Queering the Minoans: Gender Performativity and the Aegean Color Convention in Fresco Painting at Knossos
Issue: Vol 30 No. 2 (2017)
Journal: Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology
This study evaluates wall paintings at the palace of Knossos, specifically the gender of figures that were previously considered ambiguous due to perceived inconsistences in the representation of their skin color, costume, and physicality. Special attention is paid to the dark skinned individual in the Captain of the Blacks Fresco, the red hand holding a necklace in the Jewel Fresco, and the white-skinned bull-leapers of the famous Taureador Frescoes. Methodologically, this study employs Butler’s theory of gender performativity, wherein repeated stylizations on the body’s surface, such as dress and adornment, are seen to produce gender identity. Since the frescoes are not the product of a modern Western society with dualistic gender categories, using presentist preconceptions to interpret the representation of gender identities in ancient art is unhelpful. Gender is conceptualized here outside binary confines, and I apply instead a queer approach utilizing a perspective of gender fluidity. Moreover, this study refers to Chapin’s (2012) analysis of the naturalistic portrayal of human development in Bronze Age murals, especially with respect to the depiction of primary and secondary sex characteristics, and considers these characteristics, together with skin tone, costume, and gesture as performatives that materialize gender. After analyzing the frescoes, it becomes clear that the gendered components layered upon those ‘ambiguous’ figures are not contradictory, but rather meaningful elements working together to create alternative gender identities.
Author: Alana N. Newman
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