Transgender artists find safe space at Columbia


Evan Bell

Curators Jeanne Vaccaro and Stamatina Gregory attended the show’s opening on Dec. 10 at The Glass Curtain Gallery.


“Bring Your Own Body,” an art exhibit that opened Dec. 10, highlights transgender work through mixed media and educational materials from the notable Kinsey archives, among others.

The exhibit, located at The Glass Curtain Gallery, 1104 S. Wabash Ave., showcases work by transgender artists, along with various archives dating back to the 1940s relating to the transgender rights movement, according to Jeanne Vaccaro, who curated the exhibit with Stamatina Gregory.

“It was important for us to show contemporary artists who engage with archives and give a sense of artists who self-create and self-determine their presentation through artistic practice,” Vaccaro said.

Vaccaro and Gregory said the exhibit aims to accurately represent transgender people through contemporary art, which she said is not possible without showing the often degrading and violent representations of transgender people present in educational institutions that have documented their history.

Vaccaro, a postdoctoral fellow in gender studies at Indiana University and a scholar at IU’s Kinsey Institute, said the show uses the popular archives of Alfred Kinsey, a taxonomist, biologist and sexologist, to demonstrate the relationship of archival material to contemporary transgender artwork. Other educational archives in the show are from the University of Victoria in Canada and the Fales Collection from New York University in New York City.

Gregory, who is the associate dean of the School of Art at the Cooper Union in New York, said it was necessary to combine the archives with contemporary art.

“The capture of identity in the archive can be very violent, and it was really important for us to show these diagnostic and medicalized criteria through artistic practices and intervention,” Gregory said.

The show brings together various trans and gender nonconforming artists who work across media including film, painting, sculpture, clothing and newspaper prints, something Gregory said was critical to showcase.

“Bring Your Own Body” debuted at The Cooper Union Oct. 14 where it ran until Nov. 14. The exhibition was not originally meant to travel, Gregory said, but Neysa Page-Lieberman, director of the Department of Exhibition & Performance Spaces at Columbia, discovered the exhibit at Cooper and wanted to bring it here.

“It is one of three shows we are doing this year that address gender inquiries and equity,” Page-Lieberman said.

“Bring Your Own Body” is the second exhibition of the series, Page-Lieberman said. She said the series started in the summer of 2015 with an inaugural alumni residency called Muse, featuring a collaborative photography and performance project by alumni Niki Grangruth and James Kinser focused largely on gender issues.

“Part of it was inspired by so much discourse happening on campus around pronoun usage, and the right for our students to identify their gender however they want and express [it] however they want,” she said. “Having lots of conversations with students and seeing this exciting dialogue on campus made us look for exhibitions that address these topics.”

Vaccaro said it is important to show the work in an educational institution more than a commercial gallery because a lot of the work comes from educational archives and speaks to young and active transgender communities.

Vaccaro added that the exhibit aims to bring to light more practical issues for trans or genderqueer students, like providing gender-neutral bathrooms on campus, and ensuring that trans and gender-nonconforming students have access to healthcare and are referred to by their chosen name in class.

“If we can create a sort of physical space that is a safe, welcoming and empowering environment for conversations and dialogue about the creativity and gender identity, then that’s something really important,” Vaccaro said. “The gallery is another classroom for these next three months.”

“Bring Your Own Body” is on display at the Glass Curtain Gallery until Feb. 13, 2016.