PICTURING KINSHIP: Portraits of our Community by Lenore Chinn

By GLBT Historical Society

An exhibition at the GLBT Historical Society Museum, 2017

The genre of portraiture came into its own during the European Renaissance, in response to several interrelated social demands—among them, recording kinship relations, positing social status, and legitimating social hierarchies. LGBTQ families and communities have not historically enjoyed the validation and safety of social legitimacy. For us, making and sitting for portraiture has provided one means of individual self-affirmation and collective self-preservation. As documentation of our historical presence, portraiture proclaims, “We were and are here.” But there’s more to it than that. Portraiture not only reflects that which actually exists but also opens an imaginary space for the projection of new social possibilities. At the same time, portraiture participates in the creation and circulation of visual codes that make both our individual and collective identities legible. In the hands of sexually dissident artists, portraiture has attempted to correct the historical invisibility of queer families and communities. It has restored dignity to bonds formed outside of bloodlines—and, at some times and in some places, outside the law. 

Lenore Chinn and Elisabeth Cornu (2017) by Lenore ChinnGLBT Historical Society

Lenore (artist, left) and Elisabeth (exhibitions manager, right)

Lenore Chinn’s photographs and photo-realist paintings participate in this tradition, which might be called “restorative portraiture”: portraiture that repairs damage done to our bodies, spirits, families, and communities by state-sanctioned violence. That violence takes many forms—indifference, neglect, exclusion, repudiation, erasure, silencing, coercion, abuse, assault, incarceration, execution. Chinn has devoted her creative career since the 1970s to producing portraits, in the face of violence, that respond with all the strength of love. Her portraits register the power of queer kinship by embodying the diversity, tenderness, and resistance of our people.

Veuxdo in the Fillmore (2012) (2012) by Lenore ChinnGLBT Historical Society


Veuxdo in the Fillmore is based on an image captured by Lenore when she crossed paths with multimedia specialist Chelsea Mone’t and artist Lala Openi on Fillmore Street, where they were selling their T-shirts in front of the now-closed book store at the Fillmore Heritage Foundation.

The Family (1991) (1991) by Lenore ChinnGLBT Historical Society


The Family pictures San Francisco artist John Arbuckle and his partner Gary Pike, a writer who later passed away from AIDS.  

Land’s End (1987) (1987) by Lenore ChinnGLBT Historical Society

LAND’S END (1987)

Land’s End pictures the late Evelio “Tris” Talavera, Lenore’s close friend, posing at a playground once frequented by gay men at the western edge of the city. Tris was a dancer and member of the leather community; he was proud of his body. He died of AIDS in 1990.

Before the Wedding (2000) (2000) by Lenore ChinnGLBT Historical Society


Before the Wedding portrays Oakland-based painter and professor at California College of the Arts Kim Anno and her longtime partner, Ellen Meyers. The painting celebrates their relationship before marriage equality became a reality; they were among a few couples whose early marriage could not be nullified by the passage of Proposition 8 in California.

Domestic Partners (1989) (1989) by Lenore ChinnGLBT Historical Society


Domestic Partners commemorates the relationship of Mike Housh and the late Rick Pacurar. Both men were active in the Harvey Milk Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club and Rick served a term as the organization’s president. Mike had worked as assistant to Mayor Agnos, Both had served as legislative aides for  Congressman Phil Burton, and Rick also worked for Senator Barbara Boxer. 

Son Cuates (1981) (1981) by Lenore ChinnGLBT Historical Society


Son Cuates, a title suggested by one of the twin brothers portrayed by Lenore, pictures the pair at the portal to the Legion of Honor Museum in Lincoln Park, San Francisco. Tommy, on the left, was a dancer. He ushered Lenore into his world of ballet and musicals. The artist met Doug at City College of San Francisco, where they were both students. The brothers introduced Lenore to gay cultural sites from theatrical productions to gay bars in San Francisco and Los Angeles. 

Kari Orvik and Vero Majano (2015) (2015) by Lenore ChinnGLBT Historical Society

Kari Orvik and Vero Majano (2015)

Kari Orvik, photographer, and Vero Majano, filmmaker and performer. Kari now creates tintypes of her portraits and Vero continues to engage viewers with her installations and spoken word, addressing vital issues in The City’s Mission District.  Photo at Galería de la Raza opening of The Q-Sides. © 2015. Lenore Chinn photographs (#2017-19), GLBT Historical Society.

