What might we mean by monoculture? What is the impetus for ‘identitarian’ or nationalistic monoculture movements who do not see, or wish, their society to be pluralistic, not just in the context of Europe but globally? Might we locate positive or even emancipatory aspirations of monoculture? Might a culturally homogeneous society also be inclusive and transformational? What lies at the fringes of monoculture, and what does it not tolerate? What may be the position of the arts within the context of monocultural ideology? Or alternatively, how might the arts look under monocultural ideology when taken to its logical conclusion?


 wim5104 © Photo: Wim Van Eesbeek
Portraits: Chloe / James / Pig Pen ,

Catherine Opie’s photography from the 1990s can be seen in the art historical traditions of Renaissance and Baroque imagery in Europe, often placing her subjects centrally, with vivid lighting and luminescent backgrounds. Her series Portraits (1993–1997) are amongst her best-known works, which portray members of queer communities, including drag kings, crossdressers, and female-to-male transsexuals, in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The works were produced during the era of the ‘culture wars’ of the late 1990s in the U.S., which polarised society on key subjects of socio-political relevance – including abortion rights, religion, sexual freedom, censorship, guns, property and privacy – along ideological lines between ‘progressives’ and ‘conservatives’. Opie’s portraits have provided visibility to individuals and communities that have historically been marginalised in society. The politics of identity have brought aesthetics and politics into civil discourse, of which the visual arts have played a leading role, demonstrating that visual culture can be significant in debates on society and equality.