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Interview with Yishay Garbasz

March 3, 2013 |


Yishay Garbasz was born in 1970 and studied photography at Bard College in New York. She is a Berlin-based British-Israeli artist whose work delves deeply into social and political issues of identity, agency, human rights, and the construction of gender. She has exhibited widely in solo shows in galleries, museums, and photography festivals around the world. “Becoming” , a project in which Yisha photographed herself as a standing nude, every week, over the entire course of her SRS, was installed as a zoetrope with 28 images in the 2010 Busan Biennale in Korea. “Becoming” is also available as a flipbook. Garbasz’s “In My Mother’s Footsteps” (Hatje Cantz, 2009), a riveting contemporary journey through her mother’s survival of the Holocaust, was nominated for the German photo book prize and exhibited at Wako Works of Art, Ronald Feldman Fine Art, Norderlicht fotofestival, Chiang Mai Museum of Art, and Tokyo Wonder Site.

YISHAY: I’ve never given an interview specifically like this. I refused to do it in the past because I am not a trans woman. Another reason that I am weary of this kind of language is something learned from the disability movement experience with language: the usage of “disabled person” versus “person with a disability”, where a disability is only a single attribute of the person rather then a qualifier for personhood. “Trans woman” makes the ‘trans’ the bigger aspect and ‘woman’ the smaller aspect. I can only speak about my current understanding of myself. I don’t philosophise about gender because this is not my strength, my strength is making work, part of which is understanding myself better.

Yishay Garbasz is the 2013 Hadassah-Brandeis Institute Artist-in-Residence. For the month of April 2013, Yisha will be visiting New York, Boston and surrounding areas to meet and photograph Jewish women of trans experience.  Her month-long residency at the Women’s Studies Research Center will culminate in a multimedia exhibition of photographs, video and text generated during the residency. Through interviews and portraits, Garbasz will celebrate a segment of the Jewish population that has been little discussed until recently, showing her subjects with their loved ones and families, at their jobs, or in their homes. The exhibition will immediately follow and be on view for a minimum of six weeks at the Kniznick Gallery at the Women’s Studies Research Center (WSRC) at Brandeis University. If you would like to be part of this project, please contact “Ms. Yishay Garbasz” <>.

YISHAY: I learned to write at age 25 at Landmark College in the U.S. It’s a tiny tiny college. They pretty much did the impossible thing and taught me how to write. I still have horrible struggles with writing, but stuff actually does come out, however painfully and slowly, in spite of my dyslexia. Which is why it’s totally awesome and cool and still blows my mind the fact that I have two books published. Isn’t that crazy? …I struggle for words. That’s why I’m a visual artist. That’s before anyone told me that being a visual artist is all about writing applications. (laughs)

Becoming (book cover image) (Mark Batty pub., 2010) Book cover image composed of two Gyotaku prints in water soluable oils (a traditional style of Japanese rubbing, the contemporary version in which a fisherman makes an imprint of the fish he has caught in order to show its size

TOBARON: At your recent opening at Ron Feldman Gallery NYC, I remarked that with both “Becoming” (2008-2010), your zoetrope series of selfportraits before and after gender clarification surgery and “Eat Me, Damien” (2010),  by displaying your formaldehyde protected testicles in the gallery, you have done something that many transpeople might have imagined allegorically, or even joked about – but you’ve actualized the punchline and enacted it. 

YISHAY: The “Eat Me Damien” piece is really about addressing Damien Hirst and his contemporaries that do this kind of conceptual art, more of an aggressive business model to art making.

What I’m suggesting is that I can use the same conceptual framework, but make a personal artwork and at the same time laugh at them, or point a sarcastic eye at them or whatever. Mostly, it’s a social critique. The piece looks at predatory art practices, predatory commercial practices. There’s a lot of this type of conceptual art making, and this piece is intended, designed and inspired to make you think about that.

TOBARON: Yep! I’ve been calling them your ‘kreplach’.

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Interview with Nina Arsenault

December 12, 2012 |

On Dec 13 to 15, 2012 Nina Arsenault will be exhibited in a 72 hour performance installation which echoes her involuntary 3 day incarceration in a mental institution in 2005. At 8pm each night N.A. will perform a workshop of her new performance piece OPHELIA/MACHINE.

Video Fag. 187 Augusta, Toronto, Canada.
Open to the public starting at 6pm Dec 13 – 15.
Reading of new script-in-progress at 8pm nightly.

This interview was conducted in Summer – Fall 2012, and is an excerpt from Tobaron Waxman’s forthcoming book, “Trans women Artists: interviews with artists on the MTF spectrum” with forward by Susan Stryker (forthcoming 2013).

