6 artists exploring the joy and pain of the trans experience

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Works by Yaz Whitlock (left) and Ebun Sodipo (right). Lowry Cooper photography. Image courtesy of We Exist

Even in its most joyous form, queer life is tinged with pain: by the past version of yourself; for the elderly lost to AIDS that you will never meet; for friends lost along the way. Still, the pain that members of the trans community in particular must endure, both globally and in the UK, is something that the LGBTQI+ community in general needs to be acutely aware of. In times when transphobic rhetoric is on the rise, we should be forced to use every resource, empathy, and rage we have to amplify trans voices. that’s just what in dedicationan exhibition in The Koppel project hive in London, is doing.

Featuring new and existing work from 28 trans and non-binary artists, the pieces explore themes of memory, community, body, history, ancestors, desire, longing, future, ritual, healing, liberation, resistance, and love. Sadly, it takes its beautiful form in the place of a huge void left by the late activist and artist Sophie Gwen Williams, who first came up with the idea for The Koppel Project partnership and residency in 2020. Sophie was also co – founder of trans community organization we existwhich continued his work in his honour, and involved the London-based curator Iarlaith Ni Fheorais to curate the exhibition. Working together with the We Exist project manager and artist June Lam and five curatorial trainees (Della Sculpt, Saati McCormack, Caz Ortoli, Boy of the Gods, and Willow Killeen), Iarlaith has created a celebration space with a truly visceral impact.

“The situation for trans people in the UK has become untenable at times. We’ve got the government, the media, and major public figures on the attack, leading to real reversals of the fusion gains we’ve made in this country. This is at the top of unacceptable and lethal waiting lists for care, leaving many trans people unable to access even the most basic health care,” he says. “In this context, it was empowering to work with so many talented trans artists who are actively imagining and creating new worldviews, the basis for political action. Although it was deeply enriching to look into the future, it coexisted with many artists making works in memory of those we have lost in this fight with a very present sense of loss”.

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Many works in the exhibition take the form of altars or memorials, such as Saati J. Conran-McCormackThe “beautiful tribute to a friend that combines a hand-painted portrait and flowers in a plexiglass box.” Walking through two floors of The Koppel Project Hive, you are invited to process both loss and celebration, become malleable, listen, grieve, and absorb the future beyond the gender binary. Here, we highlight six artists from the powerful exhibition.

Kumbirai Makumbe ceramic sculpture

Lowry Cooper photography. Image courtesy of We Exist

Ask for Makumbe

Ask for Makumbe he describes his work as “residing at the intersection of art, technology, and the ethereal.” The small sculptures of him displayed on the ground floor of the exhibition resemble human bodies, but beautifully fluid and distorted, as if frozen in the process of transformation. Kumbirai creates works in both the digital and physical realms and, more importantly, explores the liminal space between the two. The notion of “in-between” is crucial to the practice of it: drawing on speculative and science fiction narratives, they speak about the future and the complexity of blackness and belonging in this changing context.

A collage of Ebun Sodipo

Lowry Cooper photography. Image courtesy of We Exist

Ebun Sodipo

Ebun Sodipo is a London-based artist who works across collage, moving image, text, fiction, installation, dance and performance. He explores the construction of the black transfeminine self after slavery and colonialism, while also using the practice of him as a means of time travel. Ebun admits that she “does work for those who will come after: the black trans people of the future”, at the same time that she creates narratives that reimagine the painful past. As part of in dedicationEbun showed a collage that combines images, poetry, and a wide strip of reflective material that resembles the surface of water.

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Bones Tan Jones

Bones Tan Jones fuses activism and art by putting her body and spirit at the center of the experimental narrative. Describing their vision as “optimistic, queer, alternative dystopia,” they seek to provide a roadmap for queer existence in our complicated reality. Bones is the co-founder of The Shadow Sistxrs Fight Club, a physical and metaphysical self-defense class for women, non-binary people and QTIPOC, that combines Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and magical/medicinal herbalism to create a holistic approach to self-defense. For In Dedication, the artist created an installation in which a dead, scratched-up laptop and an ancient globe sit side by side on a pile of rice. As a ritualistic performance titled “10,000 punches to heal” on opening night, they put on boxing gloves and did just that: they punched the bags of rice 10,000 times, physically confronting personal and collective histories.

a sound structure with a lit candle by delia detritus

Lowry Cooper photography. Image courtesy of We Exist

Delia sculpt

Delia sculptThe sound sculpture is one of the most visceral works in the exhibition. In the center of a square wooden frame, there is an object suspended from chains; a candle is pierced with multiple nails; a smooth piece of wood looks eerily like an organ. But like much of Delia’s work, the impact is far greater than the sum of its parts: it’s strangely sexual, uncomfortable, and immersive thanks to the ambient noise of the sculpture’s pre-recorded life. Working through sculpture, music, woodcarving, tattooing, and writing, Detritus contemplates nature, the global experience of transness, desire, isolation, and the experimental qualities of sound. She also explores desire and the relationship between object and touch through the carving of reclaimed wood impact toys.

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Chloe Filani

Chloe Filani is an artist, performer, and poet who explores her lived experiences as a Black trans woman of Nigerian, Yoruba, and Eshan descent. She harnesses language, movement, images, sound, and most importantly her voice, to articulate and convey ideas of self-expression. In the exhibition she presents a piece entitled “There are mythical midnight transsexuals”, which incorporates digitally printed poetry on a strip of red lace. She plays with the aesthetics and hierarchy of art materials usually associated with art and poetry, and allows for a more intimate and textured experience of words.

A collage of body parts with text overlay by Yaz Whitlock

Lowry Cooper photography. Image courtesy of We Exist

summer Metcalfe

summer Metcalfe explores disability and gender politics and makes the work respond to their attempts to navigate a world inaccessible to them. His piece “Permanent” consists of silicone fragments that resemble deflated body parts or pieces of skin: a hand, a nipple, a soft stomach engraved with textual reflections on living with disability and on the expectations imposed by society. “Because I am just another waste of space thriving in the chaos of my own bodily dysfunctions,” says one of the inscriptions. Thriving, that is, despite continually being under social pressure, but still finding a way.

In Dedication presented by We Exist is on view at The Koppel Project Hive, 26 Holborn Viaduct, London until June 17.

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