Sunday, June 24, The Speed Museum kicks off a three-part series of talks called “Dialogues on Gender,” hosted and led by Dr. Kaila Story and Jaison Gardner from “Strange Fruit” on WFPL. Mounted in conjunction with the exhibition, “Breaking the Mold: Investigating Gender,” the series will explore three topics over as many months.
In addition to items from the museum’s permanent collection, the exhibition features a piece by Kehinde Wiley, who painted President Obama’s official portrait. Prominently featured is a series of photographs from Kentucky artist John Ashley, which explore Kentucky’s gay, trans, and drag cultures through the 1970s.
The title of the first talk and multimedia presentation, “Y’all Better Quiet Down: Trans Advocacy, Justice, & Safety,” quotes Sylvia Rivera, a mother of the LGBT rights movement. That’s what she yelled at the Christopher Street Liberation Day Rally in New York City in 1973 to get the attention of the largely cisgender, white crowd before a speech in which she exposed the violence she and other trans women faced.
Dawn Wilson and Victoria Syimone Taylor
This talk will feature civil rights activist and Louisville Metro Human Relations Commissioner Dawn Wilson and DJ and performer Victoria Syimone Taylor. They have in common that they are black trans women with deep insights into gender within our current climate, but their approaches couldn’t be more distinct.
“It’s weird these days,” said Taylor “with the conversation on trans people, and just the fact that some gay folks don’t even know the history of this movement. And Hollywood didn’t help by trying to diminish the people who helped start it,” — referring to the film Stonewall, which erased heroes of color like Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. A DJ who’s constantly in demand, Taylor says being told she’s a leader is weird. “I’m doing the best I can do to survive, and I’ll do whatever I can do to make sure that people who look like me, so people who can’t live the truth that they want to live, know people are fighting for them.”
Dawn Wilson has advocated nationally for trans rights. Wilson has a million stories including how the HRC betrayed the trans community, while trans women did massive organizing that changed the climate for LGBTQ people. Acutely aware of trans cultures throughout the world, Wilson sees the largely white attendees of major U.S. trans conventions as craving acceptance within the binary. “Whereas if you’re African American, we know no matter what we do, we’re going to catch hell.”
The talk will have two parts. “We thought Dawn and Syimone would be phenomenal people to talk about the circumstances behind the fact that trans women are overwhelmingly brutalized and murdered,” said Dr. Story, “but we also want to talk about these kinds of maverick trans folk who are pushing boundaries, who are creating great visibility around trans identities, and who we see as movers and shakers.” It’s about resilience and empowerment, too, she said.
Dr. Kaila Story and Paddy Johnson
July’s talk, entitled “Living a Feminist Life Through Art, Education, & the Media,” will be a discussion between Dr. Story and Paddy Johnson, moderated by Jaison Gardner and produced as part of After Hours at The Speed.
Miranda Lash, curator of contemporary art at The Speed Art Museum, said it’s exciting to have the internationally known art critic in Louisville. “Her perspective is special.” Johnson made a name for herself with her humorous, artist-centered lens with her blog Art F City. She is also a noted curator and artist.
AFC has since become a non-profit, mounted five acclaimed exhibitions, and hosted conferences and workshops that advocate for and help artists. Johnson’s criticism has found a wide audience in publications like the New York Times, The Economist, and Art in America.
Drag as a subversive tool
The third talk, “It Do Take Nerve: Drag as a Subversive Tool of Resistance,” ties to the exhibition explicitly. Central in the installation of Kentucky photographer John Ashley’s work is a portrait of Sweet Evening Breeze. The originator of the Lexington drag scene, Breeze was visible, publicly dressing in drag throughout the ‘40s and ‘50s.
Produced as part of After Hours at the Speed on August 17, Strange Fruit’s co-hosts will discuss Kentucky’s unique drag history and the explore drag’s evolutions through New York City’s House Ball Culture. After the talk, there will be a drag show featuring local and regional entertainers.
Y’all Better Quiet Down: Trans Advocacy, Justice, & Safety: Sunday, June 24, 3-4 p.m, free and open to the public
Living a Feminist Live Through Art, Education, & the Media: Friday, July 20, 6-7 p.m., included with entry to After Hours at the Speed
It Do Take Nerve: Drag as a Subversive Tool of Resistance: Friday, August 17, 6-7 p.m., Drag show to follow, included with entry to After Hours at the Speed
The talks will be made available for public viewing through the Speed Museum website.