Ray Navarro with Zoe Leonard, Equipped, 1990. Silver gelatin prints and plastic plaques, one part, 12 3/8 × 18 1/2 inches (31.4 × 47 cm); one part, 12 1/4 × 18 1/2 inches (31.1 × 47 cm); one part, 18 5/8 × 12 3/8 inches (47.3 × 31.4 cm). Gift of Margaret Sundell. Photo by Charles Mayer Photography. © Ray Navarro
Ray Navarro and Zoe Leonard emerged as artists in New York in the 1990s. Working primarily in photography, both artists have harnessed the conceptual aspects of the medium.
Navarro conceived Equipped after losing his vision due to AIDS-related medical complications, and he reached out to Leonard to help him produce it. Leonard functioned as his “eyes” in executing the work, recalling that “it was a very moving and intimate process, working together with him.” Each photograph in this triptych portrays a mobility device used by people with a disability, and is accompanied by a sexual euphemism or phrase etched on an office-style desk plaque. The juxtapositions of images and words, such as an image of a wheelchair flipped over accompanied by the phrase “HOT BUTT,” rearticulate the sexualized body by signaling the physical degradation caused by a disease that is often perceived as a consequence of sexual behavior. The frames are painted a warm pink to evoke the generic Caucasian flesh colors of most prosthetic devices, underscoring the link between the disabled body and assistive mechanisms.
Building on the ICA/Boston’s strength in photography, Equipped helps the museum tell the history of the AIDS crisis and its impact on art production and artistic communities, a key theme in the 2012 ICA group exhibition This Will Have Been: Art, Love, & Politics in the 1980s, in which this work appeared.