83 Gallery centers trans artists in new exhibition

‘Transform Ohio’ is set to run through Oct. 8 at Brothers Drake.
"Transform Ohio" organizers Briden Cole Schueren, Geoff Collins, Finnic Vest. Feather Evens, Jana Kosir, Maddy Beaumier, Trinity Arend
Kieleen Weber.
"Transform Ohio" organizers Briden Cole Schueren, Geoff Collins, Finnic Vest. Feather Evens, Jana Kosir, Maddy Beaumier, Trinity Arend Kieleen Weber.Courtesy 83 Gallery

Exhibits at 83 Gallery are engineered to overwhelm, with organizers packing every available parcel of wall space in the back room of Brothers Drake for each show. “We have the space broken down into square inches,” Maddy Beaumier said in March. And the gallery doesn't waste a single one, stacking paintings, photographs and collages floor to ceiling in a dizzying array.

Since reviving the gallery in the Short North meadery, Beaumier and Geoff Collins have developed a similarly chaotic system in plotting the shows, a process they described as “slapdash” that involves posting a call for artists and then in rapid succession fielding dozens of emails in response. But for the show that debuted in late August and will continue through Oct. 8, 83 Gallery took a more measured tact, inviting artist Briden Cole Schueren into the process early and working with him to extend invitations deeper into the state’s community of trans and nonbinary artists, whose works feature overwhelming in the current exhibit, dubbed “Transform Ohio.”

While the process might have been more studied, the results are the same, the walls at Brothers Drake teeming with startling landscape photography courtesy first time exhibitor Mason Leigh, foreboding skull paintings, impressionist watercolors, and at least one trippy illustration of an apple-core headed character by Columbus artist Niko Taylor. Some of the works deal explicitly with gender identity, politics, or the point in which the two meet (including a stunning portrait of pioneering trans activist Marsha P. Johnson done by Schueren). But many do not, some more explicit, confrontational works resting next to serene landscape paintings. (All of the available works can be viewed and purchased online here.)

“I know there were a couple of artists who were initially hesitant to submit their work because they didn’t think their art screamed, ‘I’m trans!’ But we just wanted artists who are part of the community, and their artwork can be of any subject matter,” said Schueren, directing my attention to a staggering, outsized portrait of the pop star Pink constructed entirely of hand-painted dice. “Pink is not a trans person, but a trans person made the piece, so we were like, ‘Bring it in.’ There are some things in here that maybe represent their journey and their experiences [as a trans person], but more than that it’s just celebrating that they are artists.”

In that way, “Transform Ohio” has at least some echoes of “Restoration,” the emotionally stirring exhibit presented earlier this year by Luke Weinberger at 934 Gallery, in which the artist centered the humanity of trans individuals at a point in time when the community’s existence is so often politicized.

“In public spaces, people are more and more afraid to side with trans people because … they’re afraid of demonstrations, they’re afraid of violence, they’re afraid of boycotts,” Weinberger said at the time. “And as things get worse and worse here, I think it’s more important to have trans figures in public spaces, just to depoliticize [the community]. So whenever you get opportunities to do something like this, you have to take them.”

“It can put you in a place where you’re always defending your existence,” Beaumier said of the current political climate, increasingly fueled by right-wing legislation targeted at trans individuals. “It’s exhausting.”

“I know when I first came out, there were so many people who wanted to do a photo shoot with me just because I was trans,” Schueren said. “And it was like, ‘Ah, there are other things about me. I’m an artist. I do other things. And I think now we’re getting more to a place where we can be humanized. … We didn’t want to have a trans art show and tokenize and get as many trans people as we could just to have that representation. We wanted to have an art show that brings the community together, no matter what kind of art you make.”

This is the second trans-led show 83 Gallery has hosted, but Beaumier and Collins said the hope is for these exhibiting artists to become regular contributors to the gallery, so that the shows, which will rotate every two months moving forward, can become increasingly representative of the full Columbus art community, its diversity more fully entwined in the gallery’s DNA. To that end, of the 10 trans artists that exhibited in the first trans-led show last year, Collins said nine have become regular contributors to the gallery’s exhibitions.

“We don’t usually do themed shows, because it can limit what comes in,” Beaumier said. “But with everything currently going on in the trans community, it felt important … to do more outreach and make sure we’re finding the people who might need something like this.”

Mason Leigh, a Cincinnati-based photographer, said he was initially drawn to submit for the exhibition by the concept, noting that there can be a lack of trans representation within the world of photography. 

“I transitioned eight years ago, and seeing something that was made for our group, and our community, it stuck out to me,” said Leigh, whose landscape photos of the American West make skilled use of lighting. “Looking back, my work has helped me battle negative thoughts, like the idea that my photographs are not good enough. … Hearing my work was accepted and knowing it will be featured alongside many other talented people, it helped me realize this [career] is something that is possible for me. And it’s possible for other trans and nonbinary artists, as well.”

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