Artworks by Yaz Metcalfe (L) and Ebun Sodipo (R). Photography Lowri Cooper. Image courtesy We Exist

6 artists exploring the joy & pain of the trans experience

Featured as part of 'In Dedication' at The Koppel Project Hive in London, their work imagines a future beyond the gender binary.

by Anastasiia Fedorova
06 June 2022, 3:46pm

Artworks by Yaz Metcalfe (L) and Ebun Sodipo (R). Photography Lowri Cooper. Image courtesy We Exist

Even at its most joyful, queer life is tinged with grief: for the past version of yourself; for the elders lost to AIDS that you’ll never know; for friends lost along the way. Still, the grief that members of the trans community in particular must endure — both globally and in the UK — is something that the wider LGBTQI+ community should be made acutely aware of. In times when transphobic rhetoric is on the rise, we should be compelled to use all of the resources, empathy and rage we have to amplify trans voices. That’s just what In Dedication, an exhibition at The Koppel Project Hive in London, is doing.  

Showcasing new and existing work by 28 trans and non-binary artists, the pieces themselves explore themes of memory, community, the body, history, ancestors, desire, longing, future, ritual, healing, liberation, resistance and love. Sadly, it takes its beautiful shape in the place of a huge void left behind by the late activist and artist Sophie Gwen Williams, who first came up with the idea of The Koppel Project partnership and residency back in 2020. Sophie was also a co-founder of trans community organisation We Exist, which continued its work in her honour, and involved London-based curator Iarlaith Ni Fheorais to curate the exhibition. Working together with We Exist producer and artist June Lam and five curatorial mentees (Delia Detritus, Saati McCormack, Caz Ortoli, Puer Deorum and Willow Killeen), Iarlaith has created a celebratory space with a truly visceral impact.  

“The situation for trans people in the UK has become untenable at times. We have the government, the media and leading public figures of the attack, leading to real reversals of the merger gains we've made in this country. This is on top of the unacceptable and lethal waiting lists to access care, leaving many trans people unable to access even the most basic healthcare,” she says. “In this context, it was fortifying to work with so many talented trans artists who are actively imaging and crafting new visions of the world, the foundation of a political action. Although it was profoundly enriching to look to the future, this lived alongside many artists making work in remembrance of those we've lost in this struggle with a sense of loss very present.” 

Many works in the exhibition take the form of altars or memorials — like Saati J Conran-McCormack’s “beautiful tribute to a friend which combines a hand-painted portrait and flowers encased in a plexiglass box”. Walking across two floors of The Koppel Project Hive, you’re invited to process both loss and celebration, to become malleable, to listen, weep and to absorb the future beyond the gender binary. Here, we highlight six artists from the powerful exhibition.

Ceramic sculpture by Kumbirai Makumbe
Photography Lowri Cooper. Image courtesy of We Exist

Kumbirai Makumbe

Kumbirai Makumbe describes their work as “residing on the intersection of art, technology and the ethereal”. Their small sculptures 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 both in the digital and physical realms — and, most importantly, explores the liminal space between the two. The notion of the “in-between” is crucial for their practice: drawing on speculative and science fiction narratives, they talk about the future, and the complexity of Blackness and belonging in this shifting context. 

A collage by Ebun Sodipo
Photography Lowri Cooper. Image courtesy We Exist

Ebun Sodipo  

Ebun Sodipo is a London-based artist working across collage, moving image, text, fiction, installation, dance and performance. She explores the construction of the Black trans-feminine self after slavery and colonialism, while simultaneously using her practice as a means of time travel. Ebun admits that she “makes work for those who will come after: the Black trans people of the future”, while also creating narratives which reimagine the painful past. As part of In Dedication, Ebun showed a collage combining imagery, poetry and a wide strip of reflective material resembling the surface of water. 

Bones Tan Jones 

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

a sound structure with a lit candle by delia detritus
Photography Lowri Cooper. Image courtesy We Exist

Delia Detritus

Delia Detritus’ sound sculpture is one of the most visceral works in the exhibition. In the centre of a square wooden frame, there is an object suspended on chains; a candle is pierced with multiple nails; a smooth piece of wood uncannily resembles an organ. But like much of Delia’s work, the impact is much bigger 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 across sculpture, music, woodcarving, tattoo and writing, Detritus contemplates nature, the global experience of transness, desire, isolation and experimental qualities of sound. She also explores desire and the relationship between the object and touch through carving impact toys from reclaimed wood. 

Chloe Filani

Chloe Filani is an artist, performer and poet exploring her lived experiences as a Black trans woman of Nigerian, Yoruba and Eshan heritage. She harnesses language, movement, visuals, sound and most importantly, her voice, to articulate and convey ideas of self-expression. At the exhibition, she presents a piece titled “There’s mythical transsexuals of midnight”, which incorporates poetry digitally printed onto a strip of red lace. It plays with the aesthetic and the hierarchy of art materials usually associated with art and poetry, and allows for a more intimate, textured experience of words.  

A collage of body parts with overlayed text by Yaz Metcalfe
Photography Lowri Cooper. Image courtesy We Exist

Yaz Metcalfe

Yaz Metcalfe explores disability and gender politics and makes work in response to their attempts to navigate a world inaccessible to them. Their piece “Permanent” consists of silicone fragments that resemble deflated body parts or pieces of skin: a hand, a nipple, a soft stomach etched with textual musings on living with disability and on societally imposed expectations. “Cos I’m another waste of space thriving in the chaos of my own bodily malfunctions,” one of the inscriptions reads. Thriving, that is, despite being continuously placed under societal pressure, but still finding a way.

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

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