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Trans Elders Who Paved the Way are Rescued from Invisibility:

The National Museum Premiere of "To Survive on This Shore" Standing-Room-Only Debut at Frost Art Museum FIU

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Photographer Jess T. Dugan

This is the first museum in the nation to exhibit this groundbreaking new exhibition, which opened to standing-room-only crowds in Miami at the Frost Art Museum FIU, part of Florida International University. “To Survive on This Shore,” by Jess T. Dugan and Vanessa Fabbre, will continue on view through April 28 at the museum. This show is five years in the making, a result of the duo’s extensive research traveling across the U.S. to big cities and small towns. To Survive on This Shore kicks off the museum’s yearlong commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which will culminate in the fall with Art After Stonewall (1969-1989), the first major museum exhibition about how the LGBT civil rights movement impacted the art world.

For five years they traveled to interview trans elders who are under-represented in our culture because they are older, to create their book which has now been brought to life for the viewers enjoy on the gallery walls with this new museum show. This is the first time the exhibition has been shown at a museum.

“We saw examples of younger trans people who have never seen an older trans person and they had no road-map for what life would look like going forward,” said Jess T. Dugan. “Even as we are now seeing more positive representations of trans people in the media, they often favor certain kinds of identities over others. I wanted to record the history of people who, in many cases, paved the road for the world we live in now. I worried their stories were at risk of being lost or forgotten, and I wanted to record and preserve them,” said Dugan.

“So many trans-related stories in the media are about people being murdered or are about discrimination of some kind,” adds Dugan. “With this project, I wanted to create representations of many different ways of living and aging as a trans person.”

The current news about efforts to ban transgender Americans from serving in the military, and the terribly disproportionate levels of violence committed against transgender people, make this exhibition even more timely and powerful. Some of the transgender people included in these photos served our country with long military careers.

“We knew that we were generating an incredible amount of oral history from a largely underrepresented group of people whose history was at risk of being lost.”

“In many cases, we were talking to people who transitioned prior to the widespread use of the internet, prior to the conceptualization of the term ‘transgender,’ and certainly prior to the existence of the transgender community as it exists today. Some people had never even heard the word ‘transgender’ when they were figuring out their identity. Their life stories are from a significant period of transgender activism and experience in the United States. We wanted to make sure that this history was preserved,” adds Dugan.

Tony, 67, San Diego, 2014 (Courtesy of projects+gallery and Jess T. Dugan)
Dee Dee Ngozi, 55, Atlanta, 2016 (Courtesy of projects+gallery and Jess T. Dugan)

Photographs and Interviews with Transgender and

Gender Nonconforming Older Adults

Free and Open to the Public until April 28 in Miami, at the Frost Art Museum FIU

This Miami presentation is the first-ever museum show of these works, based on the book by the same name. The people featured in these portraits have a wide variety of life narratives spanning the last ninety years.

One of the definitions of ageism is “to regard older persons as unworthy of attention.” These photos and interviews reveal how our culture lacks representation of older adults who are transgender and gender non-conforming. Dugan and Fabbre traveled from coast to coast, across the U.S. to document these life stories.

Dugan’s portraits are open, emotive, and nuanced, utilizing direct eye contact to evoke a meaningful exchange between subject and viewer. For the accompanying texts, Fabbre selected interviews to enhance the viewer’s connection to each subject’s story.

(video by Raquel Ramirez)

To Survive on This Shore provides an intense view into the struggles and joys of growing older as a transgender person and what it means to live authentically despite seemingly insurmountable odds.

An important historical record of the transgender experience in the United States is brought to the forefront.

The research work of Vanessa Fabbre explores the conditions under which LGBTQ people age well, and what this means in the context of structural forces such as transphobia, heteronormativity, and heterosexism.

SuZie & Cheryl Hawkes, two of Dugan’s subjects who attended the opening in Miami,photographed in the museum in front of their portrait.
Dr. Amy Galpin and Jess T. Dugan at the opening reception at the Frost Art Museum FIU.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The accessibility of photography — particularly portraiture — draws people in to the larger topic and provides an avenue for education,” said Jess T. Dugan. “We intentionally sought out a diverse group of subjects in terms of race and ethnicity, gender identity and expression, age, sexuality, socioeconomic class, geographic location, and life narrative.”

“To create the quotes that accompany the photographs, we record an interview about each person’s life, and we let those interviews be influenced by what that person chooses to share and views as most important to their story,” said Dugan. Read their compelling stories at tosurviveonthisshore.com/interviews

I was struck by each person’s resiliency. I was moved to see how, in the face of intense adversity, people found their identity, found a community, found a family, not only outside of societal expectations but often in direct opposition to them. For so many people, the need to live as their authentic self was so great that it enabled them to overcome significant obstacles. Hearing all of the different ways that people navigated struggle and found happiness and meaning was really moving,” said Dugan.

Duchess Milan, 69, Los Angeles, 2017 (Courtesy of projects+gallery and Jess T. Dugan)
Caprice, 55, Chicago, 2015 (Courtesy of projects+gallery and Jess T. Dugan)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sukie, 59, New York, 2016 (Courtesy of projects+gallery and Jess T. Dugan)

This exhibition was organized by Barrett Barrera Projects. For Miami’s showing at the Frost Art Museum FIU, it was also organized by the museum’s Chief Curator, Dr. Amy Galpin. The show is part of the Frost Art Museum’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which will culminate with the presentation in the fall of Art After Stonewall (1969-1989), the first-ever major museum exhibition about how the LGBT civil-rights movement impacted the art world.

Jay, 59, New York, 2015 (Courtesy of projects+gallery & Jess T. Dugan)

 

 

 

MORE ABOUT JESS T. DUGAN AND VANESSA FABBRE:

Jess T. Dugan is an artist whose work explores issues of gender, sexuality, identity and community via photographic portraiture. Dugan was recently awarded the 2019 Infinity Award by the International Center of Photography.

She is the recipient of a 2015 Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, was selected by the White House as a 2015 Champion of Change, was honored as a Commended Artist by the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, and is the recipient of the Women Photograph + Nikon Grant.

In 2015, Dugan founded the Strange Fire Artist Collective to highlight work made by women, people of color, and LGBTQ artists. Vanessa Fabbre is a social worker and assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis, whose research focuses on intersections of LGBTQ issues and aging. See the photographs in this show and read the interviews at: tosurviveonthisshore.com/interviews