Victorian Minorities

About the works:

The works are inspired by a building in Newburgh, NY. It has stunning, exquisite details of ornamental casings, and the building itself is well restored Queen Ann style house built in 1875. The figures in the works are based on the actual antique photos found online. To incorporate with the figures, I create abstract patterns using circles and also negatives of circles. Circles represent the notions of totality, wholeness, original perfection, the Self, the infinite, eternity, timelessness, all cyclic movement, God (‘God is a circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere’ (Hermes Trismegistus)). 

The black Victorian woman’s name is unknown, which is often the case, as the repressed social position of black women in 19th century. Her expression got my attention. She seems trying to smile for the picture, yet she is not. She appears slightly nervous, somewhat intimidated but staying strong at the same time. Victorian era is the time slavery just officially ended. However, not everyone completely accepted the change consciously or unconsciously. This subconscious idea against certain races is still living with us in 21st century. As an Asian foreigner, I experienced prejudice time to time, especially when I was young, in my early 20s. I had no idea that young Asian women are very sexualized. Based on my experience, I imagine how much the black Victorian woman had to go through psychologically and physically. The work is tribute and my respect to the anonymous woman. 

The photograph of the white woman is taken in 1875, which is the same year as the building was erected. The figure appears to be a woman, however, she is actually a ‘cross dresser’ and a performer of 19th century when cross dressing was a crime, and sodomy was considered to be taboo. His/her name was Ernest Byne, and his personal history is truly brave and fascinating. He/she is also a survivor although in a vulnerable position in that era. Ernest Byne’s history is bellow taken from The Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation’s website.

Ernest Byne (1848-1904)

Ernest Boulton came from a family of London stockbrokers. As a teenager he performed in variety acts as Lady Stella Clinton. In 1870 Boulton was arrested leaving a ball in drag. He was initially charged with public mischief, a minor charge used to round up cross-dressers. But after a police surgeon demanded to inspect Boulton’s buttocks the charge was changed to a felony: “conspiring and inciting persons to commit an unnatural offence.” As Oscar Wilde was to discover in 1895, sodomy was a grave crime in England. In The Queen v. Boulton the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. Boulton sailed for New York soon after, took the name Ernest Byne, and continued his drag performances in the U.S. In this Sarony photo Byne’s magnificent bustle is the height of Victorian fashion.

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