TW: In what you have been developing around live art as an act of service, there is a dynamic tension: you are simultaneously cultivating identity thru body and yet your work is not about a transition to citizenship or to personhood, it’s about service and self-nullification and it’s simultaneously glamourus. So it seems like you have simultaneously altered your physical appearance and cultivated uniquely trans relationship to the symbolic. Sometimes it seems like, watching your artistic trajectory, almost like the body of work is male-to-symbol rather than MTF?

NA: As a transwoman I always sought to understand my body as it was being viewed by others, from the outside. I wanted to know how passable I was, how beautiful I was, how plastic I was. I wanted to know the definitive objective image of myself that existed in reality so I wouldn’t embarrass myself by believing I was sexy, by believing I was beautiful. Of course, this is impossible. I don’t think any of us have a single objective body.

Nina Arsenault in Teotihuican, Mexico. Photo by Jordan Tannahill (2012)

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TWAT/Fest 2012

September 7, 2012 |

Where were you on August 9, 2012?  If your answer isn’t “Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto,” you seriously missed out on history.

TWAT/Fest, the Trans Women’s Arts Toronto Festival (lovingly nicknamed the Trans Women’s Arts Throwdown), conceptualized and curated by PrettyQueer’s own Morgan M. Page/Odofemi, took place this month for the first time.  TWAT/Fest was the world’s first ever fine arts festival planned and curated by trans women to showcase the work of trans women artists.  The festival featured visual and performance art in a variety of media by talented trans women fine artists from across North America, each piece more stunning than the last.
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Outside, Over Here: the Queerness of Maurice Sendak

May 20, 2012 |

In the flood of writing in praise of Maurice Sendak (ztz”l) since his death earlier this month, he’s been hailed for his creativity as an illustrator and writer, his challenges to the marketing category of “children’s books”, his cantankerous honesty, his distinctly New York Yiddish humor.

In interviews, Sendak never backed down from the queer challenge his work posed to ‘mainstream’ conventions.

The major newspaper obituaries have been careful to mention that Sendak came out in 2008, shortly after the death of his lover, Eugene Glynn, but none have taken Sendak’s queerness as seriously as they have, say, his teenage stint as a background artist on Mutt & Jeff. They’ve tended to mention nothing beyond the length of his relationship with Glynn (an impressive five decades), using that duration to imply the impeccable, conservative respectability that gay publicists for marriage prescribe for any out public figure. Beyond its apparent rejection of state or religious recognition, the actual shape of that relationship is in no way clear: no one seems to have ever asked.

What is clear, however, is that Sendak’s work has at its heart an uncompromising, complicated queerness, which is the source of its radicalness, and in many ways of its strength. He is emphatically not a gay writer – one whose work focuses on same-gender romantic pairings and sees such relationships as ‘equal to’ and similar in shape to conventional cross-gender pairings. Sendak’s liberatory vision is quite definitely queer – challenging the privilege given to the biological/sacramental family, from its compulsory heterosexuality to its exaltation of the couple to its foundation in parental property rights over children.
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Femme: In Praise of Higher Creative Expectations

May 5, 2012 |

I am disappointed that most of the performers present work that doesn’t feel new or at all nuanced.

Eighteen years ago one of my first dyke friends was combing the knots out of my long, blonde hair while I sat on her bed reading one of her self-published comic books. She was the first butch I ever met. It was 1994 or so, a time when identity was the topic of every political conversation and my wishy-washy bisexuality was confounding to her.  Out of nowhere she put down the brush and said: You know what you are, Zoe? You’re a femme.

I welcomed the word. It didn’t seem limiting, and meant I could wear a push up bra and didn’t have to wear ugly, utilitarian clothing to prove I fit in. In the weeks that followed, I learned that it meant that I could identify with femme writers who had a specific queer cultural history – WTF – this was an amazing realization. I bought Minnie Bruce Pratt’s S/he and an anthology by Leslea Newman, sliding them next to books by other radical authors like Acker, Schulman, Califia, and Feinberg. The femme writers I encountered in anthologies and punk rock bands were tough, take-no-shit role-models of femininity – and femininity had always been weak or maligned by both the wider culture and the feminism I grew up with. I felt like finally, I could be a part of this new community that seemed intimidating. I wrote some terrible poetry that featured fishnets, lipstick, combat boots and fisting. But I was only 18-years old, and in retrospect this seems cute. That moment of feeling like I belonged was very meaningful to me at the time, when choosing to be queer felt dangerous and potentially powerful.

The Realness In The Reality

April 30, 2012 |

Ms. RuPaul Charles–you crafty queen! Though TBT girl,  I’d be more upset about your “Final Three” episode last Monday if I wasn’t such a TV top. I took note of your hints from the very beginning of the season with your hashtags for every queen and that visit from Piyah, a longtime transgender YouTube sensation. You fed us teasers on your Facebook page and preached @ us on Twitter, too. Mama, you really know how to reinvent your craft and engage an audience!

