The Museum of Transgender Hirstory & Art (MOTHA) at ONE Archives
March 21 – July 11, 2015
PHOTOS: Your 99 Transgender History Lessons
I’m so excited to be part of this exhibit, contributing a short piece of writing inspired by the brilliant work of artist Nicki Green.
Organized by the Museum of Transgender Hirstory & Art, or MOTHA, Transgender Hirstory in 99 Objects examines objects that hold significance in narrating the history of transgender communities. The project blurs the line between the real and the imaginary, the known and the unknowable, giving visibility to actual people and events that remain foundational for transgender history while embracing partial facts, rumors, and maybes. Inspired by the Smithsonian’s book American History in 101 Objects, which was in turn inspired by A History of the World in 100 Objects by the BBC and the British Museum, this presentation of Transgender Hirstory in 99 Objects at ONE Archives, subtitled Legends and Mythologies, marks the first iteration of this evolving, multi-exhibition project. Founded and directed by artist Chris E. Vargas, MOTHA is an imagery museum that seeks to bring a cohesive visual history of transgender culture into existence through temporary autonomous programs that envision the existence of a legitimate and legitimizing arts and history institution for trans people.
Legends and Mythologies includes work by nine contemporary artists alongside artifacts and historical documents from the collections at ONE Archives. A Sappho-inspired banner by artist Tuesday Smillie, with its loose threads and exposed seams, speaks directly to the stitched-together nature of history and its combination of the known and the unknowable. An altar of mourning by Wu Tsang and R.J. Messineo provides a receptacle for the living to deposit our collective grief for loved ones who have passed on. Sam Lopes mines the trans-ness of popular mythology with papier-mâché sculptures of hybrid creatures such as “mermyn” and the bears they love. A pube collection by Emmett Ramstad creates a private yet collective space for our pubic hirstories. Nicki Green’s ceramic vessels recount rural legends of backwoods orchiectomies. A drawing by Craig Calderwood depicts Angela Douglas, a legend who connects early trans activism with a more evolved extraterrestrial life.The archival materials in the exhibition point to a sampling of individuals who made an impact on the formation of transgender communities as we understand them today. The transgender pride flag, designed by the Betsy Ross of the trans community Monica Helms, is displayed alongside a collaborative video interview with her and MOTHA’s Executive Director Chris Vargas. Another video provides a mediated experience of looking through Eric’s Ego Trip, a photo album assembled by and featuring ONE’s early, eccentric benefactor Reed Erickson. The video album is presented with decorative wallpaper designed by Onya Hogan-Finlay that features images of Erickson’s life, including his pet leopard Henry. The exhibition also includes print ephemera featuring Lady Java, a nightclub legend and outspoken opponent of L.A.’s Rule No. 9, the anti-crossdressing regulation that compromised many performers’ livelihoods during the 1960s.Transgender Hirstory in 99 Objects: Legends and Mythologies is accompanied by a printed brochure including nine newly commissioned texts addressing the artists and historical figures in the show. The contributing writers include: Ari Banias on Sam Lopes; Ezra Berkley Nepon on Nicki Green; Kelly Besser on Sir Lady Java; Maxe Crandall on Emmett Ramstad; Aaron H. Devor on Reed Erickson and Onya Hogan-Finlay; Reina Gossett and Grace Dunham on the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) and Tuesday Smillie; Raquel Gutiérrez on Wu Tsang and R.J. Messineo; Abram J. Lewis on Angela Douglas; and Chris E. Vargas on Monica Helms.Transgender Hirstory in 99 Objects: Legends and Mythologies is organized by Chris E. Vargas, Executive Director of MOTHA, with David Frantz, Curator at ONE Archives at the USC Libraries. This exhibition is made possible, in part, by a grant from the City of Los Angeles, Department of Cultural Affairs. Additional support provided by the ONE Archives Foundation.