Stephen Spiller - They #1

They #1


Stephen Spiller
(Long Island City, NY)


Archival Pigment Print


25” x 26.75”



Artist Statement:


Recently, I heard a 30ish Black woman say to a 50ish, white, male, police officer, in a strident voice: “From now on refer to me saying ‘they’”. I knew what she meant but it seemed he didn’t or didn’t care. In a dismissive and sarcastic tone he called her a “lesbo dyke”.

I’ve had many thoughts about that exchange. I want to raise here questions about what it means to be recognized, and referred to, as one wishes. That conversation, it seems, stimulated my desire to “sort out” “identity” issues, especially those involving gender confusion. I now think that something so simple, the use of pronouns, might play a large role in advancing civility, desperately needed in our racially warring country. That day, a pronoun “they” symbolized identity recognition, not referral to a group of people. For me, it was an audible signal - iceberg-like with most of its substance being invisible. Is it possible that understanding identity issues might even open the door to practicing empathy?


My work entitled “They #1” is a self-portrait that addresses non-binary gender identity and the use of gender pronouns. The composition offers three separate faces that suggest a fracturing, or perhaps a changing, of identity. The central figure is an amalgam of both masculine and feminine archetypes. The subtle appearance of the word “THEY” identifies related pronoun issues, e.g. what it means not only to be recognized, and referred to, as one wishes, but also the meaning when others disregard, unknowingly or otherwise, such recognition.