The rights of transgender people have come to center stage in the past few years, in the west and also globally thanks in no small part to the internet which can often be a voice for people who don’t have one. We see conversations about transgender health issues, trans rights in the workplace, fighting violence against trans women, and much more.
There are many ways we can educate ourselves about transgender people and their rights, needs, and contributions, and one way is through visual art.
Visual art has long been a means of communicating stories and asking questions, of bringing issues into the public sphere to create dialogue. A current art exhibition at the University of Victoria Legacy Art Galleries is shining the spotlight on transgender history with Trans Hirstory in 99 Objects.
“Trans Hirstory in 99 Objects brings together art and archival material from UVic’s world-renowned Transgender Archives to narrate an expansive and critical history of transgender communities.”
The show is curated by Chris E. Vargas, who is the executive director of San Francisco’s Museum of Transgender Hirstory and Art.
University of Victoria is home to the Transgender Archives, the largest collection of transgender archives in the world. For the past ten years, they have been gathering “documents, rare publications, and memorabilia of persons and organizations associated with activism by and for trans, gender non-binary, and Two Spirit people.”
Art and documents related to the almost invisible history—or hirstory as they say—are gathered and preserved for public record. Showing the visual art that is made by transgender people or expresses their hirstory in some way is a great way to bring some of the material from the museums to the public eye.
“The people that get to write history are the ones in control of what we know,” Aaron Devor, the founder and director of the transgender archives and head of Transgender Studies at the university told CBC radio host Gregor Craigie.
“This is an attempt to uncover and bring public awareness to some of the stories of trans people, which are generally not only not known to the general public, but also are generally not known to trans people either.”
The exhibition showed in San Francisco and is now at the UVic gallery until the end of March. Those who can’t make it to the art show are still benefitted by it, as news coverage is bringing attention to the two important organizations promoting transgender history.