Category Archives: Gender

Welcoming the Museum of Transgender Hirstory & Art

I’m a little late to the game on this; yet however belated I may be it’s too exciting not to post! The Museum of Transgender Hirstory and Art (MOTHA), the first museum dedicated to the hirstory and art of transgender people, recently introduced itself in an open letter. The museum’s mission is stated as such:

“The Museum of Transgender Hirstory and Art (MOTHA) is dedicated to moving the history and art of transgender people to the center of public life. The preeminent institution of its kind, the museum insists on an expansive and unstable definition of transgender, one that is able to encompass all transgender and gender–non-conformed art and artists. MOTHA is committed to developing a robust exhibition and programming schedule that will enrich the transgender mythos both by exhibiting works by living artists and by honoring the hiroes and transcestors who have come before. Pending the construction of MOTHA, the museum will function as a series of autonomous off-site experiences around the San Francisco Bay Area and throughout the world.”

A diagram from MOTHA displaying the amount of transgender people currently, formerly, or projected to be incarcerated. The number of transgender people identifying as artists as compared to representation of transgender artists in museums.

A diagram from MOTHA displaying the amount of transgender people currently, formerly, or projected to be incarcerated. The number of transgender people identifying as artists as compared to representation of transgender artists in museums.

MOTHA is filling a desperately needed role. According to MOTHA’s open letter, the majority of transgender people identify as artists; however they lack representation in public art institutions. This is unfortunate as there are a number of transgender artists making innovative and high quality work (Take a look at one of their upcoming artists, Nicki Green. An artist statement and several examples of her work can be found here).

It’s heartening to see the museum’s changeability– they point out its “expansive and unstable definition of transgender” in the mission statement. MOTHA is poised to reflect the current artistic landscape, evolve with concepts of gender, and adapt to new modes of thinking in art museums. It will be exciting to see how they implement exhibits and programming and how their museum interacts with both transgender and cisgender communities.

But don’t just take it from me! Read about everything from MOTHA’s mission, programming, facility and more in the open letter. And learn more about the museum and upcoming events here.

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Women in Art: Sarah Frost in Manifest Armed (Corcoran’s Gallery 31)

This summer I’ve been lucky enough to intern at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, specifically working with Gallery 31 in the college exhibitions department. We’ve already seen some excellent shows–including work by Leslie Exton, Rick Wall, and the Corcoran’s continued education students (And this is just in Gallery 31! The rest of the museum currently features Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park series, as well as Anima by Charlotte Dumas. I would highly recommend stopping by!)

Arguably Gallery 31’s biggest show of the summer, Manifest: Armed features work by artists Sarah Frost, the collective SmithBeatty (Craig Smith and Colin Beatty), and Julian Oliver. All four artists are dealing with facets of contemporary gun culture, ranging from cyber weaponry and technology to children’s obsession with real and virtual gun facsimiles. Armed is the first of Gallery 31’s Manifest series which is built around artists’ reactions to technology.

Some promotional material for the show. Manifest Armed.

Some promotional material for the show.

Largely due to my interest in gender as it relates to art (As well as many other factors contributing to my personal taste!) my favorite piece in the show is Sarah Frost’s installation of Arsenal. Frost’s work is both conceptually and aesthetically intriguing. Not only does the viewer appreciate the visual of elaborate paper guns suspended in the air, they appreciate the line of thinking behind the work.

Sarah Frost's Arsenal at P.P.O.W New York, NY

Sarah Frost’s Arsenal at P.P.O.W New York, NY

Frost was inspired by the trend of boys publishing paper gun construction tutorials on YouTube. Something I had never heard of before but wasn’t very surprised by (I have a little brother. He went through a fake sword phase, a fake gun phase, pretty much every fake weapon phase known to boy-kind). An entire community has sprung up around paper guns in which these boys (And girls? I’ve only seen one, but the rabbit hole is deep, my friends) have become experts.

Check out this video, for example: Continue reading

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Transgender Women and the Male Gaze

Readers of this blog are likely familiar with the concept of the male gaze. Basically, women are looked at while men look. Audiences for artwork are presumed to be male and the subjects are overwhelmingly female.

This has remained fairly constant over time. There is work challenging this structure, but the majority still caters to men, largely limiting women to the role of muse. However, while the role of women in the arts has remained stagnant, the definition of “woman” has expanded. An increasing awareness of the false dichotomy of gender introduces a new question; how are transgender women depicted in artwork?

Take a look at images of transgender women in the photography of Charlie White:

Charlie White, Teen and Transgender Comparative Study #1, 2008.

Charlie White, Teen and Transgender Comparative Study #1 (2008)

Charlie White, Teen and Transgender Comparative Study #2, 2008.

Charlie White, Teen and Transgender Comparative Study #2 (2008)

Charlie White, Teen and Transgender Study #3, 2008.

Charlie White, Teen and Transgender Study #3 (2008)

Charlie White, Teen and Transgender Study #5, 2008.

