In 1647, Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert and his slave Tobias are torn apart and jailed when they are caught having apparently consensual sex in New Amsterdam (what is today lower Manhattan Island). How much has changed in 361 years with the passage of California's Proposition 8 used to tear apart loving, same-sex couples from their legal coupling?

First Love

 

A few months back my friend Charles Leslie of the Leslie-Lohman Foundation in NYC approached me about participating in an exhibition developed around the concept of historical male lovers. He made a couple of suggestions, one being the case of "Harmen and Tobias" the first documented case of a homosexual relationship in the New World [1647] researched by Charles himself. Below is the link in case any of you are intrigued by the inspiration for this piece [Part 2 mentions the details of the men being together].  I weighed many options as to the subject matter for my submission to this extraordinary gallery showing, but I eventually thought the tale of these very early Americans should be illustrated in an effort to add my bit to bringing this episode to the attention of the queer community.


I'm not good at or generally enthusiastic concerning historical representations. I'm lazy about research, I feel that I can never really grasp the emotional investment of queers from centuries past (I think it naive and presumptuous to assume their behavior was similar to ours and only their costuming radically different).  And as a rule, I consider my drawings to be a sociologic examination of the gay experience as I see it in my lifetime. So, this was a real departure for me. However, I could identify with the notion of other people disagreeing with and condemning a male union and tried to infuse the scenario with that particular dynamic.

 

I think that this drawing is both beautiful and powerful and the sentiment evoked is remarkably prescient in light of the passage of California's Proposition 8 and similar ballot measures in Florida and Arizona. Normally I don't evaluate my work, that's for others to do. But I couldn't help but be aware of the emptiness at the center of the scene. It was an unconscious decision (as most of my artistic choices are) to have the "prime real estate" of the composition unfilled and I'm pretty sure that I've never produced anything like it. That emptiness corresponds with how I feel about this pro-bigotry measure being passed in the wake of a joyous and stunning win for Barack Obama. So, this represents both the sad tale of two human beings long ago as well as the current efforts of churches and hateful assholes to prevent us from being with who we love. Hundreds of years separate this historical rendering and where we queers find ourselves today... maybe the differences I had always assumed aren't so noticeable. 

 

Michael Kirwan

 

 

Links to the story and history of this early, documented, gay coupling can be found here:

Article by Tobias Seamon for The Morning News

Part 1

Part 2

 

 

First Love 2008 13" x 13"

 

 

 

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Any images, writings or other content on this website may be copied for personal viewing only.
They may not be: redistributed; sold; altered; enhanced; modified by artificial, digital or computer imaging;
used on another website or blog; posted to any internet or computer newsgroup, forum or media sharing site;
nor used for any other purpose without the express written permission of the artist or KirwanArts.com.