Art Imitates Life For Transgender Artists

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The Whitney Biennial has been one of the art world's hottest shows for new artists.

This year, artists Rhys Ernst and Zackary Drucker are grabbing attention with their photo series, "Relationship."

The photos detail their developing relationship and their transitioning bodies, as each travels across the gender spectrum. Ernst is transitioning from female to male, while Drucker is transitioning from male to female.

Drucker and Ernst join Here & Now's Robin Young to discuss their work and its reception.

Interview Highlights: Rhys Ernst and Zackary Drucker

On chronicling their transformation

Drucker: "The amazing thing about being a human is that we are transformative material, and we change from one moment to the next. Being transgender is a more visible manifestation of that because we are literally changing the way we are presenting ourselves to the world."

Ernst: "The photographs sort of chronicle this amazing crystallizing of an identity we had always longed for."

On being a transgender couple

Ernst: "When we met and fell in love, our experience really transcended ideas about finite categories of sexual preference and identity, and gender identity, and it sort of just collapsed all that into meaningless boxes. And I think that there is something, hopefully, very powerful about that, that other people can relate to."

"There's really an incredible lesson to be learned about gender freedom for everybody. No one needs to be fixed in a particular box ... There are limitless possibilities."

Drucker: "Neither of us had these fixed ideas of who we saw ourselves paired with and we still have a kind of flexible conception of how we see ourselves in the world. The wave, the future, hopefully, is that none of us will be so defined by a label, or gender category, or who we decide to partner with."

On not being tokenized as transgender artists

Drucker: "Being defined by one's gender is always a little bit alienating. The work we make, the top layer is our trans identity, but there's all these layers underneath it that are less explored or talked about."

Ernst: "We are trying to make work for an audience for which we don't have to explain the 101, didactic transgender thing. We are sort of jumping to the next level conversation and we're trusting the audience can sort of keep up with us. And so far that's actually been the case."

"We are certainly not the first transgender artists to be included in the Whitney Biennial."


This segment aired on April 7, 2014.


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