I went to visit an exhibition entitled, “Mapping My Journey” at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, which maps the identities of Birmingham and West Midlands transgender individuals. The show had been funded by the Heritage Lottery and organised by Wolverhampton based charity Gender Matters. The exhibition consists of compelling sounds, photos, artworks, poetry and artefacts highlighting the transgendered community in a light which truly shines.
The only criticism I have is the space in which the work was displayed. The exhibition was situated on one of higher floors of the museum in a square space which closely resembled a high school corridor (or something along the lines of). It was quite confusing and the works were easily distracted by one another. I feel it would have been better if the works had been displayed in a more traditional exhibition space on white bare walls. It could be argued that the space reflected the confusion and even turmoil expressed by many of the individuals featured in the exhibition as they were going through their transitions. But I still think the space itself was strange and didn’t pay any merit to the work featured.
Nonetheless, the exhibition was overwhelmed with information. The works were displayed through a wide array of formations: artefacts contained in glassed cabinets, projected films, sounds available through headphones dispersed around the galley, interviews with transgender individuals playing on loop on a small television, framed drawings and elusive paintings, a whirlwind of delightful information, highlighting the creativity, strength and beauty in those within the transgendered community. However, the exhibition wasn’t afraid to steer away from the more brutal truths for these individuals. Binders to hormone replacements to expressions of anxiety and pain gave the everyday reality of what it means to transition or identify outside of the gender binary and it was that representation of multiple transgender identities which was most impressive. It reveals the lengths these individuals have to go through to find and be happy in what they are which was completely awe-inspiring.
This is what I appreciated most about the exhibition, its honesty yet bright portrayal of transgender people. It was a pleasure to learn of the transgender individual’s stories, their triumphs as well as their battles. And to think they are all within the community I live in! You were able to watch and hear the individual’s stories on screen and through compelling sound, but there were also transcripts of all the interviews which I felt was a great idea. By reading the transcripts, for me at least, forced me to slow down and re-cap on individuals stories or characters which struck me. As an audience member you were also invited to leave comments and share your thoughts on the stories, individuals or works on display. Many audience members had left hand written notes, all expressing warmth and humility toward this otherwise underrepresented and marginalized section of society. The words “beautiful” and “amazing” in various writing styles are seen over and over again, which was truly delightful to witness.
The exhibition reminded how transgendered people are still living on the cusps of regular society. Transgendered and transsexual individuals are no way near as mainstream or represented compared to their lesbian, gay and bisexual counterparts. With exhibitions like these I hope people’s perceptions and the notion of them being “beautiful” and “amazing” can be expressed by all walks of life. I feel with works being displayed on a scale like this will help make transgender individuals more courageous in sharing their experiences and appearances to the public. Being transgender is not a choice, nor brave, just something which is necessary in order for these individuals to find happiness, just like the rest of society. I came away from the exhibition feeling elated. It was utterly inspiring and I’m now even more eager to begin creating my own works which could potentially help or change the representation of gender. Let’s go!