UVic exhibition reveals hidden history of transgender art and activism

A new exhibition in Victoria aims to increase awareness of the history and stories of transgender people through images, art and ephemeral objects.

Show features material drawn from world's largest transgender archives

Exhibits at the Trans Hirstory in 99 Objects include paintings by the late Reed Erickson, a U.S. transgender philanthropist who helped to fund early research on transgender issues. (Transgender Archives - University of Victoria)

A new exhibition in Victoria aims to increase awareness of the history of transgender people through images, art and ephemeral objects.

The exhibition, Trans Hirstory in 99 Objects, features visual material drawn from the world's largest transgender archives.

While the rights and public profile of transgender people have increased in recent years, Aaron Devor, the founder and director of the transgender archives at the University of Victoria, said they have been absent from mainstream versions of history.

​"The people that get to write history are the ones in control of what we know," Devor, who is also head of Transgender Studies at UVic, told On the Island host Gregor Craigie.

"This is an attempt to uncover and bring to public awareness some of the stories of trans people, which are generally not only not known to the general public, but also are generally not known to trans people either," he said.

The exhibition features the work of three contemporary transgender artists, as well as archival objects. 

Author and artist Vivek Shraya's images in the Trans Hirstory in 99 Objects exhibition were inspired by her relationship to her mother. (Submitted: Karen Campos Castillo)

Gillian Booth, the academic and community programs coordinator of the Legacy Gallery, which is hosting the exhibition, said one of the featured artists, Vivek Shraya, channeled her mother in recreations of old family photos. 

The images are accompanied by a written piece by Shraya, a musician, author, and associate professor of creative writing at the University of Calgary.

Booth said Shraya was inspired by her mother and idolized her as a child.

 "Her mother doesn't necessarily accept that, and so there's sort of a tension there,"

Three large canvases in the exhibition are by the late Reed Erickson, whose papers form part of the core of the archives collection.

Devor is working on a biography of the American philanthropist, whose foundation contributed millions of dollars to the early development of LGBT movements as well as information and counselling support for transgender individuals.

The exhibition also includes "activist ephemera," such as buttons, pins and T-shirts that provide glimpses of transgender culture through the years, as well as the activism and efforts that people took to build awareness, Booth said.

The free exhibition runs until March 29.

About the Author

Deborah Wilson

CBC Victoria producer

Deborah Wilson is a journalist with CBC Radio in Victoria, B.C.