Artists O’Leary and Vaughan at King Street station — Feminine Power

by Duncan Gibbs


The timing couldn’t be more relevant for the ongoing show at King Street Station. In the United States, political forces criminalize reproductive health care and support for gender affirmation for trans youth. Already this year, according to NBC News in March, US state lawmakers have introduced a record 238 bills restricting LGBTQI rights and 500 abortion-restricting measures have been introduced in 40 states. In times like these, art can inspire the hope and community we need.

The art exhibit, now open through July 7 on Jackson Street in the Chinatown/International District near Pioneer Square, features four works by two female artists: Hanako O’Leary and Molly Vaughan, on the themes of feminine, reproductive and transgender identity. anatomy and personal autonomy.

First, you will encounter a wall of miniature ceramic masks – a hundred faces with mystical eyes, which challenges you and invites you to leave your thoughts at the entrance and continue with your naked subconscious. Hanako O’Leary draws from a fascinating mix of sources, including prehistoric fertility icons and the traditional Japanese form of Noh theater where characters are depicted on stage wearing symbolic masks, to create this gateway into the art exhibition.

In his job, Izanami, O’Leary applies, in both content and form, deep Japanese cultural traditions and a chthonic feminist perspective on bodily sovereignty. Expressing ancient ideas with elegant modernist skill, her art takes a down-to-earth view of the mysteries of the matriarchal powers of life and death.

Vaughan, in her part of the exhibition, delves into a realm of radical self-knowledge, with a side of historical analysis, shedding brilliantly colored light on typically marginalized and stigmatized images of transfemininity and gender expression. self.

Between these two artists, this show has reach! A variety of different forms work together to create a unified message: paintings, drawings, sculpture (ceramic, textile and fiber), audio/video and immersive/spatial experience. Keep moving through the gallery and let the superb technical execution and intriguing concepts gently guide you into deeper waters.

At this time, it is helpful and important to think about history in its shifting power dynamics. Vaughan’s reflection on queer aesthetics via 18th century Europe shows what we mean by ‘social constructions’. It presents a set of drawings and lithographs reinterpreting the works of the French artist François Boucher with a sense of humor and a cultural critique of the 21st century. The exhibition is crowned by a three-dimensional semiotic commentary in textile: a pink dress in the Rococo style of the 1700s, hand-painted by Vaughan with sexually explicit and fanciful figures.

by Vaughan His body is a transformation journey card. The artist offers us her personal experience of gender transition and the female form through portraits, nudes and other studies such as My Shemale Vagina. * The intentional restructuring of his body described by the hand of this same body could not be more intimate.

A hand drawing of one’s own body being reconstructed is remarkably intimate, when you think about it. Molly Vaughan’s paintings and colored pencil drawings delicately insist on being understood on their own terms and grant us a rare empathetic privilege.

When I saw the photographic documentation of gender reconstructive surgery in other formats, I found the depiction cold and clinical, objectifying and altering. Conversely, these renderings are humble and tender, compassionate and personal. Vaughan’s more conventional figure studies are also powerful in their sheer honesty.

In part, Vaughan’s artist statement reads:

“Transsexual is a complex word. Controversial in the trans, queer, and conservative communities for different reasons, being transgender is where I feel most at home.

As Molly alludes to in her artist statement, which is displayed in the gallery, much of the media’s portrayal of trans bodies has been sensationalised, emphasizing an appeal to prejudice and fetishism, such as on Tthe jerry springer show. With the images of his art, Vaughan replaces this vision of commercial exploitation with the authentic experience of the speaking subject with his own agency.

Asked about her thoughts on her work featured on this show, Molly replied, “Often my work deals with the results of systems of oppression on the lives and bodies of trans people. The King Street Station works are more triumphant and more celebratory than most of my work from the past decade.

