Student Spotlight - Trans Artists
During Pride Month in June, people around the country recognize activists and members of the LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Plus) community. As we all strive to learn about the wide array of sexual orientations and gender identities, the School of Art would like to spotlight some students in our own community who identify as LGBTQ+.
Transgender people, or people whose gender identity or psychological self does not correspond with their sex assigned at birth, face complex issues in day-to-day life. For some trans artists, these issues or ideas of gender identity often come to the surface when they are creating artwork. Some centralize gender or transgender issues in their work, addressing inequalities, violence and injustice faced by their community in order to inspire greater social change. Others focus on gender stereotypes, gender expression and the complexity of how we represent our own gender. We spoke with three School of Art students, Milo Schumann (above, right), Boyce Bivens (above, center), and Kate Rossello (above, left) who all identify as trans. They reflected on their art making process and how identity plays a role in their work.
Some artists we spoke with don’t have a direct relation of their trans identity to their work. Milo Schumann (they/them/theirs), a recent graduate majoring in ceramics, strives to create objects that are beautiful and functional. “I feel that in our larger society, there's usually a strong divide between things that are fun and things that are functional. Why can't things be both? If I have to use a thing, why can it not also be visually beautiful? Our objects can be multidimensional, so I think they should be,” Milo said. They use bold and colorful graphics to create ceramic wares that make an action as simple as drinking a cup of tea a fun experience.
Milo reflected on how identity informs their work, and how art echoes lived experience. “I don't think it could ever be separated from my making process. Identity informs all of what everyone does, to be fair. My current work isn't directly about my identity as a transgender person because I thought that would've been too easy or expected, and as much as I love talking about how trans I am I really didn't want to tokenize myself like that. However, my identity has very strongly influenced my lived experience, and my current work is very much about my lived experience,” said Milo of their work. “Emotionally, my work speaks to the uncertainty and stress all around all of us right now and the ways that stress and joy exist in the same spaces, and my various identities are a major part of that. Being trans is something that brings me immeasurable joy, but it also causes immeasurable stress.”
The stress experienced among trans folks is often the result of the discrimination and violence directed at trans people in our society. Boyce Bivens (he/him/his), a Studio Art major with a concentration in print media and photography and a minor in sociology, creates work that focuses on the connection of the body to nature, as well as social and political issues and their intersecting solutions.
Boyce created a piece entitled Mourn the Dead, Fight Like Hell for the Living, which was inspired by the deaths of 44 known trans people in the U.S. in 2020. He wanted to raise awareness for the discrimination and assault toward the trans community, especially toward trans women and trans women of color.
“As a trans person myself, I wanted cisgender people (a person who identifies as the sex they were assigned at birth) to be made aware of these deaths and these lives being lost at such a young age from a community that is already hit with so many socially enforced disadvantages,” Boyce said of his piece. “I wanted the viewers to mourn these losses with my community, and turn that feeling of loss into anger to fight for change.”
Boyce also produces a zine, which helps him to disseminate his message to larger audiences. “At the beginning of quarantine, I began to miss the community I had become a part of, and decided to make a zine showcasing the beauty of this community,” Boyce said.
He reached out to 16 transgender or nonbinary individuals (people who identify as neither female nor male and/or as neither a man or as a woman) across the country and asked them to pose as nude as they were comfortable with to celebrate their community as people with varying identities, bodies, and experiences with the vast and fluid nature of bodies of water. “This project was healing for me as well as several individuals in the zine as it allowed us to connect with our bodies, identities, and selves,” said Boyce.
The zine was accompanied by a project where these transgender bodies were then made into stickers to be placed in various locations as a way of spreading the message that transgender bodies are beautiful and worthy of being appreciated. “Through the medium of printmaking, I’ve been able to disseminate this message in an easily replicated way while still maintaining the nature of a handcrafted piece of work,” Boyce said.
Other artists focus less on the body and more on the stereotypes and gender roles that exist in our society. Kate Rossello (they/them/theirs), Studio Art major concentrating in sculpture and expanded media, recently installed their B.F.A. thesis show and won the ARTshop award in the Student Annual exhibition for their video, World Without Men. Kate works in performance, video and sculpture and sees all of their art as self-portraiture. They are interested in gender roles and "women's work" when creating artwork. Kate’s thesis exhibition focused on the idea of a housewife expected to cook, clean and keep a home tidy.
“I use my own body as an actor to carry out my ideas. Gender is a performance. I am expected to perform femininity and I do so out of my own choice. My femininity is a character, a commentary and exploration of societal expectations. My work often deals with gender stereotypes,” said Kate of their artwork.
Kate identifies as non-binary and bisexual. “I do not identify as a woman but am overwhelmingly aware that I am perceived as such. I have accepted that because to me, being non-binary is about lacking gender at all. I am a boy and a girl as much as I am neither. Nobody can define me because I am undefinable. My art does not have to be about this. No queer person's art has to be about their identity. Not all art I make is inherently about my identity as a queer person just as straight cisgendered people don't make art about being straight and cis. I create because that is my identity just as much as my gender and sexuality. These are all factors of my life that I get to curate and share with the world,” they said.
If you would like to learn more about LGBTQ+ issues and resources, please visit the LGBTQ+ Student Center website.