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1/6 — Jordyn Belli



This New Exhibit Celebrates Love & Intimacy For The Trans & GNC Community

Trans Art Is: Love & Liberation is a new exhibition in Chicago featuring 15 trans and gender non-conforming artists working across various mediums from photography to painting and performance. Focusing on themes of love, sex, and intimacy, the exhibition was curated by Ken Folk, an artist from Texas who uses art to explore their relationship with being Black, queer, and living on the schizophrenia spectrum.

Underlining the spirit of Trans Art, a project by Chicago Therapy Collective which seeks to amplify the voices of the trans and GNC community in Chicago, the group aims to make the realities and existence of these artists more visible, especially in a time when the bodies and stories of these individuals are highly policed. By creating spaces where this community can thrive, and explore their own identities unapologetically, Trans Art is paving the way for Chicago GNC creatives whose narratives and creative work are often left out of important local and national art conversations.

Milk sat down with Ken Folk to learn more about their personal practice and the important messages behind this new exhibit.

What’s your background? Tell us more about you, your creative work, and relationship to this exhibit. What gender pronouns do you use?

I’m a Chicago-based nonbinary trans (they/them pronouns), queer Haitian artist from Texas who creates work about my existence as a Black queer, nonbinary trans person navigating chronic illness, gender, institutionalized racism, living on the schizophrenia spectrum, growing up on the internet, and what it means to make art as survival and also [explore] romance.

How did the idea for this show come about? Why did you choose to focus on themes of love, sex and intimacy in this exhibit?

Trans and non-gender conforming individuals are often a site for oppression and exploitation. Historically treated through the ideology of a cis-straight patriarchy, trans bodies are reduced to objects of fear or subjects of sexual objectification; often commodities of desire for the cis gaze, to be owned or consumed but never one with agency or self-determination.

Sexual agency is a step towards empowerment, to be reclaimed by those who have an embodied trans/GNC experience of what intimacy can be.

What was your process for curating it?

I wanted to include works that answered the questionsHow do you process and embrace intimacy and sex in a post trauma state? In what ways has love allowed you to be free? Why is Queer* and Trans love revolutionary?

I wanted to feature well-crafted, intriguing, and intimate work pertaining to the theme of love through the lens of Queer and Trans individuals, because I feel that it is crucial that we share our own stories.

How does Trans Art build platforms and create space for Trans/GNC individuals? Will you tell me more about your involvement in the collective/community?

“Love & Liberation​“ underlies the spirit of the Chicago Therapy Collective’s Trans Art Is project by building platforms and creating space for Trans/GNC individuals. Trans Art Is seeks to amplify these voices, making visible the realities and existence of Trans/GNC artists, and in this case, those that relate to love, sex, and intimacy.

Working as the curator for this show, I wanted to create a space that not only provided a platform for underrepresented artists, but also worked as a trauma safe space. I worked to create a show that pushed community, that pushed safety and accessibility and that felt like coming home. These spaces don’t really exist for us, as Queer and Trans folks. I do the work that I do to create these spaces because they’re necessary for our survival, for the preservation of our history, and for community.

Whose work is on display and what about their work makes them special or distinct? Is it all Chicago-based artists?

The exhibition features creative and transgressive works by CJ Run, Evan Fusco, Leo Williams, Bun Stout, Jordyn Belli, Asha Adisa, Marius Dania, Alex Ziauddin, Jean Sonderand, Pascale Jarvis, Malachi Lily, Alloiza Mari, Larisa Wade and Emily Morley.

This exhibition wasn’t just limited to Chicago-based artists. We really wanted to make our submission process open to all Queer, Trans, and Gender-Nonconforming folks and not just those who had the access and privilege of living in a huge city like Chicago.

How could the art world better support the trans and GNC community, particularly in Chicago?

Support and celebrate Trans folks while they’re alive, support black art, support sex workers, especially now, and don’t exclude them from your movements. Remember art is labor and exposure doesn’t pay bills, Black lives still and will always matter, work harder to be inclusive, and stay alive to find out.

What do you hope viewers will take away from seeing this exhibit?

The power, the complications of agency and the dimensions of sex, love and intimacy of Trans and Gender Non-Conforming individuals. The works rely on sexual bodily autonomy through the self-determination of trans embodied experience. Here, the erotic is not vilified but instead used as a ground for critical engagement and celebration: captured moments of tender embraces, embroidered reclamations, and unabashedly honest self-portraits.

Images courtesy of respective artists; please see captions for credits

Stay tuned to Milk for more art we love.

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