Visual Archives of Sex

Cover image of RHR 142, Visual Archives of Sex, woman with camera sitting on porch

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This issue of Radical History Review examines impacts of the visual to pose new questions and challenges for scholars of sex.

Roundtable Curators speak openly about sexuality, queer and trans experience, and the challenge of showcasing sexual histories to broad publics in museum and gallery spaces.

Featured Essays Sunny Xiang’s analysis of swimsuit ads and synthetics shows how the white, female “bikini blonde” functioned as iterations of “atomic culture.” Lynda Nead pieces together photography and self-presentation in the life of Ruth Ellis, the last woman hanged in Britain in 1955. Javier Fernández Galeano reads mugshots of working-class trans women in Francoist Spain, contrasting these with the women’s own personal images. Kyle Frackman shows how in 1970s East Berlin, underground queer networks produced and circulated visual erotica.

Curated Spaces Topher Campbell traces the history of rukus!, a deeply political visual archive of Black LGBTQ+ life in today’s U.K. Carol Leigh, longtime antihomophobic and sex positive activist takes us to the 2001 Venice Biennale where sex workers’ Red Umbrella movement was born.

Reflections on Sexuality and the Visual David Serlin’s interview of Roland Betancourt interrogates Byzantine religious texts for the positionality of racialized minorities and binary/nonbinary historical actors. João Florencio and Ben Miller argue against historians’ neglect of sexually explicit sources within queer histories. Sarah Jones argues for support of radical speculation and personal discovery even when certain visual objects provoke students’ awkwardness and embarrassment. Alexis Boylan’s speaks with artist-scholar Derek Murray about the breadth and political dimensions of visual cultural: from the inequality laid bare by COVID-19 and BLM, to the ubiquity and uses of selfies.

Cover image caption: Vivian Fu, Self Portrait at Childhood Home, 2015, Giclée print, 11 in. x 14 in.