Stunning, Diverse Artistic Depictions of the Transgender Experience


With the mainstream media having its “transgender moment,” an exhibition in New York is taking an intensive, diverse look at transgender art and art-making, fusing contemporary and historical trends, commissioned pieces, performance, and archival material from the Kinsey Institute.

The exhibition is entitled Bring Your Own Body: Transgender Between Archives and Aesthetics, and is curated by Jeanne Vaccaro with Stamatina Gregory. Its title, which comes from an “an unpublished manuscript by intersex pioneer Lynn Harris” has deep significance to the curators. “We could try to think about all different kinds of bodies, bodies of culture, different materials like hair, netting, fringe,” Vaccaro tells Flavorwire. “As well as all different kinds of bodies in space, the idea is for people to come and kind of activate the space with their own bodies.” Gregory adds that the multiple performance events, talks and screenings — and the fusion of archive work, performance, and art — have “mobilized different people” from dance fans to radical activists, and brought them into the exhibition.

One of the goals of the curators is to deepen the discussion beyond the media’s treatment of trans issues — rather than simply gathering a group of transgender artists together because they’re transgender, the exhibition seeks to create a textured, multi-layered experience. “We’re showing work about the everyday,” says Vaccaro. “There are hair and nails in the show.” And while they are happy that the media’s recent focus on gender identity brings more attention to their work, they are also happy to have the chance to create a “counter-narrative.”

The exhibition, located at Cooper Union’s 41 Cooper Gallery in downtown New York is on display until November 14th. The final event on the 14th is a free artist talk and screening of some selects from the upcoming film Happy Birthday, Marsha!, which is “an experimental film about the legendary transgender artist and activist Marsha ‘Pay it No Mind’ Johnson and her life in the hours before the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City,” followed by a talk with filmmakers. For those who can’t travel to NYC or need incentive to check it out, find some of the most striking images from the exhibition and performances below.

Photo of issues of Transvestia (1960-1980) by pioneer Virginia Prince, some of the archival printed matter on view in Bring Your Own Body. Photo by Marget Long / Courtesy of The Cooper Union

Photo of Chris Vargas’ collage entitled “Transvestites in the News.” Photo by Marget Long / Courtesy of The CooperUnion.

Justin Vivian Bond making final installation touches at Bring Your Own Body. Photo by Michael DiVito / Courtesy of The Cooper Union.

Chloe Dzubilo, Untitled, n.d., feather, photo, paper, 8 by 10 inches. Courtesy of The Estate of Chloe Dzubilo.

Chloe Dzubilo, There Is a Transolution, 2010. Courtesy of The Estate of Chloe Dzubilo.t.

Effy Beth, Una nueva artista necesita usar el baño (A new artist needs to use the bathroom) , 2011. Courtesy of the artist’s estate. Photo by María Laura Voskian.

William Dellenback photographer, Christine Jorgensen visiting the Institute for Sex Research, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, 1953. Courtesy of Kinsey Institute, Indiana University.

Anonymous photographer, Louise Lawrence with cigarette. Courtesy of Kinsey Institute, Indiana University.

Anonymous photographer, police department, Three standing figures, 1966. Courtesy of Kinsey Institute, Indiana University.

Mark Aguhar, Making Looks, 2011. Courtesy of the artist.

Mark Aguhar, Making Looks, 2011. Courtesy of the artist.

Zackary Drucker, film stills from Southern for Pussy, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.