Fine Art / Writing

Oil paint, gouache, mixed media


Isabella Cortez Steele
Brooklyn, New York, US

My artwork is inspired by the “closeting of history,” a term coined in psychologist Dr. Mark J. Blechner's novel, Sex Changes: Transformations in Society and Psychoanalysis. The closeting of history is the phenomenon in which evidence that suggests gay or bisexual behavior is purposely omitted from the narratives of important historical figures, thus allowing them to be imagined as heterosexual by future generations. (One example of this was the deletion of a poem that Abraham Lincoln had written from the biography, "Herndon's Life of Lincoln," because the subject of the poem was a relationship between two men, and would have raised questions about Lincoln's sexuality.) My work counters this phenomenon by placing historical figures, popular characters, and found images in situations that complicate their sexuality, thus freeing them from the limitations of their heterosexual narratives. By re-appropriating figures that have been symbols of hegemonic masculinity, my artwork challenges dominant narratives and imposes a fluid, performative understanding of gender and sexuality. Some of my re-contextualized figures interact with grandiose phallic forms; others contain a subtle feminizing or queering of the masculine. Non-sexual forms such as fruits and fish also function to actively prioritize, insinuate and explore queer contexts within my work. These images, which often accompany a tropical landscape, act as a celebration of my Brazilian heritage and Latinx experience. I create my art using oil paint, gouache, sculpture, screen print, and performance. These media, as they appear in my body of work, serve to create a bold, colorful, campy world that is controlled—and contained—by the queer female artist. They serve as tools that help me embrace and transcend both historical and personal notions of gender, sexuality, and cultural inheritance. They serve to tell an old story—and a new story—created in the artist’s image.

Isabella Cortez Steele is an interdisciplinary Brazilian-American artist based in São Paulo, Brazil, and New York City. Her work is influenced by the closeting of history and its effect on cultural memory. Through objectified phallic forms, tropical images, and appropriated American icons, her art functions to unravel historical and personal notions of gender, sexuality, and cultural inheritance. Steele received her Bachelor’s in Studio Art and Creative Writing from Florida State University in 2014. During her time there, she won several awards for her creative performance, including the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Award (2013), the Honors in the Major Thesis Award (2014), and the Literati Undergraduate Creative Writing Award (2012). Steele has since gone on to create and exhibit artwork nationally and internationally, including in Miami, São Paulo, Manaus (Brazil), Barquisimeto (Venezuela), and Cuzco (Peru).