Del LaGrace Volcano is a visual producer and cultural producer born in California, but based in Sweden. Del LaGrace was born with male and female characteristics and was raised as a girl, but now Del lives life as a man and a woman. Though Volcano is not as well known in the United States as they are in Europe, they came back to the United States with the intention of broadening our horizons and exploring the nature of gender and different sexual identities. Volcano’s art exhibit “Del LaGrace Volcano: A Mid-Career Retrospective” in particular is what I aim to explore because it makes the viewer think about what gender and sexual identities are and how they relate to race and other social constructs. This exhibit began in September of 2012 and ended in November of 2012 in the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, located in New York.
Del LaGrace’s exhibit explored many aspects of what gender is and how it is portrayed in today’s society. One of the portraits on display, entitled “Del LaGrace Volcano, Self-Portrait Collaboration with Gerard Rancinan I, Paris, 2004” is of him/herself wearing a skirt while still maintaining his/her sense of masculinity. This piece is meant to display how masculinity and femininity do not have to take turns being displayed; rather they can be displayed at the same time and can still be beautiful and empowering. Del LaGrace is also holding a body-building pose which plays more into the masculine aspect of this piece, like they are saying “skirts do not make me anymore feminine or masculine, and neither does this pose.” Volcano wants to defy the norm and show that normality is what is weird.
Del LaGrace also explores drag in black culture. Their piece “Dred: BigDaddyMomma, New York City, 1997” is a picture of a woman dressed as a man, which shows that these things go both ways. It is not always a man who wants to be a woman, but rather women want to be men too. Another thing that is so prominent in this piece is the fact that, whether she wanted to keep them intentionally or not, she still has breasts and utilizes them with her drag. She still exudes a confident masculinity. Volcano wants to display that even in black culture—which tends to be stereotyped as a culture in which women are overly sexual and feminine and men are overly masculine and dominant—there are people who deviate from a perceived norm.
The last piece that I looked at was Del LaGrace’s “Liminality (Self-Portrait), 2004” the symbolism in this piece is much more prominent than the other pieces that I have looked at. In the first one, it was more a display of confidence and acceptance. In the second one, it was more a display of the act that there are exceptions to the norm in different cultures and amongst different races that may not get as much representation as they should—and it was important to see it displayed. This final piece is another self-portrait and he/she is pressed up against a piece of glass and he/she is absolutely covered in shaving cream. The thing that draws the most attention is the fact the Volcano is pressed up against this piece of glass, almost as if being pressed into society and symbolic of being almost forced into societal roles. This piece is so indicative of how Del LaGrace feels about the norms that dictate society. It also looks like he/she is pushing away, as if he/she is trying to become his/person. This is supposed to be symbolic of what it is like and what it was like for him/her to accept the intersex aspect of his/her life and adjusting to it to become his/her own person.
These pieces on their own and as a collection display the differences in intersex and transgender culture and portray them in a way that they would feel and look beautiful and symbolize something on a deeper level. This art exhibit pushed the limit of how people think about people and this community in general. Del LaGrace knows what he/she is about and knows that pushing people to realize that there is now such thing as a normal gender, or even a normal sense of gender, brings attention and representation to intersexuality, drag, and transgender culture.