The Queer Psychoanalysis Society

Thoughts on the Assassination of Judy Garland (Series of Paintings 2008-2012)

In Art, Gender Studies, LGBT, Performativity, Politics, Queer Theory on April 16, 2013 at 9:03 pm

The second in our on-going series of articles on “The Screen”

duke_Killshot 2 Judys Gopalkrishnan 2013-1

by Carl Gopalkrishnan

Between 2008-2012, I created paintings with an ‘old school’ queer cultural affinity with vintage Broadway and Hollywood musicals. I used the life of Judy Garland as an internal narrative arc, a reflective tool, as part of my personal response to the 9/11 consciousness we inhabit today.  It became a metaphorical exploration of American politics from the period of the Obama/Clinton primaries, through further conflict in the Middle East amid the background of drones and the war on terror.  I think Judy kept asking the same question too, but kept singing the whole time, so keeping her fucked up life beside me as I painted was oddly grounding.

To me, Garland is more than a gay icon. She represents the best and worst of America – and their inevitable interoperability. The flipside of her talent helped me to understand the American partisan split personality in a more sympathetic way. I also had no difficulty with being sympathetic because I can’t not be sympathetic to one side of Judy without acknowledging the damage on the other side. And this ‘otherness’ in my paintings is how I conceive what is queer in this series of paintings.  This led me to looking at Hollywood movies and musicals as metaphors for the political intransigence of both Bush and Obama’s foreign policies. I call the series The Assassination of Judy Garland, because I feel that we are now separated into those that see Judy in 2 dimensional tragic terms; and those that see how tragedy shaped her genius in glorious 3D.

I also used French medieval epic poetry – chansons de geste – roughly translated as songs of heroic deeds because they were used at that time to support the political narratives of the Crusades in ways that reminded me of how many Hollywood products supports the War on Terror.  So the queer lens I created for these paintings is a prescription lens made for a specific time and place. And this lens acts as a screen to both hide and reveal motivations and desires, as much the screen icons I reference.  So the modern political stage I see is through recent history (Judy Garland’s life) and medieval history (chansons de geste).

As a queer-identifying man of colour with multiple geopolitical and sexual identities, I found myself directly affected by the political climate of the last decade.  It was the first time as a painter that I was looking outside to constructively use what was inside me to create an alternative to the narrative War on Terror, which always insists that I use my cultural heritage to position my loyalties in a dangerous time.  When I looked around to find how I could use my queer identity, I found that it was so busy trying on clothes that it had gone way beyond the body it was made to clothe. It had changed as I had aged.

People seem to forget that queer theory breathes within a time of terror that smashes lenses and burns books. It fancies itself immune. But I could not find a queer framework that helped me to paint what I saw.  I no longer understood what I call the new normative queer, and so I returned to what I knew was ‘naff’ and old school.  I allowed myself to visually languor in the Hollywood of the 1930s and 1950s. I felt quite alienated from the new normative queer climate influenced by a hyper-masculinized LGBTI culture that was becoming increasingly nationalistic in it’s desire to go beyond its backroom history into the light of mainstream acceptance.  Part of that process seems to relegate our screen culture history into the domain of soft power forever, which I really resist.  Screen culture has a power equal to that of the chansons de geste, which could inspire entire populations to lay down their lives through songs orally memorised and sung from village to village in the time of The Crusades. So I painted within that retrospective space, choosing sense over sensibility, perhaps.

I have taken away from these paintings a deeper appreciation for how our queer histories have become silent pictures that sit patiently and move slowly behind the interactive and hyperactive edges of this new normative queer. So while I reference moving pictures, the surreality in my paintings is happening on the silent screen inside us. Applied to the bigger stage, this screen can affect momentous change. We should respect that power.


Carl Gopalkrishnan

And Starring Benjamin Netanyahu as Norman Maine  (2010)

This image appropriates A Star Is Born’s relationship between Esther Blodget and Norman Maine (Judy Garland and James Mason) to comment on the nuances in the relationship between America and Israel


There is nothing like a drone (2011)

I referenced the Pulitzer Prize winning musical South Pacific (which won for its themes of racism) and changed the song There is Nothing Like a Dame to “drone”. It evokes the hyper-masculine fantasies and sexual excitement associated with new technology. Also the romantic, emotional attachment, the anthropomorphic nature that the DOD projects onto this technology.

Chick Flick A

Chick Flick (2009)

A reflection on Obama’s Cairo speech through the lens of the Bette Davis film Now Voyager, where Davis says to Paul Henried, “Don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars.” In my mind the stars and moon of Islamic faith blended with the stars and stripes, but also questioned the role of Hollywood in constructing worldviews on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

kanahar kandy_B

  Kandahar Kandy

Kandahar Kandy is about the war in Afghanistan, the cultural conflict here represented by a 1930s “leading man” type with his “leading lady” wearing her burqa. Textually there is a passage from Revelation Chapter 10, and it references religious difference while alluding to the Crusades. I had a thing about cakes (cupcakes here) in several paintings commenting on the way proponents of war project their appetites (for what? – the viewer is asked to reflect).

Carl Gopalkrishnan

Tzipi Livni as Sibyle of Cumae with Dancing Follies  (2009)

The Sibyl (as metaphor) has a prophesising role as the priestess presiding over Apollo’s oracle at Cumae, a Greek colony located near Naples, Italy. And Livni is recreated here as a high priestess. It is not eulogising or absolving her in any way, just reflecting on her role on the global stage and Middle East conflict specifically.

Painted at the same time as the Judy/Netanyahu painting in 2009, it’s reflecting on Obama’s Cairo speech.  Netanyahu had just beaten Livni for the PM’s job despite her winning popular votes, and the she declined to share govt.  So it’s a reflection on Livni’s absence, the idea of a leading lady who returns to the chorus line shown through screenprinted Ziegfeld Follies, which I adapted from original photos from the era. I think her absence changed events considerably.


Suppertime (series: 6 x 10x10cm individual canvases)

This painting is inspired by a 1933 performance of the song Suppertime by African American singer/actor Ethel Waters in Irving Berlin’s Broadway show As Thousands Cheer. The musical, really innovative for its time, was a musical about International and national current affairs. The song was about a recent lynching of a black man in the South. In 2008 Barack Obama had a lot of political goodwill as a potential first black president and this painting reflects on the difference between Waters’ performance on Broadway and Obama’s on the political stage.

About the Author:

Carl Gopalkrishnan (aka Gopal) has been a practicing visual artist for over 25 years.  Born in the UK in 1967 and now based in Perth, Western Australia, he explores society’s unconscious personality using metaphors through a queer cultural lens. A self-taught painter with a background in design, he mixes academic study and research with less traditional experiential approaches to making images. He works primarily in acrylic on canvas, photography, drawing and printmaking.

In 2012 he exhibited in a workshop at the University of Surrey in the UK and linked some of these paintings into a discussion on new capabilities and new technologies (drones, military intervention etc), in a way that the organizers thought made sense. This became a cross-over exhibition between the arts/other barrier to challenge the way policy makers and advisers saw reality, by introducing the idea that a surreality of unconscious cultural metaphors and hidden histories were silently participating in foreign policy development.

  1. […] New Article, The Qouch: Queer Psychoanalysis Society USA April 2013 […]

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