“Now we think as we fuck. This nut might kill. This kiss could turn to stone.”
–Essex Hemphill in Marlon Riggs’s Tongues Untied
In the mid-1960s Kenneth Anger practiced witchcraft with Ektachrome, Andy Warhol set his sights on Paul America on a Fire Island beach, and Shirley Clarke let the camera roll out over the course of a drunken evening with a hustler on the roof of the Chelsea Hotel. These radical representations of sexuality and identity presaged a movement that would be ignited in the summer of ’69 by activists like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. Contiguously channeling the queer community’s collective rage, Fred Halsted committed shocking acts of cinematic sedition in the early 1970s by disseminating sadomasochistic iconography that one critic noted “represents a very radical threat to the heterosexual domination of Planet Earth.” Lesbian filmmaker Barbara Hammer took an even more radical approach: accepting her identity and exalting the bodies of women in the natural world.
In the 1980s, the urgency of queerness shifted from visibility to survival. The quotation in the title of this series is spoken by poet Essex Hemphill in Marlon Riggs’s Tongues Untied. Hemphill highlights the newfound danger of being queer in the age of AIDS: “Now we think as we fuck. This nut might kill. This kiss could turn to stone.” For Riggs and Hemphill, this added yet another layer of otherness. Fighting for the right to exist as queer is chronicled by all of the artists in the latter half of the series, from Gregg Bordowitz and Jean Carlomusto’s guerrilla frontline protest documentation to Ellen Spiro and John Lewis’s early safer sex education tapes, DiAna’s Hair Ego and the aptly titled Chance of a Lifetime.
MoMA’s film collection includes significant holdings by lesbian and gay filmmakers, especially in the period ranging from avant-garde celebrations of queer culture on film to the tragic resolve of the AIDS crisis on home video. Featuring a selection of classic, forgotten, and newly preserved landmark films of the movement, “Now We Think as We Fuck”: Queer Liberation to Activism explores the ways that queer moving-image artists defined and inspired their marginalized community. Works in the series demonstrate how those in the movement rose to heroism in a time of crisis, acting to change the course of history. —MoMA