Alex Orellana is the winner of the 2017 Chazen Museum Prize for an Outstanding MFA Student. Orellana is a third-year MFA student in the UW–Madison Art Department. They received their BFA in photography from the University of Georgia. Orellana will work with Chazen staff to mount the exhibition.
IMAGE: Alex Orellana (American, b. 1988) (Left) Man, (Right) Woman, 2016, archival inkjet prints, 24 x 16 in. each.
From the Artist
For transgender people, there is a prevailing narrative that success entails trading one binary identity for another to pass as the opposite sex. Synthetic estrogen or testosterone is often part of that process. Despite not wanting to transition, I have my own health reasons to take hormones, and the effects of that process led me to create this body of work. The medicine makes me increasingly androgynous, and I want to share the experience of how that affects my social interactions.
Depending on if I’m read as male or female, I am often treated very differently. This read is based on subtle cues: depending on my hairstyle, clothes, posture, mannerisms, and company, there are assumptions that people make about my personality, capabilities, orientation, and interests.
For this show I’ve made a series images of myself as different genders to show that the things we see as inherently masculine or feminine are arbitrary. I can affect my appearance to look more like a standard man or woman, but what do these appearances mean if I can occupy all of them from a single body? What assumptions am I inviting by making particular aesthetic decisions? And what exactly separates me from my sister and brother, or my mom and dad?
I have photographed myself repeatedly with traits that “make” men and women; none of these things change who I am, none of them are essential.