CULTURE & ARTS
11/19/2015 11:05 am ET Updated Nov 20, 2015

Genderqueer And Trans Artists Breaking Down Barriers In Art

Let's raise visibility for Transgender Awareness Week, and celebrate some damn good art.

This week is Transgender Awareness Week, an initiative that aims to raise visibility of trans and gender non-conforming people and communities and acknowledge the issues they continue to face. Culminating with Trans Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20, which honors trans individuals who lost their lives to acts of violence, the week illuminates the unjust struggles so many endure simply because they're being their authentic selves.

In conjunction with Trans Awareness Week, we've compiled a follow-up to our previous list of multi-disciplinary artists who identify as transgender, gender variant, genderqueer and gender failure. Through their practices, the following artists tell their stories on their own terms, attempting to change not only the landscape of contemporary art but also the future of how we understand gender and identity. They do this, of course, through making some damn good artwork that touches on feelings of estrangement, the concept of gender performance and the stories of marginalized voices. 

1. Juliana Huxtable

Huxtable is a New York-based artist, DJ and nightlife personality. You may have seen her metallic figure reclining in the New Museum Triennial thanks to Frank Benson's new 3D-scanned plastic sculpture "Juliana," discussed as one of the first "sculptural depiction[s] of a body" that the trans community could relate to in a major museum. Or perhaps, in the same exhibition, you noticed her poems and futurist photographs, one of which features the artist as "cyborg, cunt, priestess, witch, Nuwaubian princess."

Born intersex and assigned a male gender at birth, Huxtable was raised in a conservative, Baptist, Texas home. After struggling with issues of identity and gender growing up, she attended Bard College and joined the queer arts collective House of LaDosha. In the years since, Huxtable, who adopted the name from the Cosby sitcom, has become an Internet star and "it" girl, not to mention an artist to be reckoned with. Last week, her MoMA co-commissioned Performa piece "There Are Certain Facts That Cannot Be Disputed" explored the ideas of history as cosplay, fan-fiction and a fluid medium. The artist's constant experimentation with how the historical and the technological merge to form one's identity continues to intrigue. 

2. So Brown 

Brown is a Brooklyn-based musician whose sound takes inspiration from the delta blues and classical music, along with gender-complicating rebels such as St. Vincent and David Bowie. Brown grew up as a boy in Texas and Alabama; although now he occupies a more gender-fluid realm. "My attitude has always been, if Mick Jagger or John Lennon can do it, than so can I," Brown wrote in an email to The Huffington Post. 

"I'm always seeking to explore new frontiers of human and gender experience," Brown continued. "I'd also like to say: I don't think the trans experience is only limited to people actively transitioning. I think it touches some deeper truths -- that we have both male and female energy inside of us, and I for one don't want to be in any way limited by modern American ideas of what that means I should be or do." 

3. Geo Wyeth

New York-based musician and performance artist Wyeth creates alien soundscapes that are spiritual, technological, haunting and full of camp. In an earlier interview with The Huffington Post, Wyeth explained: "Whenever I have the urge to create anything or make something, I often pretend to be other people or channel an energy or force that later maybe develops into a kind of character."

Through his musical performances, Wyeth explores the oddities of living in a body and the possibilities of transcending it. 

"My performances come from a very personal place," Wyeth continued. "My work is queer because I am queer. It comes from the kind of life that I lead. For me, being queer and being an artist are sort of synonymous. All the aspects of who I am are present in the work. There are all kinds of things about my identity that come through the work, and that's true for all artists. Someone recently asked me how gender plays into my performance and I found that sort of odd. Of course it does -- it does for everybody. When you see some dude on the stage with his rock band shredding on his guitar, he is also using gender in performance. Of course my work is queer and of course its trans and it's also coming from someone who likes macaroni and cheese. I hope that all of who I am is present in the work."

4. niv Acosta

Born and raised in New York City, Acosta is an artist of Dominican descent whose work revolves around movement and performance. For the last four years, Acosta has expanded upon the "the denzel series," a six-part choreographed project that explores the intersection of race and identity. The piece revolves around Acosta's relationship to Denzel Washington, an icon of black masculinity, who represents, according to Acosta, "one of the few consistently positive representations of black men in the media."

"I am interested in creating a history for myself," Acosta explains in his artist statement. "I am creating a time capsule. I am creating bodies of work, which in their entirety address larger concepts that become distilled with time. My current interest with what I have been naming 'the denzel series' is a reflection of that idea." 

5. Pilar Gallego

Pilar Gallego

Gallego is a Brooklyn-based artist whose work explores the desire for masculinity and the shapes such desire takes. In one series of drawings, Gallego recreated a number of government issue IDs, highlighting the variations in gender performance between each issued photograph. "ID cards carry a lot of personal information, and this brings about major concerns for transgender and gender-variant people who fuck with the facts presented on identification cards," Gallego explained to Lily Binns in an interview. "While making a correlation to the common practice amongst the transgender community to document one’s transition, I was thinking about what ID cards represent -- a submission to authority -- and how that authority is undermined and challenged, most of the times at the expense of the ID card bearer."