Since this season began in January we have gathered as a queer public (often together IRL–hey CastleQueers!) around our TVs and computer screens to watch as 13 hopeful queens chock full of charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent competed for the only crown of its kind today. We lived for Jiggly Caliente, we died at Milan’s floor mop, we’re still wondering what the hell Willam did to get kicked off the show (talk about a plot twist!) and–f’real ya’ll–we cried with Latrice when she was asked to sashay away too soon. With witchy crowd favorite Sharon Needles, “professional” female impersonator Chad Michaels, and driven youngster Phi Phi O’Hara now in the running for the top slot, we can’t wait to see who takes home the title of “America’s Next Drag Superstar,” in addition to that free vacation, a lifetime supply of NYX cosmetics, and a cash prize of $100,000!
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Interview with Raafat Hattab

October 15, 2011 |

Editor’s note: Raafat Hattab’s work will be screened at “Queer/Palestinian: Critical Strategies and Subjectivities in Palestinian Queer/Women’s Filmmaking”. October 20, 7 pm, Yale University. October 21, 4-6, Hagop Kevorkian Center, New York University, 50 Washington Square South.

Raafat Hattab رأفت حطاب is a genderqueer Palestinian performance artist from Jaffa يافا. He uses his own body, family history, and language in his work. There is also a strong element of costume. We met in 2006, when I lived in South Tel Aviv and he showed me warm hospitality in his family home in Jaffa.  I co-curated his video and live art in 2008 in Ottawa, Canada at Saw Gallery, in “Radical Drag: Transformative Performance” a highly successful group show about artists complicating drag in political ways.  In much of his work, Raafat performs in a non-traditional drag as an MTF persona, ‘Arouse Falastine’ (The Bride of Palastine) عروس فلسطين. The Bride of Palestine is a traditional Palestinian reference to the ancient port city of Jaffa.
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Dancing with the Scars

September 20, 2011 |

Writing recaps for Dancing with the Stars started because I needed cash, so I started doing them for Out magazine’s pop culture blog, Popnography, but then a funny thing happened – I earnestly fell in love with the show. When the money dried up, I continued writing them for fun for my (indie) darling I Fry Mine In Butter. The show has long been flamboyant, but this year they decided to try and add a touch of authenticity to that claim, hiring both Carson Kressley and Chaz Bono to grace the dancefloor. Yeah, I said hire. People love to make the joke about how DWTS is usually lacking ‘star-power’, but the reality is that much of Hollywood’s B- and C-list would love to be asked, those lesser constellations got bills to pay, too. Carson’s landed an Oprah network show he needs to promote, and Chaz – the “Emmy-nominated author”, as Tom Bergeron announced him last night before a commercial break – is going next through that door, since it was recently confirmed his reality show will be debuting on OWN this fall. DWTS is perhaps the most physically demanding method to “plug away!” but great publicity is never cheap.
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Interview with Filmmaker Tiona McClodden

July 29, 2011 |

PQ: I first met you back in 2008 when you were screening Black Womyn Conversations at Zami at the New School and if I remember correctly that film was a real labor of love that took like 7 years or something –

TM: Yeah, 6 years. Yeah, yeah.

PQ: Can you talk about how that project came about and what that process was like?

Tiona McClodden. Photo by Morgan Goode

TM: It was the project that I wanted to make once I realized or had access to the tools to actually make it. Because I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker but I didn’t know exactly how to make films. I came from South Carolina, didn’t have access to any kind of video camera or anything like that.  The first time I really even put hands on a video camera was when I was in college. So the idea really was kind of like a organic thing – oh this is what I’m gonna do once I get the tools – but I was thinking about my own experience because I wasn’t too far from it.
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Where There’s a Swill, There’s a Way

June 27, 2011 |

For a show comfortable with a male character keeping a female character in a cage, why did it take so long to write in a gay character?

Swill (Sonny and Will) isn’t a hot new bar with overpriced technicolor drinks; it’s the much trumpeted Days of Our Lives’ queer storyline – its first.  For a show comfortable with a male character keeping a female character in a cage, why did it take so long to write in a gay character?  Shit, queers in Salem couldn’t be any more terrifying than Billie’s inflatable lips or Celeste’s horrifying array of Beverly Johnson fright wigs.  Okay, so I realize I’m dating myself a bit.  I haven’t watched Days or any soaps for a long time, but I have often wondered why many daytime soaps haven’t been more consistent in incorporating QUILTBAG characters in their endless shuffle of evil twins, murderous plots and games of musical beds. When news of Days’ journey into queerness broke, I didn’t need a calendar; I knew it was summer.  Summer storylines are basically the daytime soap equivalent of out-of-town tryouts for a show destined to open on Saturday afternoon and close on Saturday night.

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