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Lisa Rivera - Beautiful Boy.jpg

UNDER THE SAME STAR

Lissa Rivera and her partner, BJ Lillis, stage scenarios in fantasy realms, enticing us into their world that refutes the validity of perpetuated dogmas about gender.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY LISSA RIVERA
TEXT BY SILA DEMİRAL

 

Born in a rural area in Upstate New York, Lissa Rivera figured out the norms imposed by society and order at an early age. At age five she already despised girly pink, books about kittens, Lisa Frank and the stereotypes imposed on the female image. With an attitude and style that stood out in the confined worlds of a small town, she admits having issues with the sense of belonging for as long as she can remember. She stopped trying to live the life of a woman in the traditional sense after being labelled a lesbian by homophobic school bullies. Rivera began pursuing art in an effort to create her own universe; she used the rebellious tones of The Velvet Underground and pondered on questions about being a woman. While trying to free herself from the established images of femininity, the norms imposed by society inevitably made Rivera reject her gender and she started to lead a ‘manly’ life that was somewhat influenced by the Marquis de Sade.
 

During her career, Rivera curated exhibitions like Leonor Fini: Theatre of Desire, James Bidgood: Reveries, Mariette Pathy Allen: Rites of Passage, received various awards including LensCulture Emerging Talent Award for Portraiture and strives to introduce unconventional artists to a larger audience. She met BJ while looking for inspiration in overcoming her prevailing issues with gender, giving way to the Beautiful Boy series. BJ had the ‘luck of coming into this world as a man’ but he had a desire to express himself in women’s clothing. Rivera was tempted by the prospect of questioning gender with a subject who had consciously changed his side in this balance of power, and BJ agreed to have his portrait taken. Before the project materialized, Rivera had not seen BJ in anything other than men’s clothes, which he wore almost as a sort of performance costume. On one side you have the fragile BJ, the one who is unable to identify with buying men’s clothes, instead, hovering around an office in loose-fitting clothes bought by his family, on the other is the BJ who gets home and dresses as he pleases. The bond between the two led to BJ and Lissa collaborating professionally, before becoming partners in life.

The focus of the portraits is clearly creating an atmosphere for BJ to embrace her femininity. An atmosphere where the stereotypical perception of femininity is shattered, gender becomes just a stigma, movies and real-life merge, and stories come to life in snapshots... Being a woman has nothing to do with being weak, in this life – on the contrary, it exalts with the ability to dominate your environment. Rivera usually constructs her sets in her studio; however, the likelihood of finding places where BJ can feel like a goddess soon encourages her to venture outdoors. Inspired by old movies and photo frames, she uses second-hand clothes and costumes made of pieces from cheap fabric stores to create stories that allow reconciliation with their own femininity and even proudly own feminine energy. She visually expresses a gender identity that she and her partner will take part in comfortably.