Miracle Worker Christen Mooney Culls Fine Art From White Nonsense
Artist Christen Mooney’s conceptual series Cooning for Cash (2018) reflects on the duality of struggle, taking photographer Bob Mizer’s fetishistic imagery as something of a queer urtext from whence a new canon might be developed—one that grapples more fully with America’s intertwined histories of racism and homophobia.
Sourced from a now-defunct Tumblr (R.I.P.), Mizer’s photographs were reappropriated to “depict the duality in my identity and the struggle that goes along with that,” explains Mooney, though the work is not necessarily meant to be representative of personal experience. “Stepping away allows the art to speak. It would be doing myself and my work an injustice if I didn’t let it just be. Being absent was very intentional.” To that end, Mooney specifically sourced photographs based on the look on each model’s face, tapping into an emotive frequency and recontextualizing it on his own terms. “I’ve collected images like this for so long. And what’s depicted in the imagery—I’ve felt like that. I’ve felt extremely vulnerable in situations where I was powerless. I created this series to reflect on my own experience in this country, which is rancid with homophobia and racism.”
A quick Google image search for Mizer turns up more swollen caucasity than you can shake a stick at; Mooney’s tapestries take the few depictions of the Black male physique in the photographer’s oeuvre and elaborates on their latent potential, layering images overtop one another to both reference and reclaim an all-too-recent past in which Black bodies were an afterthought.
The tapestries exist not only as expressions of the gay, Black experience, but as Mooney’s personal dialogue between social affirmation and artistic practice. “For Blacks, we all know what cooning means. Selling out, being an Uncle Tom, running to master. [With this series] I wanted to address where you go when you have a hard time embracing your complexities, and working through how that may feel. I do believe my talent is my currency and I don’t shy away from saying that I desire visibility—but for my work. I actually stopped modeling and taking on other projects [and] am really honing in on my craft at the moment. If something is not for the betterment of my art practice I’ve been saying no. Which is also affirming as fuck.”—