5 Trans & Non-binary Artists
By Ashley Altadonna
Over the past few decades, trans and non-binary individuals have broken barriers in many creative arenas, whether acting (Laverne Cox, Asia Kate Dillon, Elliot Page), music (Laura Jane Grace, Ryan Cassata, Kim Petras), or literature (Torrey Peters, Kai Cheng Thom, Jackson Bird). However, unless one is familiar with the modern art scene, trans and non-binary visual and performance artists are often overlooked, despite creating compelling and vital works. The following five artists are a small sampling of the transgender and non-binary artists who have been transforming contemporary art.
Jamie Nares is a British-born artist and filmmaker who has been living and working in New York since 1974. Nares is mainly known for her paintings and films. Nares attended Chelsea Art School in London from 1972 to 1973, and the School of Visual Arts from 1974 to 1976. Much of Nares' work focuses on movement, gestural actions, rhythm, and repetition. Many of her most famous works feature large bright ribbons of color that seem to flow across the canvas.
In 1978, she released Rome 78, a color Super-8 film loosely based around the rule of Roman Emperor Caligula, set in a rundown New York apartment building. The film features No Wave Cinema stars such as Lydia Lunch, David McDermott, James Chance, John Lurie, and others. The film is Nares' only narrative, plot-driven work. Her other well-known film is Street, which consists of several high-definition shots of New York City slowed down considerably, allowing viewers to witness minute details of everyday life. The film was scored by Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore.
Cassils is a non-binary transmasculine performance artist, bodybuilder, and personal trainer. Originally from Montreal, Cassils now lives and works in Los Angeles. They studied at the Ecole Nationale Superieur des Beaux-Arts in Paris, then received a BFA from Nova Scotia College of Art and Design before getting an MFA at the California Institute of the Arts. While at CalArts, Cassils, along with Clover Leary and Julia Steinmetz, founded the performance collective The Toxic Titties.
Cassils frequently uses their own body as the material of their work to investigate the history of LGBTQI+ violence and representation. In their piece Up To And Including Their Limits, Cassils re-interprets feminist icon Carolee Schneemann's Up To And Including Her Limits, using clay to spotlight transgender and non-binary visibility, while raising questions of voyeurism and subjecthood. With Becoming An Image, the spectacle of the artist attacking a one-ton clay obelisk is seen only through a camera flash, burning the image onto the viewer's retina.
Juliana Huxtable is an American artist, writer, performer, and DJ. Throughout her extensive multimedia career, she has exhibited and/or performed at several venues including the New Museum, MoMa, Portland Institute of Contemporary Art, and the Institute of Art in London. She has published two books, "Mucus In My Pineal Gland", and "Life" which she co-wrote with Hannah Black.
Originally from Texas, Huxtable graduated from Bard College in 2010. After college Huxtable began DJing and modeling for several fashion designers and campaigns. She was featured on the fifth anniversary cover of CANDY magazine along with several other trans women including Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, Carmen Carrera, and Isis King.
Many of Huxtable's works explore concepts of identity, the body, history, the internet, language, and text. Huxtable says her work has been impacted by Afrofuturism, science fiction, and Nuwaubian imagery. Recent works have explored conspiracy theories, fashion, and various countercultures. Huxtable is a founder of Shock Value, a weekly New York nightlife collective of women artists, DJs, fashion icons, and authors. She is also a member of the New York City-based art collective, House of Ladosha.
Laurence Philomène is a non-binary artist and photographer from Montreal. Philomène's bright, colorful photos are inspired by their experiences as a chronically ill transgender person. Their photos celebrate trans existence and explore identity as fluidity through highly saturated yet fragile images. Philomène became interested in making images as a teenager. They graduated from Dawsons College with a Professional Photography degree in 2014. They completed a 10-day artist residency in Reykjavic, in 2019. They have been the recipient of numerous awards including Flickr's "20 under 20" (2014) and Adweek's Creative 100 list (2018).
Philomène's photographs chronicle the often messy, awkward aspect of transition and development. Through the bold colors and intimate portraiture of their subjects, these chaotic moments take on weight and beauty, and the mundane is transformed into the extraordinary. In their forthcoming photographic memoir, Puberty, Philomène documents two years of undergoing hormone replacement therapy. The staged and candid images are embellished with Philomène's handwritten thoughts on becoming their true self.
Texas Isaiah is an award-winning photographer and visual storyteller currently working in Los Angeles. They are one of the first trans photographers to shoot a Vogue edition and a Time magazine cover. In 2012, their project BLACKNESS documented the African diaspora through the lens of sexuality, gender, and heritage. Much of Isaiah's work is concerned with ensuring that Black Trans and gender-expansive individuals are given space within the canon of photographic subjects. They believe that photography can be a medium for healing.
In 2018, they created four-part photography and ceremonial altar series entitled, My Name Is My Name. These pieces examine the relationship between one's ancestry, ritual, and nature, as well as personal pain and mindfulness. Through intimate portraits and personal objects, Isaiah weaves a narrative about individuals making their own healing space. In 2020, they collaborated with the Marsha P. Johnson Institute and VSCO to create the series Every Image Is An Offering. The project focuses on Black trans and non-binary folks valuing themselves and their community.