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Ben Cuevas is a Los Angeles based artist working in textiles, sculpture, installation, photography, video, sound, and performance. His practice underscores queer/feminist ideologies, with a focus on the condition of embodiment. As a queer, non-binary, HIV Positive, Latinx artist, his identity directly influences his work, which is often autobiographical. Born in Riverside, California in 1987 to a Jewish mother and a Puerto Rican father, he received a Bachelor of Arts in Mixed Media Installation Art from Hampshire College in Amherst, MA (2010). Afterward, he was awarded an artist's residency at the Wassaic Project in New York State. There he knitted his masterwork to date—a complete human skeleton. Since then he has created several bodies of work, exhibited widely, and used his art as activism to raise awareness around issues of HIV/AIDS. Several books and publications feature Cuevas’s work, such as DUETS: Ben Cuevas & Annie Sprinkle in Conversation (2017), published by Visual AIDS; Queer Threads: Crafting, Identity, and Community (2017), edited by John Chaich and Todd Oldham; Ceci n’est pas un pull (2018), published by Pyramyd Éditions, Paris, France; and Unraveled (2018), published by Thames & Hudson, London, UK.
Cuevas is currently at work on a collection of photographs titled, “Reinserted.” For this series, Cuevas recontextualizes portraits of sex workers. He takes archival images of sex workers, hustlers, or public cruising and separates the individual from their original environment, placing (or re-inserting) them in the present day of the same location. Cruising spots of the past become strip malls, parking lots, convenience stores, and more. As such, the series highlights changes and gentrification to the city as well as the ways sex work has changed. The series also speaks to visibility and invisibility and by manipulating the context of an image, makes the viewer think anew about the relationship between the past and the present. In a post FOSTA-SESTA world and one in which we are now all working from home, digital crackdowns and digital interactions take on a whole new valence.
Reinserted: Selma Avenue (2019) features a male hustler on Selma Avenue in Hollywood sometime in the 1970s (photographed by Pat Rocco), reinserted into a background of the same location in the present day (photographed by Ben Cuevas). The parking lot in the original photo from the archive is now a luxury hotel chain and a construction site where more new development is underway, replacing a storied hustler bar called the Spotlight. A woman with a cell phone walks by, and a bird scooter is parked behind our reinserted subject, speaking to disparities across time and the conception of the street as a space of economic exchange. Any reference to the sexual in the present day has been removed and privatized behind mobile screens and closed doors—a stark contrast to the power-pose of the hustler, displaying himself as confidently available.
Ben Cuevas was in conversation with curator Lexi Johnson on Monday June 1, 2020 at 5pm to speak about this particular work and ongoing series in relation to themes brought up by “safer at home.” The video recording is available to watch here: