This article is part of Hyperallergic’s Pride Month series, featuring an interview with a different transgender or nonbinary emerging or mid-career artist every weekday throughout the month of June.
For the latest edition of our ongoing series, we spoke to Duff Norris, an interdisciplinary artist based in Brooklyn who works primarily in performance and photography. Norris often employs self-portraiture to explore the experience of being a trans man while probing the societal expectations that surround masculinity. Norris talked to Hyperallergic about his desire to represent tenderness and butchness as compatible parts of manhood and his hopes for an interconnected future in the LGBTQIA+ community.
Hyperallergic: What is the current focus of your artistic practice?
Duff Norris: Artistically, I’m interested in connection and exchange with my audience and participants. My current work centers on themes of masculinity and negotiating different norms and histories from various vantage points and backgrounds. I deeply desire an understanding of manhood that includes tenderness and open-heartedness that is not in opposition to butchness. Much of my work explores how I and other men come to that conversation through creating images and performances seeking expressions of intimacy and holding space for these ideas and their synergies and contradictions.
H: In what ways — if any — does your gender identity play a role in your experience as an artist?
DN: My interest in these themes comes directly out of my experience as a transgender man. Through the journey of coming out, transitioning, and living as a trans fella, there has always been a natural curiosity, criticality, and experimental aspect to my perspective which also guides my artistic practice. Evidenced in my series Transmen Pietas (2021–2022), I have repeatedly recreated the pieta with myself as Mary and different trans men whom I transitioned with as the slain Jesus figure in my lap. I am drawn to this image because it aligns trans-masculinity with the divine while also representing the tragedy and inflicted harm that we live with. Additionally, it is significant for me to cradle these beloved men and represent trans-masculine motherhood and care by embodying Mary’s position. Each image is taken within a personal space of the model in my lap and alludes to their identity and story beyond their trans status.
H: Which artists inspire your work today? What are your other sources of inspiration?
DN: Three artists that I think about frequently, in connection to my work, are Shaun Leonardo’s performance work and how his engagements translate into pieces. Tommy Kha’s images are a touchstone for the layered opportunities of a single image and of multiple images speaking to each other. I also look at the staging and performativity of Janine Antoni’s work and the presence of her and others’ bodies as an aspect of the dialogue.
H: What are your hopes for the LGBTQIA+ community at the current moment?
DN: As events unfold, I hope we continue to lean into our toughness as well as tenderness. I hope we invest in each other and in systems of liberation, resilience, and redundancy. The best minds I know suggest this is done through consensus building, collaboration, and mutual aid between multiple, diverse, and intersecting groups. I hope we aim our focus on building safety nets, care networks, and contingencies for and between our different constituencies.