Chris Vargas, MOTHA Executive Director Address, Chapter 2, 2014 (still). Video; 5 min
In a director’s address—chock full of puns and tongue-in-cheek asides—Chris E. Vargas introduces the Museum of Transgender Hirstory & Art (MOTHA), a semi-fictional institution that serves as a malleable platform for exhibiting transgender art and hirstory. Culling from sources high and low, the talk situates MOTHA’s mission within today’s cultural and political landscape, exploring the stakes and challenges of creating a museum dedicated to trans histories while reckoning with the shifting and unstable nature of gender paradigms across different historical periods. More specifically, the presentation will focus on the institution’s first foray into public art in collaboration with the New Museum, for which MOTHA has commissioned artists to propose new monuments to the 1969 Stonewall riots. This intervention occurs in the lead-up to the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, a rebellion against the routine police harassment of the local gay bar that is credited with sparking gay liberation and the modern LGBTQI civil rights movement in the United States. The talk will explore both the known and unknowable stories, facts, and artifacts related to the events.
This program is presented on the occasion of Chris E. Vargas’s exhibition and residency, “Consciousness Razing: The Stonewall Re-memorialization Project,” which embeds MOTHA within the New Museum. This iteration of the project will explore Stonewall as a geographically, demographically, and historically contested site. Throughout MOTHA’s four-month exhibition, Vargas questions what we think we know about the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York, often cited as a formative event for gay liberation and the modern LGBTQI civil rights movement in the US. In 2016, to commemorate the riots, President Obama designated Stonewall Inn and the adjacent Christopher Park a national monument. Yet for years, many of the activists who led the fight against violence and police brutality against queer and trans people—including Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, Miss Major, and many others—were not properly recognized in popular accounts of Stonewall. These figures are increasingly acknowledged in mainstream LGBTQI histories, but narratives of their work often elide their more radical demands and their critiques of racism, economic marginalization, and transphobia. Rather than construct a neat historical trajectory, the overall project contends that attempting to narrate a stable history does the past a disservice. Instead, MOTHA finds new ways to uncover, recast, and recuperate elements of the past.