Art is a powerful tool for one to express themselves and their opinions. Jade Guanaro Kuriki-Olivo, aka Puppies Puppies, made a crucial statement for the LGBTQ+ community through her sculpture at the world’s largest art fair – Art Basel. Surprisingly, her depiction of her own trans body is the first-ever known naked sculpture of a trans woman. This peaceful political declaration for trans rights is an important step in the undermining of cisnormativity.
In the past few years, there has been an increase in LGBTQ+ representation in both the entertainment industry and the political arena. Yet, the representation of this community remains limited to queer media channels, niche art studios, or side characters in mainstream cinema. Kuriki-Olivo successfully and strongly took a step in the art world by displaying a naked trans woman’s body at Art Basel. This takes place in Basel, Switzerland (this year it ran from June 18 -21), and is the biggest platform for artists determined to send a message. Although this shows huge progress in normalizing trans bodies, there is still a lot to do to catch up with the cis world, which has been represented through classical and modern art since the beginning of time.
The full title of the artwork is a political statement that directly addresses the issue in our retrogressive-gender-idealist society:
“A sculpture for Trans Women A sculpture for the Non-Binary Femmes A sculpture for Two-Spirit People • I am a woman. I don’t care what you think • (Transphobia is everywhere and everyone is susceptible to enacting it at any moment) (Unlearn the transphobia brewing within) I am a Trans Woman. I am a Two-Spirit Person. I am a Woman. This is for my sisters and siblings everywhere. History erased many of us but we are still here. I will fight for our rights until the day I die. Exile me and I’ll keep fighting.”
It is 2022, and we have come a long way from throwing stones at anyone who “looks” and “acts” queer, but people still seem to feel uncomfortable around naked bodies that do not meet cisnormative standards.
It is 2022, and we have come a long way from throwing stones at anyone who “looks” and “acts” queer, but people still seem to feel uncomfortable around naked bodies that do not meet cisnormative standards. Why is displaying trans bodies still a problem? People have seen so many penises and boobs out in all of the ancient Greek sculptures – so why feel uneasy when you see them together? Some people might find not being able to easily put a label on others’ gender disorienting. However, everyone must comprehend that a person’s biological sex does not determine their gender, the person does. If an individual identifies as a woman, then they are a woman. As the bold and all capitalized text on the sculpture says, the body you see belongs to a WOMAN. As Kuriki-Olivo says:
“It’s a naked trans body created by the trans person it depicts. Gender is a construct, genitals do not determine gender, chromosomes do not determine gender. My naked body inherently breaks the binary and reveals the reality that gender is a spectrum spinning in all directions. I am not what I was ‘assigned’ at birth, but for many, many people today, this is still a difficult or impossible notion to grasp.”
Everyone who visited the art fair was exposed to this message, which is in itself quite astonishing. Indeed, many people can decide to simply ignore trans art when this is shared online. But since the statue was displayed in a publicly visible location, people were forced to face the stunning and proud representation of trans individuals.
One could arguably say that modern society strongly prioritizes cisgender individuals. Yet, it would be unfair to blame it all on ordinary citizens, when there are laws and regulations that allow – if not encourage – discrimination against trans individuals.
One could arguably say that modern society strongly prioritizes cisgender individuals. Yet, it would be unfair to blame it all on ordinary citizens, when there are laws and regulations that allow – if not encourage – discrimination against trans individuals. Many countries have anti-transgender legislation that does not allow people to transition or identify as a different gender than they were born with. Naturally, the citizens of these countries are raised with ideals that are against trans people. As Kuriki-Olivo says: “Transphobia has to be unlearned. In some ways, I use my work to help assist in unlearning, which itself is a form of teaching generated from my lived experience.” Political systems and the law should be changed in a way that supports all citizens. The artist explains: “My naked body is inherently political. I stand naked as a trans woman in art institutions because, throughout art history, images and sculptures of trans people have been erased, desecrated, or made solely through the lens of the cis male gaze.”
Transgender people are rarely allowed to voice their trans identity and promote trans rights on mainstream platforms. Sometimes there is trans representation in popular media, but their stories are mostly told by cis males (ex. Jules from Euphoria was written by a cis man). People must be educated about being transgender through the words of trans individuals.
It is important that future generations do not have such negligent and derogatory ideas about trans individuals. There must be a safe environment for everyone, no matter their gender, sexual orientation, or ethnic background. But most importantly, a good example must be set for future transgender individuals, so that they will feel comfortable expressing themselves around others. Through her sculpture, Kuriki-Olivo voices her desire for a better future: “I want a future generation to see what’s possible. I want to honour the brave ‘transcestors’ who were visible in times when the laws forbid us from existing.”
If you have time you should definitely go see the sculpture in real life. If you can’t, you must check Jade Guanaro Kuriki-Olivo’s artwork, visit her Instagram profile (@puppiespuppiesjade), and listen to her.
Cover by: Jade Guanaro Kuriki-Olivo
Edited by: Cecilia Begal