Kate Warren is a portrait artist who approaches photography as an emotional anthropologist. Her work in ‘Banshees & Queens’ explores gender – specifically femininity – as performance. Whether highlighting drag queens or angry feminists, her work employs vibrant color, energetic gesture, and movement to establish emotional narratives. She hosts popular sex podcast ‘Insert Here’ at the LINE Hotel’s Full Service Radio, which shares non-heteronormative stories on sexuality and identity to combat toxic masculinity and prescribed gender norms. Warren creates work for the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Elle, Wmagazine, and many others. She was awarded Honorable Mention in Fine Art by FotoWeek (2017), Rising Star Award in Photography by Fashion Group International (2016), First Place in Photo District News’ The Scene competition (2013), and has been honored at the Washingtonian Style Setter Awards (2016) and in Refinery29’s 30 Under 30 list.
Recent features include the first hijabi woman to be featured in Playboy, 40 shows at New York Fashion Week for The Washington Post, and the Women’s March on Washington for the New York Times en Espanol.
Banshees & Queens Series
In response to issues on gender and the representation of women during the presidential campaign in 2016, Kate Warren, a D.C. based creative started two series of works – Banshees (2017) and Pussy Noir (2017). Both are explorative photography projects that visually communicate what it means to be a contemporary feminist while celebrating gender without any prescribed impositions. Warren sees her role as a photographer as not merely a documentarian but a participant who is actively engaging with her subjects and informing the content. Through this project, female-identifying individuals are reclaiming the dialogue while creating a space that goes beyond society’s heteronormative expectations. By deliberately presenting her subject without clear genders, Warren photographs create a sense of discomfort and urge the viewer to reflect on those feelings. Through the questions that may arise from introspection, Warren believes that viewers will proactively engage in a discourse on diversity.
In Banshees (see figure 1, Anastasia Grab), Warren hosts salon-style feminist discussion groups and then photographs women-identifying participants in aggressive and predatory ways as a method for driving discomfort, mirroring the uneasiness the subjects themselves feel in their everyday lives.
These ‘contemporary American Banshees’ grieve the patriarchal limitations imposed on women and demand that their voices be heard through the din of misogyny. In the photographs, the subjects are aggressively styled in a way that would deliberately elicit unwanted attention. Warren encourages them to act on the anger that society forces the participants to repress and find productive power for change through their anger. The casting embraces diversity, bringing together small groups of female identifying individuals with varied backgrounds.
Warren explains that, “these strong spaces create an open dialogue for people to share what it is like to be victimized when leaving their homes; what it is like to change how one dresses, acts or expresses oneself; and how woman continually apologize because society has taught us to act as such”.
In Pussy Noir (see figure 2, Pussy in Red), Warren further explores identity and gender as a performance with Washington D.C. native Jason Barnes. Also known as Pussy Noir, Barnes is a ‘gender-bending’ performer with a background in music, theatre, art and fashion, performing androgynously and sensuously in galleries and nightclubs. Gender-ambiguous, he portrays glamour and luxury in various art forms. Barnes realizes that neither acceptance nor an appreciation for his alter ego, Pussy Noir is forthcoming. For him, however, removing the label is liberating. Warren’s photographs capture this liberation has the viewer is invited to celebrate the human body’s sensuality.