Osa Hidalgo-dela Riva (2007) (2007) by Lenore ChinnGLBT Historical Society

Osa Hidalgo-dela Riva (2007)

Osa Hidalgo-dela Riva, filmmaker and guest lecturer for Trinh T. Minh-ha in Ethnic Studies, University of California at Berkeley, She has produced numerous short films; her latest, Me and Mr. Mauri – Turning Poison into Medicine screened at Artists' Television Access and Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts. Hayward, CA. © 2007. Published as a black and white image in Spinsters Ink. Lenore Chinn photographs (#2017-19), GLBT Historical Society.

Việt Lê (2015) (2015) by Lenore ChinnGLBT Historical Society

Việt Lê (2015)

Việt Lê, visual and performance artist and professor in Visual Studies and Visual & Critical Studies at California College of the Arts, is pictured here at a Queer Conversations on Culture and the Arts panel sponsored by QCC, CCA, and Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), at California College of the Arts, Timken Hall. © 2015. Lenore Chinn photographs (#2017-19), GLBT Historical Society.

Jean Weisinger (2005) (2005) by Lenore ChinnGLBT Historical Society

Jean Weisinger (2005)

Jean Weisinger is an Oakland-based photographer whose black and white photographs have often graced the book covers of author Alice Walker. Since the mid-1980s Jean has documented the political activities of African American women. Oakland, CA. © 2005. Lenore Chinn photographs (#2017-19), GLBT Historical Society.

June Millington (2016) (2016) by Lenore ChinnGLBT Historical Society

June Millington (2016)

June Millington singer, songwriter, rock musician best known for her early all-female group, Fanny, and co-founder, along with Ann Hackler, of the Institute for the Musical Arts, in Goshen, MA. A pioneer in women’s music, she is the author of Land of a Thousand Bridges, an autobiography documenting her rock journey. June is seen here celebrating her birthday at the home of rock musician Deb Grabien, San Francisco, CA. © 2016.  Lenore Chinn photographs (#2017-19), GLBT Historical Society.

Veronica Passalacqua, Amari Passalacqua and Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie (2016) (2016) by Lenore ChinnGLBT Historical Society

Veronica Passalacqua, Amari Passalacqua and Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie (2016)

Veronica Passalacqua, curator, C.N. Gorman Museum, and Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie, artist, director, C.N. Gorman Museum and professor, Native American Studies at University of California at Davis, with their son, Amari Passalacqua.   Photo taken at Interwoven: Indigenous Contemporary exhibit at University of San Francisco. © 2016. Lenore Chinn photographs (#2017-19), GLBT Historical Society.

Lenore Chinn (2012) by Mia NakanoGLBT Historical Society

About the Artist

Lenore Chinn is a second-generation Asian American painter, photographer, and activist whose work has been shown nationally for more than three decades. Her paintings are based in the Bay Area tradition of photorealism, with its practice of creating large-scale acrylics inspired by photographs of everyday life. At the same time, her iconography escapes photorealist convention by focusing on LGBTQ relationships, racial and ethnic diversity, and Chinese-American culture and kinship. Chinn has long been active as a San Francisco community organizer who works to create structures of personal and institutional support that will both sustain critical artistic production and advance movements for social justice. She was an original member of Lesbians in the Visual Arts, is a co-founder of the Queer Cultural Center and has been active in the Asian American Women Artists Association since the group was founded. From 1988 to 1992, she served on the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. For more information, visit Lenore Chinn’s pages at http://www.lenorechinn.com and https://lenorechinn.wordpress.com.

Credits: Story

Dr. Tirza Latimer, Associate Professor and Chair of the Graduate Program in Visual and Critical Studies, California College of the Arts, San Francisco, in coordination with Lenore Chinn, artist.

Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center (APICC), Elisabeth Cornu, Darlene deManincor, Shannon Hartman, Phillip Laird, Amy Sueyoshi, Tina Takemoto, Rosangela Ueberwasser, Flo Oy Wong and Germaine Q. Wong

Exhibition Managers
Elisabeth Cornu & Jeremy Prince

Text Editor
Linnea Due

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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