Chris E. Vargas. Necessary Disguise: The Temporary Transvestite Film, 2013. Courtesy of the Artist, Art Practical, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
Chris E. Vargas, the executive director of the Museum of Transgender Hirstory and Art (MOTHA) and the 2013 Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) Community Engagement Artist-in-Residence, hosted a presentation and reception for the imminent opening of MOTHA, an as-of-yet unrealized art institution in the Bay Area, at ArtPadSF on May 18, 2013. What follows is an adaptation of the presentation, previewing the background, planned programming, facilities, and fundraising for the institution.
For millennia, the patriarchy has had versions of history; for a few years in the 1970s, some white feminists had herstory; but it hasn’t been until now that transgender people have finally had a gender-neutral hirstory all their own. While the Museum of Transgender Hirstory and Art (MOTHA) has been a long time in creation, it’s also been a long time overdue. Transgender people are creative and hardy folk—we’ve endured invisibility and hyper-visibility; we’ve been demonized and pathologized, ridiculed and melodramatized. We have been the subject of suspicion, medical and anthropological research, academic theorizing, metaphor, and—at worst—violence and even murder. But what’s more important is that we’ve survived in creative and ingenious ways. We’ve even thrived in this trans-phobic world to such an extent that it’s now time to preserve the legacy of our triumphs for future generations. The current state of art and historical institutions points to the undeniable importance and timeliness of MOTHA’s emergence.
The Emergence of MOTHA
We live in a world where every major city has an art museum that is a symbol of cultural vitality and vibrancy. Yet, even today, there are various understandings of the purpose the museum serves as an institution: Does it cater to the elite, or is it an institution for the people? Does it reflect who we are or who we want to be, and whom does we encompass—society at large or certain subsections of it? Even among such questions, it’s widely known that museums can have many flaws and complicated histories—bureaucratic messiness, interdepartmental tensions, insecurities about provincialism and reluctance to program local artists, and competing obligations to diverse local communities and to a wealthy board of directors, to name a few. And yet it seems that society has found no better alternative for preserving and displaying history and art today.
Though there are tens of thousands of contemporary art museums in the country, only a handful of those are dedicated to the art of African Americans and the African diaspora, Asian art, Jewish art and culture, or even women. There are currently no museums dedicated to genderqueer or transgender people, but our time has come. Because of this disparity—despite the known complexities associated with museums as institutions—MOTHA’s current approach, rather than throw the baby out with the bath water, is to implement the institution as the model for exhibiting and archiving our work.
More about MOTHA can be found on by click the title link.