Ken. To Be Destroyed: An Art Exhibit Exploring The Life Of A Transgender Woman In 1950s London

01/12/2017 08:01 am ET Updated Jan 16, 2017
<em>K at the roadside between Inverness and Culloden Moor</em>. From the series <em>Looking for K&#x2F;Finding K</em>, 2015.
K at the roadside between Inverness and Culloden Moor. From the series Looking for K/Finding K, 2015. Hand-coloured pigment print, 42 x 28cm.

Many family heirlooms passed down from generation to generation include family photos. But for Sara Davidmann, the old family photos contained an important piece of history, that of the experience of a Transgender woman from the 1950s. Davidmann’s discoveries will soon be on display in Ken. To be destroyed as part of Moose on the Loose 2017 at London College of Communication beginning on February 17, 2017 to coincide with Britain's LBGT History Month.

The Dress IV, 2014. Pigment print with spray paint and ink. 100 x 75 cm.
The Dress IV, 2014. Pigment print with spray paint and ink. 100 x 75 cm.

Ken. To be destroyed began with an archive and Davidmann’s discovery. Davidmann, an artist and photographer, and her siblings inherited letters and photographs belonging to her uncle and aunt, Ken and Hazel Houston. The collection had been in the possession of their mother Audrey Davidmann in an envelope marked ‘Ken. To be destroyed’. Soon after Hazel and Ken were married it emerged that Ken was a transgender woman. In the context of a British marriage in the 1950s, this revelation profoundly affected both Ken and Hazel as individuals. It also profoundly affected their relationship to one another as well as their relationships to their social surroundings.

<em>Letters and Papers. </em>From the series <em>Archive</em>, 2016. Collaboration with Graham Goldwater. Pigment print. 25 x
Letters and Papers. From the series Archive, 2016. Collaboration with Graham Goldwater. Pigment print. 25 x 38cm.
<em>The Dress II</em>, 2014. Pigment print with ink, 100 x 75cm.
The Dress II, 2014. Pigment print with ink, 100 x 75cm.
<em>Ken and Hazel.</em> Undated vintage photograph, circa 1950
Ken and Hazel. Undated vintage photograph, circa 1950

The archive Davidmann complied contains letters, photographs and papers. Hazel and her sister Audrey, Davidmann’s mother, wrote to each other frequently in the late 1950s and early 1960s after Hazel discovered that Ken was transgender. These letters tell Ken and Hazel’s very private story. In public Ken lived as a man, but in the privacy of the home Ken was a woman.

<em>For Ken I</em>, 2015. Chemigram print, 25 x 20cm.
For Ken I, 2015. Chemigram print, 25 x 20cm.

Looking at the photographs saved by her mother, Davidmann became acutely aware of their surfaces. The marks of time and damage had become part of the images. This led her to work on the surfaces of the photographs she produced using ink, chalks, magic markers and correction fluid. Later works, in which Davidmann has tried to visualize how Ken might have looked as a woman, are fictional photographs made with digital negatives, hand coloring, darkroom chemicals and bleach.

<em>K at Duddingston Loch</em>. From the series <em>Looking for K&#x2F;Finding K</em>, 2015. Hand-coloured pigment print, 42
K at Duddingston Loch. From the series Looking for K/Finding K, 2015. Hand-coloured pigment print, 42 x 28cm.

Some of Davidmann’s works which will be on display at the London College of Communication are shown here as they were displayed at a recent exhibit in Berlin.

<em>Ken. To be destroyed</em> exhibition, Schwules Museum, Berlin, March-October 2016
Ken. To be destroyed exhibition, Schwules Museum, Berlin, March-October 2016
<em>Ken. To be destroyed</em> exhibition, Schwules Museum, Berlin, March-October 2016
Ken. To be destroyed exhibition, Schwules Museum, Berlin, March-October 2016
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