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Frost Art Museum at FIU opens 'Jess T. Dugan and Vanessa Fabbre: To Survive on This Shore'
Gloria, 70, Chicago, IL, 2016. Image courtesy of projects+gallery and Jess T. Dugan.

MIAMI, FLA.- The Frost Art Museum at Florida International University presents the first-ever museum showing of Jess T. Dugan and Vanessa Fabbre: To Survive on This Shore. One of the definitions of ageism is “to regard older persons as unworthy of attention.” These photos and interviews reveal how our culture lacks representation of older adults who are transgender and gender non-conforming. Dugan and Fabbre traveled from coast to coast, across the U.S. to document these life stories. Due to the recent news about efforts to ban transgender Americans from serving in the military, and the terribly disproportionate levels of violence committed against transgender people, this exhibition is timely and powerful. The duo collaborated on documenting these life stories, from big cities to small towns, creating an important record of transgender experience and activism. This exhibition was organized by Barrett Barrera Projects.

This Miami presentation is the first-ever museum show of these works. Documenting the life stories of this important but largely underrepresented group of older adults, the people featured in these portraits have a wide variety of life narratives spanning the last ninety years. While Dugan’s earlier work focused on issues of identity, gender, and sexuality – and often on LGBTQ communities specifically – this is Dugan’s first body of work that focuses on older adults, a result of her collaboration with Fabbre. Dugan’s portraits are open, emotive, and nuanced, utilizing direct eye contact to evoke a meaningful exchange between subject and viewer. For the accompanying texts, Fabbre selected interviews to enhance the viewer’s connection to each subject’s story.

To Survive on This Shore provides an intense view into the struggles and joys of growing older as a transgender person and what it means to live authentically despite seemingly insurmountable odds. An important historical record of the transgender experience in the United States is brought to the forefront. The research work of Vanessa Fabbre explores the conditions under which LGBTQ people age well, and what this means in the context of structural forces such as heteronormativity, heterosexism, and transphobia. At the Frost, this exhibition was organized by the museum's Chief Curator, Dr. Amy Galpin. The hardcover book To Survive on This Shore - Photographs and Interviews with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Older Adults by Jess T. Dugan and Vanessa Fabbre was published by Kehrer Verlag. The show is part of the museum’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which will include the presentation in the fall of Art After Stonewall (1969-1989), the first major museum exhibition about how the LGBT civil-rights movement impacted the art world.

Jess T. Dugan is an artist whose work explores issues of gender, sexuality, identity and community via photographic portraiture. Dugan is the recipient of a 2015 Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, was selected by the White House as a 2015 Champion of Change, was honored as a Commended Artist by the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, and is the recipient of the Women Photograph + Nikon Grant. In 2015, Dugan founded the Strange Fire Artist Collective to highlight work made by women, people of color, and LGBTQ artists Vanessa Fabbre is a social worker and assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis, whose research focuses on intersections of LGBTQ issues and aging.

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