UNM student captures queer identity with picture-perfect poeticism

Andrew Michael Joseph, a senior at the University of New Mexico, is heading into his final year in the studio art program, leaving behind a photographic legacy of exploration and celebration of queer identity in the UNM arts and honors programs.

In his work, Joseph is interested in exploring his identity as a transgender man. His most recent exhibition, “Proximity to Divinity,” investigated the idea of the cisgender male as the “divine,” and the inability to achieve this ideal. He also explored the beauty that comes from not being cisgender and having to “make your own body and make your own being.”

“It is something that I really wasn’t comfortable talking about for a very long time, and I really wasn’t comfortable making art about it. It was difficult to push myself to be able to put that out there, but it was also very liberating and freeing and I feel a lot more comfortable making art about that now,” Joseph said.

UNM art studio student Lucien Guy met Joseph at the Albuquerque Comic Convention when they were 13, bonding over their love of cosplay. Guy, a fellow photographer, has seen the progression of Joseph’s photography over time, as well as his crafting of a much stronger, more personal voice in his work.

“It’s so subtle when you look at a body of work from him. He doesn’t offer you a lot in terms of words, like verbal context, so it kind of forces you to really engage with the imagery. And I think because of that, the story or the narrative that he has begins to unfold. And I think he presents it in such a way that even if you don’t know him, you are going to take something away that is personal to you from his work and that is very powerful,” Guy said.

Joseph was originally drawn to painting and wanted to pursue a career in illustration, but became interested in photography — now his primary medium — late in high school. He appreciates the innate and immediate realism of photography and its ability to produce exactly what he pictures in his head.

“With photography I was able to immediately jump and be able to investigate different ideas as opposed to having to go over like, ‘Here’s how you do shading,’ ‘Here’s how you do figure drawing,’ over and over again,” Joseph said.

Joseph has recently been drawn toward using photography as a way to explore his Indonesian identity and express defiance against the co-opting of Asian culture by white audiences.

“I think that there’s a certain sacredness to a lot of parts of Asian cultures, and especially in America, where there’s a lot of flattening of Asian cultures. It all becomes synonymous to a lot of white people. I want to start to express those differences because as an Indonesian American, I don’t often see myself represented in the Asian American media,” Joseph said.

As well as being a generally positive figure to be around, Guy credits Joseph as being a funny, intelligent and observant person. Guy hopes to see Joseph gain more confidence in his work.

“I think that most people can see that he is very talented, and also very skilled and very dedicated to his craft … and I think once he is able to recognize that, the world is gonna open up for him,”  Guy said. “I can see him obtaining great success in terms of gallery work and working with people, and getting to express his work nationally, but I think it’s dependent on him recognizing that he is a very good artist.”

Joseph wants to become an independent artist full time — beyond that, he hopes to go to graduate school and eventually become an instructor of art. He feels he has been “living and breathing art” in his college career and loves art history as well as he does actually practicing art. Outside of this, however, he enjoys video games, writing and world building. He is currently in the UNM honors college’s graphic memoir class, which he said has renewed some of his interest in illustration.

“Everyone can do art, but it is a matter of dedication, and you have to have a tough skin to go into art … but as long as you’re confident, it’s really important — I think the world needs more artists and it’s a very effective way to share you ideas and reach a large audience,” Joseph said.

Joseph’s work can be found on his website or on Instagram @chiaroscuroh.

Zara Roy is the copy chief at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @DailyLobo

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