Andrea Bowers, Trans Liberation: Building a Movement (Cece McDonald), 2016. Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York
The question that artist Andrea Bowers asks with the title of her new show, Whose Feminism Is It Anyway? isn’t new. It’s been asked by generations of feminists, but its answer is that feminism is for everyone. Poor women, rich women, strippers, housewives, school teachers, women of all races, cis and transgender women. And, contrary to the opinions of some angrier dudes on the internet—I see you, men’s rights activists—feminism is for men, too. That’s the theory, anyway; unfortunately feminist efforts often manifest less equitably, often neglecting the needs of poor women, women of color, and transgender women. There’s a lot of overlap among these groups, as transwomen of color are overwhelmingly impoverished and live at the intersection of multiple oppressions. Bowers's show sets out to herald their activism, and to call attention to their importance to the feminist movement.
Andrea Bowers, Trans Liberation: Beauty in the Street (Johanna Saavedra), 2016. Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York
"The Southern Poverty Law Center recently declared transgender women the most victimized group in the nation,” Bowers tells The Creators Project. Record numbers of transgender women—most of whom were women of color—were murdered in 2015. "It has been my honor to record the activists that are on the front lines of this liberation movement fighting for dignity, safety and justice,” continues the artist. "I am trying to create powerful images of women that celebrate their political voices." Portraits of three such activists— Jennicet Gutierrez, who co-founded Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Johanna Saavedra, Northwest Co-chair of the Trans Latina Coalition, and CeCe MacDonald, who became an activist after she was held in a men's prison after being arrested for defending herself from a transphobic and racist assault—are the centerpiece of the exhibit.
Andrea Bowers, Trans Liberation: Ni Una Mas, Not One More (Jennicet Gutierrez), 2016. Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York
The portraits style the women with traditional activist imagery; Gutierriez holds a gun, Saavedra, a brick, while McDonald wears wings and a flowing gown that makes her look like a powerful angel. One photo of Saavedra features her hurling that brick, an image that recalls the oft-repeated but still unproven tale of black trans activist Marsha P. Johnson throwing the first brick at the Stonewall Riots and sparking the contemporary gay rights movement. Such imagery poses the question of whose LGBT movement it is, anyway, as transwomen have all too often found themselves ignored by the gay rights as well as feminist movements. "The photo of Johanna throwing a brick is a nod toward acknowledging the role of trans women of color in LGBT history and feminist history," writes Bowers. "I was conscious of the reference to Stonewall, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera."
Andrea Bowers, Throwing Bricks (Johanna Saavedra), 2016. Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York
Whose Feminism is it Anyway? also includes a new sculpture by Bowers called Goddess (Power of the Common Public), which is constructed out of the wings MacDonald wears in her portrait and adorned with ribbons embroidered with trans activist and feminist slogans. The gallery is also screening a film of a roundtable discussion Bowers arranged among Gutierrez, MacDonald, and Patrisse Cullors, a cofounder of the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Andrea Bowers, Goddess (Power of the Common Public), 2016. Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York
Andrea Bowers, La Beauté Est Danse La Rue (Original silkscreen design by Atelier Populaire, Paris, 1968), 2015. Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York
Andrea Bowers, Intl. Women's Day (Illustration by Heriberto C. Echeverria Del Pozo, Cuban Communist Party Publishers, 1972), 2015. Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York
Andrea Bowers, Roundtable Discussion, 2016. Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York
Andrea Bowers, Work Table with Feminist Political Graphics, 2016. Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York
To learn more about Andrea Bowers's Whose Feminism Is It Anyway?, click here.