Since Unity Coalition|Coalición Unida was established in 2002, its president and CEO Herb Sosa says transgender and gender non-conforming rights and equality have been at the forefront of the nonprofit's mission and programming.
TransArt, a juried art exhibition and conference featuring international transgender artists and their works, is the "crown jewel" of Unity Coalition's year-round focus on the "underrepresented, misunderstood and often discriminated part of our community."
"We must never forget that it was a handful of brave trans women, Latinx and people of color that led the Stonewall riots," Sosa said. "They helped pave the road for LGBT rights and equality, and we must never leave the 'T' behind. Ever."
The fourth annual TransArt Artists Showcase & Conference comes Jan. 25-28 to the famed Jackie Gleason Black Box Theatre, 1700 Washington Ave., in Miami Beach. The exhibition brings together a collection of talents and individuals' artistic genres to create awareness, nurture aspiring artists and enlighten the general population about the many layers of the transgender community.
This year’s artists line-up include works by Vanessa Monroig, Taina Norell, Merris Asteris, Paz Winshtein and Armani Dee and workshops with Ella Marques, Veronica Robinson, Pioneer Winter Collective featuring June Romero, Ashley Mayfaire and much more.
Founded in 2015, TransArt was created and envisioned by Trans-Miami founder and Unity Coalition board member Aryah Lester and Deborah Plutzik-Briggs, vice president of marketing and philanthropy at The Betsy Hotel South Beach. Lester says the exhibition's goal is to showcase various layers, possibilities, hopes and dreams of the transgender community to those that may not know or understand them and their many talents.
"TransArt stems from a vision I had of tackling the miseducation of the transgender experience in a creative way," Lester said. "All throughout my life of transition, I have been continuously amazed at the talent and latent skills of my fellow transgender individuals. Yet, although we have much to contribute, stereotypes and systematic oppression disallow us the opportunities to display our best selves."
Lester says with art being a major influence in South Florida and Art Basel selling more art than all other localities combined annually, it was only natural for TransArt to connect education to art. Thus, TransArt was born at Unity Coalition.
"Going into our fourth year, we are amazed at the response we have acquired, as well as the applications from around the world," Lester said. "We continue to strive to highlight amazing artists, showcase their work and lives, and therefore educate the general public on the colorful layers in our transgender life."
Taina Norell, one of TransArt's showcased artists and also a drag queen on the South Florida nightlife scene, says she is a "transgender woman with many canvases." While fashion and performance art are major facets to her shape, Norell says she is currently being driven toward creating visual art.
"As a Cuban woman, the Latin and African blood runs through me. It fuels my creativity and surrounds me with spirits of the past," Norell said. "My current work draws from that inspiration as I was visited in my dreams by three figures. The African ladies appeared, walking toward me. Donning contrasting colors of blue, yellow, black and white, the lady in blue offered me water. They have never left my consciousness and my work is an attempt to give voice to the energy they left in me."
Norell adds she she wants to "spill [her] soul onto every canvas" she touches.
"Most importantly, with echoes of the first recognized transgender painter Lili Elbe, I too want to inspire my brothers and sisters in our community to turn to the arts as a tangible tool to express our conditions as children of the Earth," Norell said.
The four-day TransArt has a packed schedule of events.
On Thursday, Jan. 25, there will be free health screenings by Care Resource from 2-6 p.m.; The Art of Book Making with Ashley Mayfaire from 2-4 p.m.; an "I AM" spoken word workshop and open mic from 4-6 p.m.; and an artists reception featuring speaker Ella Marques, author of “I Was Born a Boy, From Venus: A Transwoman’s Memoir," from 6-8 p.m. Marques was born in Portugal and transitioned at age 60 after being married 21 years to a woman and raising four children together.
On Friday, Jan. 26, community leaders will come together to discuss what it is like to be trans and Latinx with Dr. Morgan Mayfaire (TransSocial), Arianna Lint (Arianna's Center) and Jessmarie Gonzalez (CareResource) at Mundo Trans Latinx from 2-3 p.m. There will also be an Art of Beauty Workshop by Beauty Schools of America from 2-4 p.m.; a screening of TransLivesProject from 4-6 p.m., featuring a mini documentary on Israeli youth, a tribute to Bishop S. F. Makalani-MaHee and a Q&A with filmmaker Chris Padron; and The Art of Fashion with Chaplin Tyler, fashion designer and artist, from 6-8 p.m.
On Saturday, Jan. 27, "Being of Two-Spirits" with Houston Cypress explores Native Americans' beliefs and views on gender from 2-4 p.m. "The New Man," an open forum with Dr. Morgan Mayfaire (TransSocial) takes place from 4-5 p.m. Then from 5-8 p.m., Veronica Robinson presents "Majesty Girls," a film that spotlights and honors trans women who have accomplished and overcome self-doubt, discrimination and transgender violence.
TransArt wraps Sunday, Jan. 28, with an artists workshop and meet and greet from 1-4 p.m., followed by the Pioneer Winter Collective performance, workshop and Q&A featuring June Romero from 4-6 p.m. Romero will read and sing excerpts from "Forced Entry," featuring the Grindr Ballad section, dialogue between herself and others on the Grindr app.
Morgan Mayfaire says what he loves most about TransArt is that "it gives the rest of the world an opportunity to see us through our art."
"They say that the eyes are windows to the soul. I say that art is a window to the artist's heart," Mayfaire said.
TransArt is produced by Unity Coalition|Coalición Unida, the first and only organization for the South Florida Latinx, Hispanic and LGBT community, advancing equality and fairness through education, leadership and awareness. The TransArt Artists Showcase & Conference is presented for free in partnership with Trans-Miami, TransSocial, Care Resource, City of Miami Beach, the Miami Foundation, Hotel Gaythering, Pioneer Winter Collective, Ambiente Magazine, EDGE Media network, Starbucks, Planet Printers and Pink Subs.
For more information, visit www.unitycoalition.org. A full schedule of events can be found at www.unitycoalition.org/TransArt.