MOTHA (Museum of Transgender Hirstory and Art)

For my blog presentation I wanted to bring into the spotlight MOTHA, or the Museum of Transgender Hirstory and Art.  MOTHA is a project created and directed by Chris E. Vargas, who is currently a video maker & interdisciplinary artist based in central New York, whose thematic interests include queer radicalism, transgender hirstory, and imperfect role models. I thought this institution linked nicely to the essay by Eva Hayward, “Lessons From a Starfish” because it highlights the significance and impact of transgender artists of all kinds, including musicians, visual artists, other performing artists, poets and authors, etc. just as Hayward’s analysis of Antony and the Johnsons work shows us how we can come to a deeper understanding of so many issues through artistic expression.  This “museum” is the only museum in the world that is dedicated exclusively to the arts and history of transgender folks and just so happens to be based here in San Francisco!

When asked in an interview with Visual AIDS what led to the creation of MOTHA, Chris E. Vargas replied,

” Many things led me to begin this project. First is that, to my knowledge, a museum devoted to transgender art and history does not yet exist in the U.S. I know so many talented transgender artists, many of whom are not finding sufficient support for their work. I started to imagine a platform that would highlight these artists and offer them the legitimacy that many of them (not all) are looking for. At the same time, a museum is the most fraught institution imaginable. Its history of racist, patriarchal exclusion and colonialist exploitation runs deep. I also wanted to tackle the issue of composing narrative history: what would a trans cultural history look like that is both cohesive and expansive?

In case it’s not clear, MOTHA is a conceptual museum that occasionally manifests materially. It’s also designed as a work of institutional critique. I’m aiming to create a project that validates and upholds the work of trans artists, our visual culture, and activist history, while also encouraging us to be critical about the conventional ways of doing so.”

The MOTHA mission statement reads:

“MOTHA is dedicated to moving the hirstory and art of transgender people to the center of public life. The museum insists on an expansive and unstable definition of transgender, one that is able to encompass all trans and gender non-conformed art and artists.  MOTHA is committed to developing a robust exhibition and programming schedule that will enrich the transgender mythos both by exhibiting works by living artists and by honoring the hiroes and transcestors who have come before.”

MOTHA’s mission statement reflects the parodical nature of Vargas’ project.  The museum is not really committed to developing a robust exhibition and programming schedule, because it recognizes the space between how most traditional museums function and how a museum dedicated to exclusively trans art and artists would function differently.  Vargas is making a statement about where transgender folks have been placed and recognized throughout history in regards to museums having a history of “racism, patriarchal exclusion and colonialist exploitation.”

 Eva Hayward’s essay analyzes, deconstructs and comments on the song “Cripple and the Starfish” by Antony and the Johnsons. I thought it would be appropriate to focus on an organization/institution that aims to promote transgender artists by creating something dedicated entirely to celebrating their contributions to the artistic communities of the world in its own non-conforming way.

 This project/museum is relatively new, as a matter of fact the opening ceremony took place just last year at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.  There still is not a permanent location for the museum(and I really don’t think there is a plan for one in the future…) but in the mean time the museum functions as a series of autonomous off-site experiences around the San Francisco Bay Area and throughout the world.  Below are the links to MOTHA’s official website as well as to their Facebook page where you can check up on upcoming events and take a look at past events as well.




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