HENRI VERHOEF


Created for the group exhibition 'Eyes on Robert' at Melkweg Expo where several queer artists were asked to make work related to Robert Mapplethorpe. 


I vividly remember seeing Mapplethorpe’s work for the first time. It was during my first year at the art academy that I was confronted with photographs of erect dicks and portraits of men in fetish gear. Looking at his explicit imagery, a feeling of uneasiness came over me, and because of that, I decided I didn’t like the work and did not look at it again.

Almost ten years later, I realize that those feelings of uneasiness were a product of internalized homophobia and shame about my sexuality. Feelings that are sometimes still present, dormant in my subconsciousness.

I recognize those feelings within myself now and I choose to no longer look away. I choose to explore my queer identity in my work, by looking to those who are comfortable with and proud of their sexuality. Whether they are drag kings or queens, femme boys or butch girls, same-sex couples walking hand in hand – people who dare to be themselves, in a world that is not always ready for them; those are the people that inspire me.

The images on display are part of a bigger project I am working on, called ‘Layers of leather’. At first, I wanted to pay homage to a subculture that I thought was slowly disap- pearing. Later in my process, I discovered what truly fascinated me: the leather scene is the only gay subculture that uses typical- ly (hyper)masculine elements, while at the same time uses explicit homosexual code; and in this way, the subculture challenges constructed stereotypes of masculinity. This demonstrates that identity is a performance and what may at first seem to be a hard and sexual exterior, can also be recognized as a symbol of openness and vulnerability towards society. 

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