Spiraling parallel to paintings and drawings by Vaughan, O’Leary Izanami pots of earth and energy. The cosmic variety of meaningful imaginary forms, gestures and organic dimensionality that O’Leary draws from ceramic clay with humor and reverence for an ancestral gendered state of being will amaze you. She bases these vessels on a universally recognizable, unique, strange and beautiful anatomy. The creative detail in these pieces extends all the way, with visibility inside some of the ships. We encounter form after unique form of defiant and radical womb potency.

In his artist statement, O’Leary tells us, “Izanami started as a work on abortion rights. Then it was about the distorted narratives and the lack of female heroes in the cosmology of my ancestors. Then it became about the politics of penetration, women’s right to pleasure, and the patriarchal fear of being penetrated.

On the other side of the back wall of the gallery, another set of masks, with dramatic and complex expressions, guards the perimeter of this dark but active landscape. All of these images deserve your contemplation and add to the overall feeling of ancient truths passed down through countless generations.

O’Leary’s Yomi, based on the story of a Japanese deity, is a three-dimensional installation that evokes the mythological “underworld” in an abstract physical space. The fibrous structure forms an intimate alcove through thin layers of shadow and light. On the opening night of the first Thursday at King Street Station, a few visitors sat on the floor in the shelter – a spontaneous response to the place created. Seen from a few steps, as a spectator, it was like attending a communion on another level. On a later visit, I explored the interior myself, which is as interesting and evocative from the inside as seen from the outside.

The Yomi The video loop next to the structure in the gallery documents an event where the fiber piece was used as a shelter on the Chief Sealth Trail to create a collaborative “pop-up prayer circle.” The effect is a shot of this force field generated by people gathered in a womb-facing space for the Sacrament of Creative Community.

When asked what she wanted visitors to know about her work, O’Leary replied, “My work is a spiritual practice. Every moment I spend in the studio is a moment of prayer for women and those who live their lives in yonic bodies. Sometimes it’s not easy to be who we are. Sometimes larger forces actively try to limit the access we have to ourselves and our identities. Over the hours, months, and years of doing this work, I have built my own world of female myth, power, and heritage. I find the power to be myself. ”

Overall, this exhibition creates space for women. Woman-centered, woman-centered, woman-driven. You can feel the difference between this atmosphere and the more everyday reality in our wider society. It is a visceral experience that promises that there is more to the universe than the dysfunction of our struggles against social inequality and violence. The space created by this exhibition offers a sanctuary where we can find hope, inspiration and new understandings.

Elevating these topics (reproductive rights, trans rights, women’s health and autonomy) to the platform of aesthetic research explodes the logic and puns of political rhetoric. Art demonstrates the material reality of personal experience in ways that cannot be discussed or legislated. This exhibition in particular uses art to directly communicate what these issues mean – potentially to each and every one of us – through empathy, imagination, and masterful self-expression.


*Editor’s Note: The South Seattle Emerald adheres to the guidance provided by the Trans Journalists Association and by GLAAD to use the term “Transsexual” only in the case of self-referential citations.


Exhibition information:

Hanako O’Leary, Izanami and Yomi
Molly Vaughan, His body and After Butcher
Until July 7, 2022

Seattle Arts and Culture Office – ARTS at King Street Station,
303 Jackson Street, Top Floor, Seattle, WA 98104

Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., open until 8 p.m. on the first Thursday
Free entry, no RSVP required.
Accessible by lift or stairs.
Toilets for all genders.
Close to Chinatown-International District Light Rail.


Duncan Gibbs (he/she/they) is an artist and activist, and a member of the ARTS Community Advisors at King Street Station. As a white and trans male, he is committed to racial equity and collective liberation. Originally from Ohio, he has lived in Seattle since 2004. You can find him on Twitter or Instagram @duncangibbs.

📸 Featured Image: “Her Body” by Molly Vaughan and “After Boucher” and Hanako O’Leary’s ‘Izanami’ and ‘Yomi’ are on display at ARTS at King Street Station through July 7, 2022. Photo courtesy of Seattle Office of Arts and Culture.

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