"I am deeply invested in how that dynamic plays out between heteronormativity and queerness," Gallego added. "How society perceives a readable genderqueer person, how discrimination based on surfaces plays out, and what’s hidden under our surfaces. A new challenge I’ve given myself is to expose what’s under the queer facade."

6. Nicki Green 

Green is a Bay Area-based artist who works with traditional craft media including ceramics and textile to document and investigate the histories of marginalized communities. Look closer at Green's traditional-looking dishware and you'll notice queer and feminist imagery float to the surface.

"I became interested in blue and white glaze during my undergrad at San Francisco Art Institute really just because of how ubiquitous the surface is," Green explained in an interview with Callie Garp, "and in doing more research, was struck by the way it has been used in so many cultural heritages to illustrate history, it felt like a great way to depict queer and trans people in an illustrative way. I tend to have these ah-hah moments where my research will fork off into a direction that will lead me to the next body of work, which will lead me to new research, and so on. Right now it’s about transness and Judaism, and I recently started thinking about mushrooms as a metaphor for queerness ..."

7. Mariah Garnett

Garnett is a Los Angeles-based video artist mixing elements of documentary, narrative and experimental film. "Using source material that ranges from found text to iconic gay porn stars," a statement on her website reads, "Garnett often inserts herself into the films, creating cinematic allegories that codify and locate identity."

Her 2014 20-minute film "Full Burn" follows U.S. war veterans in their civilians lives, navigating how the military shaped their relationships to their bodies. One veteran works as a massage therapist, the rest work as Hollywood stuntmen, pushing past their fears to push their masculine body to its limits. 

"The film reveals a processing of trauma through the reenactment of danger," reads a statement from the Hammer Museum, where the film showed as part of Made in LA. "It proposes a confluence of the real with the fake -- the reality of war as a real experience and the ways in which the individual veterans process the residual effects of war through the artificial techniques of Hollywood."

8. Oli Rodriguez

Rodriguez is a Chicago-based multidisciplinary artist whose work revolves around ideas of family, desire and queerness. In his most well-known piece, "The Papi Project," Rodriguez investigates elements of loss, family, technology and hookup culture by looking for men who had sex with his father, who passed away in the '90s from AIDS-related illness. 

"I am looking for men who had sex with my dad," Rodriguez posted on various gay hookup websites, along with a photo of his father. "He was known as Troy, Peter, Pedro and other aliases in the late '70s/'80s/early '90s, before his death from complications of AIDS in '93. I'm his son and I want to hook up with you. I'm open to dinner, role play and other interactions, ideas? Below is his picture. If you had relations with him, please contact me."

In the video above, "The Nanny Project," Rodriguez documents a little boy and his "manny" playing dress-up and pretending to be princesses. The piece investigates feelings of shame, play, performance and technology through an innocent yet taboo childhood ritual. 

9. Harry Dodge

Dodge is a Los Angeles-based artist working with performance, video, sculpture, drawing and writing. (He is also the partner of The Argonauts author Maggie Nelson.) Dodge's 2015 exhibition "Consent-not-to-be-a-single-being" -- the title of which speaks to his gender fluidity -- features playful, cartoonish geometric sculptures that toy with the conception of identity, appearing as colorful friends you'd find either in a Pixar short or a drug-fueled hallucination.

In the video above "Love Streams," Dodge employs the lofty vocabulary of old school YouTube science tutorials to lecture about the Danish physicist Niels Bohr and discuss the potentials of human connection. 

10. Malic Amalya

Amalya, based in San Francisco, identifies as a queercore moving image artist working in 16mm film and lo-fi video. His work focuses on the effects of estrangement -- whether a decaying plant or an abandoned building.

The 2014 film "Towards the Death of Cinema" toys with the possibility of film as a destroyer of images. In the artist's words: "'Towards the Death of Cinema' is a celluloid performance that allows audience members to take in the individual photograph of the film frame for longer than 1/24th of a second at the expense of the integrity of the image. Cutting off the sprocket holes located on the edge of the frame, the projector’s inherent movement forward is bypassed. By allowing the film to warp in the heat of the projector, the audience is also given the rare opportunity to savor the destruction of film."

11. A.L. Steiner

Steiner, based in Los Angeles, describes herself as a "skeptical queer eco-feminist androgyne." Working in photography, video, installation, collage, performance, lectures and writing, Steiner infuses her work with humor, perversity, irreverence and political fire. She's also one half of Ridykeulous, a radical lesbian curatorial initiative formed with artist Nicole Eisenman. 

Steiner is mostly known for her installations of collaged digital photographs, documenting her artistic and social community. Roberta Smith referred to them as "raunchy, out-there photographs of almost nothing but women having a blast being women: on their own, with their children or with other women, whether friends, lovers or comrades in arms. I can't imagine anyone of the female persuasion not getting at least a little high at the sight of this array, which covers most of the available space on the bright-orange painted walls. Men are allowed, but this is definitely a clubhouse."

 

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