Walking into the gallery at The Cooper Union in New York for the Bring Your Own Body exhibit, I’m greeted by the faces of Transparent producer and visual artist Zackary Drucker and her mom Penny Sori, who play the fictional mother and daughter Moxi and Patti in an odd and hilarious video called Southern for Pussy.
As Moxi and Patti engage in an X-rated crafting session, scrapbooking what look like body parts and illustrations from transgender porn magazines, Patti opines:
Drucker’s video is the perfect introduction to an exhibition that plays with transgender identity and history in unusual ways. In Southern for Pussy, there’s no clear indication whether Moxi is meant to be cisgender or transgender, which opens up many fascinating ambiguities, especially as Moxi eventually meets her date.
Below are some other highlights from Bring Your Own Body, which features contemporary artists engaging with historical sexology archives, such as those of The Kinsey Institute, to create dialogues between gender ideas of the past and the present moment of transgender visibility.
5. Justin Vivian Bond
One of the most inviting and enigmatic pieces in the show is an installation by genderfluid stalwart Justin Vivian Bond, whose “My Model / MySelf ” evokes both the hominess of a favorite relaxation spot, along with the fabulousness of a low-hanging chandelier at the center.
Bond also combined their image along with 70’s artist and model Karen Graham to create gorgeous wallpaper, further heightening the fab-domestic effect.
7. Mark Aguhar
An Asian-American transgender femme artist with a large online following who committed suicide in 2012, Mark Aguhar’s varied work occupies a whole wall of the exhibit as a set of works called Moving Looks, but her most viscerally affecting works are simple text drawings that challenge perceived stereotypes and expectations of trans women.
Aguhar’s wall also features loose-fitting red and white clothing pieces that function somewhere between costume and identity expression; Polaroid images of bondage acts; and text and image watercolors that play on gender and race, making the show function almost like a mini-retrospective for an artist who died just as the public was becoming more aware of her art.
10. Chris Vargas
The piece in the show that most deeply engages with historical archives is Chris Vargas’s Transvestites in the News. The piece is named after the scrapbooks of Louise Lawrence, a trans correspondent of Alfred Kinsey’s who clipped transgender-related articles in the 1950’s and sent them to him.
Vargas, who also founded the Museum of Transgender Hirstory and Art (MOTHA), has copied headlines from these clippings and turned them into a collage that has been reprinted as a broadsheet and is available for free as part of the exhibition. Headlines like “I Just Love Being a Female Impersonator” and “Swish Set Demands Equal Rights” give us a tantalizing glimpse into the gender politics of that era.
11. Effy Beth
Another artist recently lost to suicide, Effy Beth from Argentina contributed this still timely piece from 2011 called Una nueva artista necesita usar el baño (A new artist needs to use the bathroom). It shows the artist going through a door with a women’s bathroom sign, the names of iconic women artists written on her back. It’s as though Beth is both taking on the burdens of being a woman artist but also asking to be able to be accepted as one of their ranks, at a time when transgender women are routinely rejected from women’s spaces and labeled as men.
These are just several of the more than 20 artists represented in Bring Your Own Body, curated by Jeanne Vaccaro and Stamatina Gregory, on view at The Cooper Union, 41 Cooper Square in New York through November 14.
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