Art Series Brings Transgender Diversity to Instagram

A group of artists is turning the spotlight on the experiences of trans people of color.

The Trans Life & Liberation Art Series’ includes illustrations and prints by (clockwise from top left) Micah Bazant, Noah Jenkins, Micah Bazant, Edxie Betts, Micah Bazant, and Micah Bazant. (Illustrations: Courtesy ‘Trans Life & Liberation Art Series’)

Jul 23, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Gwendolyn Wu is an editorial intern at TakePart and a junior at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

In one portrait, a multiarmed mermaid poses with a book, flowers, and a triangle hand sign; the accompanying lettering reads, “Create your own creaturehood.” On another canvas, a black woman and a white man face each other as onlookers surround them; underneath them are the words “Black trans folks demand economic justice + safety.”

These thought-provoking portraits are part of the Trans Life & Liberation Art Series, a project launched in February by trans artists in the United States. The effort, which explores individuals in trans resistance and celebrates activists in the community who are trying to change the course of history, was launched in response to author and activist Janet Mock’s call in 2013 to celebrate the work of and uplift trans women of color.

“For more than 50 years, trans women and femmes of color have been on the frontlines of the struggle for trans and queer liberation, but they continue to face an epidemic of violence, criminalization and oppression,” Micah Bazant, the Oakland, California–based trans artist who came up with the series, wrote on Tumblr. “The Trans Life & Liberation Art Series is a response to this call.”

Since the project’s inception, 11 other trans and gender-nonconforming artists from across the nation have joined forces with Bazant. Together they blitz social media with weekly depictions of the issues and experiences of trans people of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds as well as those who are disabled or incarcerated.

“The series spotlights activists, organizers, and many other faces of our myriad trans communities who might not otherwise get the recognition they deserve,” Bishakh Som, an artist involved with the project, wrote in an email to TakePart. “In this era of the ‘transgender tipping point,’ there are many [trans people] whose work and presence deserve to be celebrated—this project channels the power of art to do just this.”

Most of the portraits focus on the intersection of racial and gender identity because “queer history is black history, and vice versa,” Ethan Parker, an illustrator involved in the series, wrote in an email to TakePart. “One cannot separate the two without dishonoring the other. Because I occupy multiple spaces, I choose to embrace the intersection that is queer, black and trans, and from that I draw my inspiration.”

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Although trans women of color make up 50 percent of LGBT homicides, the artists celebrate the lives of trans women of color and the ways their subjects use their voices for social justice. “We all seem to have similar experiences and overlapping bits of life that inevitably tie us together for this project. However, I enjoy seeing the variety of culture, style and expression that is shared out not only with the art created but through the individuality of the folks involved in the pieces,” Parker wrote. “It’s refreshing to see trans people’s stories and depictions shared by other trans and gender non-conforming folks for a change.”

Other pieces in the series depict participants whom the artists believe were wrongly incarcerated, such as Ky Peterson, a trans artist from Georgia who has been in prison since 2011 for killing his alleged rapist in self-defense. Along with creating a portrait of Peterson, the collective launched a petition calling for better treatment for Peterson and for his release.

A Kickstarter petition supporting the artists has raised $8,295—money that will help fund the series as it goes forward and help with costs for an Oakland-based art exhibit in 2017.

“This project means the world to me because young trans people need to be reminded of the strength we have within ourselves,” Noah Jenkins, a trans artist participating in the series, wrote on the Kickstarter petition page. “We are strong. And we deserve to feel it.”