Ryan Grant Long’s education encompassed graphic art and design, LGBT studies, anthropology and sociology. It all comes to bear in his MFA project from 2009. Below, Long writes on the project:
All of these depictions are based on real people (with the possible exception of David and Jonathan, who may have been legendary). Most of these historical figures are widely accepted to have been homosexual or bisexual. Some of them, such as Saints Sergius and Bacchus, are known for their unusual closeness, but scholars disagree on whether or not they were romantically involved. History isn’t an exact science, and all too often truths are hidden or rewritten after the fact by people who wish to erase gay people from history.
This project wasn’t about proving without a doubt whether or not a certain historical figure was gay; but rather exploring same-sex affection when enough evidence existed to at least consider it a reasonable possibility. Some scholars are quick to dismiss the love between men like David and Jonathan as merely “platonic,” but ask yourself, if the love between a man and woman were described with as much passion and endearment, would anyone doubt that they may have been romantically involved?
KHNUMHOTEP & NIANKHKHNUM (2400 bce)
Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum were ancient royal servants who shared the title “Overseer of the Manicurists in the Palace of King Niuserre”. The two men are depicted on their joint tomb in one of the most intimate poses allowed by Egyptian artistic conventions: face to face, with their noses touching. Niankhkhnum means “joined to life” and Khnumhotep means “joined to ‘the blessed state of the dead’”. together their names mean “joined in life and death”. They are believed to be the first recorded same-sex couple in human history.
EMPEROR AI OF HAN & DONG XIAN (4 bce)
Emperor Ai of Han China fell in love with a minor official, a man named Dong Xian, and bestowed upon him great political power and a magnificent palace. Legend has it that one day, while the two men were sleeping in the same bed, the Emperoror was roused from his slumber by pressing business. Dong Xian had fallen asleep across the Emperor’s robe, but rather than awaken his peaceful lover, the Emperor cut his robe free at the sleeve. Thus, “the passion of the cut sleeve” became a euphemism for same-sex love in China.
EMPEROR HADRIAN & ANTINOUS (124 ce)
Hadrian deemed Antinous to be the most beautiful young man in all the Roman Empire. Sadly, Antinous drowned mysteriously in the Nile River. Hadrian deified the youth after his untimely death, and Antinous was worshiped as a god; whole cities were founded in his name. As a result of his popularity and statues erected in his likeness, the face of Antinous became one of the most recognizable faces in antiquity. A statue of Antinous and what is believed to be his tomb reside in Hadrian’s luxurious Hellenistic-inspired villa.
UNKNOWN MAYAN COUPLE (500 ce)
There is evidence of same-sex couples in the Americas, and several Native American cultures are known to have tolerated or even revered sexual and gender diversity. Yet there is much we do not know, and cannot know, about homosexuality in the New World. When Christian Europeans conquered the Americas they imposed their values on the indigenous peoples and destroyed records of same-sex relationships, which they identified as the “sin” of “heathens”. Knowledge of the lives and loves of many has been lost to us forever.