your work a portrayal of the Bushwick community?

EM: The “1 Portrait A Day For 1 Year” Project was meant to be a daily practice such as meditation or workout. I wanted to see if I could adhere to it for 365 consecutive days. I did. Many of the portraits were taken in my immediate surroundings mainly because of time constraints. Often I needed to fit the Daily as I called the portraits into a full day so instead of planning a shoot with a subject of interest I needed to find someone close by and take the picture fast. It was a great exercise in letting go of trying to achieve perfection. But because of the time construction there are many people from Bushwick in the series.

As for the other 2 main projects I shot in the last years, Black Face and GenderFuck I worked with people from all around New York not just Bushwick. When I started GenderFuck Bushwick was not as queer as it is now.

3:AM: For many years you have worked as a commercial photographer. What compelled you to make the transition into the world of fine art photography?

EM: It was gradual. I guess i just got into fashion photography back then because I met a fashion photographer the late Karin Kohlberg who became a close friend and mentor. Also fashion photography was more artful then even in major magazines. It changed when advertisers started to rule editorial content and all became more commercial and “safe”. I guess my photos were often more artistic than commercial and i didn’t even see it. When I moved to Bushwick, Brooklyn more than 6 years ago I found myself in a very artistic neighborhood with ,any galleries and most people were artists so i became so much more inspired to explore the fine art side of photography while I distanced myself more and more from fashion photography.

3:AM: It seems apparent that your aesthetic is rooted in Bauhaus and minimalism. How has that approach informed the catalogue of your work thus far?

EM: It’s not really an approach, the Bauhaus aesthetic feels its part of my dna so whatever I do is part of that. Also my background in graphic design led me to create images that can be I understood and recognized quickly just like when you design a logo. It can’t be too complicated or it won’t work.

3:AM: Where there any people who influenced your work?

EM: Herb Ritts, Erwin Blumenfeld, Horst, Mappelethorpe, Irving Penn, Peter Lindbergh when I started out. Now I appreciate the works of Ren Hang and Roger Ballen

3:AM: What’s next on your horizon?

EM: One project that has been on my to do list for a long time is called “Happy Ending”. I say no more.  

 

ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER

Jana Astanov is a multidisciplinary artist, poetess and Priestess of Impermanence at Red Temple. Her work includes photography, poetry, performance and new media. She published three collections of poetry: Antidivine, Grimoire and Sublunar. She can be found here: website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, April 19th, 2018.