Charlie White, Teen and Transgender Study #5 (2008)

White’s series, Teen and Transgender Comparative Study, was released in 2008; a series of images in which teenage girls were paired with transgender women. The series has been read by many as commentary on desire and how our culture finds both teen girls and transgender women attractive, but dangerously so. Were one to act on these desires it would be in the face of punishment, whether inflicted by the law or by one’s peers. Andrew Womack of The Morning News says of White’s photographs, “In the images in White’s series, both figures are blossoming into womanhood, though each along a different path. As observers, however, we have been taught to view the subjects in much the same way: with sheer terror”.This is a very popular reading of White’s work, in which teenage girls and transgender women are embarking on a similar path to womanhood, one that terrifies the viewer. Womack is correct to say that observers have been taught to view the subjects in a similar way. However, it is not a sense of terror that is shared, but an audience’s learned objectification of women as a subject.

While White’s series offers interesting commentary on society’s views of gender and sexuality, it also heavily objectifies the female form through a male lens. For example, White’s work conforms to a very narrow standard of feminine beauty; the teens are pale and thin with long, straight hair, matched by their equally attractive transgender counterparts. The trans women are, in White’s words, “very specifically very passable transgenders”. Already White is limiting his field to women who conform to the standards of beauty prescribed by the male gaze. By restricting depictions of transgender women to those who can pass, he is displaying his lack of interest in representing transgender women and revealing his desire to create work catering to straight men. This also negates potential commentary on the construction of femininity, as White has a heavy hand in the set up of these photographs. White selectively hired and styled the models in his series, and thus the photographs are constructions of whom he believes teenage girls and transgender women to be. Continue reading

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Gender Portrayals in Classical Greek Statuary

I’m writing a series of papers for my Western Survey of Art and Architecture course focusing on representations of gender in different eras of art (Doing it for the honors credits; damn you RIT for trying to make me a more educated person!). For my first quarter paper I decided to focus on Classical Greek gender ideals as seen in Praxiteles’s Knidian Aphrodite and Polykleitos’s Doryphoros (Coming at the end of this quarter: Portrayals of Adam, Eve, and the often feminized serpent in Renaissance artwork). I don’t want to explain it when I can just let you read the paper, so here it is. It was actually pretty fun to learn more about this subject, I hope you guys enjoy!

Classical Greek artwork is generally recognized as a depiction of the real and the ideal; an attempt at mimesis that also reflects the qualities found most desirable during the time period. While one might imagine that this would lead to work focused entirely on aesthetic appeal, the artwork is also heavily conceptual. Classical Greek statuary not only reflected the rigid gender roles seen in Ancient Greek culture, it contributed to the culture’s development and enforcement. By viewing works embodying the perceived otherness and shy sensuality of women, such as Praxiteles’s Knidian Aphrodite, and the presented powerful norm of men, as seen in Polykleitos’s Doryphoros, Greek audiences internalized and then performed kyriarchal gender roles. Analysis of the subject and style of these two statues will enable understanding of the gender divide in Greek culture and how that divide manifests itself in Classical artwork.

Left: Praxiteles's Knidian Aphrodite Right: Polykleitos's Doryphoros

While the subject of Doryphoros followed the traditional Classical model, the Knidian Aphrodite revolutionized Greek statuary. Previous sculptures showed women clothed without exception, and while a number of artists used wet drapery to display women’s bodies in an acceptable manner none had made the leap to establishing a female nude the equivalent of the common Greek male nude. Praxiteles’s method of bridging the gap and depicting an unclothed woman—without causing too much of an outrage—is considered inspired. By choosing Aphrodite, the goddess of love and sexuality, as his subject, he had found a way to justify female nudity. By toeing the line between sensual and modest, dignified yet welcoming, Praxiteles depicted the nude in a way considered inoffensive to his audience.

The need to justify female nudity while male nudity was considered commonplace already reflects Greek ideas about gender. For a man to appear naked conferred his power, his strong body and equally strong mind, while for a woman to appear naked would be indecent and confer immodesty. It is important to remember that the ancient Greeks viewed man and woman as dichotomies. One was defined as being the opposite of the other. As men were considered the dominant members of society women were the ones being defined as opposite; yet, interestingly enough, still defined as the “other”. In the words of Nanette Salomon, “the culturally constructed terms of femininity and masculinity in the ancient world were mutually dependent and reflexive fabrications whose definition depended upon their socially assigned differences, one from the other”.[1] Salomon’s statement offers an explanation for why activities deemed as masculine were off limits for women. As the opposite of men, women were viewed as incapable of participating in the male sphere. Continue reading

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Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze

To anyone living in the San Francisco area, there’s a great exhibit currently on display at the SOMArts Cultural Center entitled, “Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze“. This show promotes discussion about women and men’s roles as subject, creator, and viewer in art.

Left: Superman by Molly Marie Nuzzo (2006) Right: Distinguishing Attributes, #2 by Brie Castel (2006)

As a society we are used to women being the subject of art, we are used to women being constantly looked at, the subject of the male gaze. In the words of art critic John Berger, “Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at”.

This show reverses that process. Men are the subject and the audience is presumed to be women, creating a new dynamic in which the female gaze holds power. This exchange of historical roles seems to have produced some powerful work from female/feminist/transgender perspectives and looks to be a great exhibit. Check it out if you get the chance!

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