Trans Awareness Week: Honoring Transmasc History, Sexuality With Xavier Schipani

Artist creates “visual language for the transmasculine body”

Xavier Schipani's What Makes a Man in 2018's "Chasing Desire"

Austinite Xavier Schipani identifies as a trans man; he also identifies as an artist. These two identities interlock and fuel the power behind his creative work.

With murals centering nude transgender bodies in states of joy, sexual pleasure, and simply being, Schipani uses art to create deliberate space for transmasculinity. “I was always drawn to visual art as a means to communicate my thoughts and feelings with others,” he says. “I also wanted to create work that represented my gender and identity to help build a visual language for the transmasculine body.”

Xavier Schipani (Courtesy of Xavier Schipani)

With his earlier professional journey marked by trial and error in his artistic practice, Schipani says that “growth of my confidence has been the biggest catalyst for change in my career,” citing it as the flashpoint for opportunities to take bigger creative risks. His most recent solo shows represent the best versions of his vision so far: “Chasing Desire” (2018) at Austin’s Lora Reynolds Gallery, and “They Laughed With Pleasure” (2020) at Lowell Ryan Projects in Los Angeles. The latter exhibit is inspired by activist Lou Sullivan, a gay trans man whose selected diaries from 1961-91 were collected and published in 2019 as We Both Laughed in Pleasure. The archival of queer art, specifically trans queer art, plays heavily into Schipani’s art. “I think people are drawn to my work because it addresses the underrepresented visual language of transness,” says Schipani, “and the struggle for traction in the contested space of the queer archive. It explores how trans bodies are built, shaped, and viewed by the architecture of society and establishes a place for those bodies to be visible.”

As one of the 51 artists participating in Big Medium’s 2021 Texas Biennial exhibit, Schipani and his work – now on display at San Antonio’s McNay Art Museum – concentrates on the gaps in queer transmasculine archival materials. “The piece addresses the idea of transmasculine history existing as ruins or being memorialized through imagery that we ourselves have to create,” Schipani explains, adding that the project directly relates to his own struggle with finding himself within that history. “I think that transmasculine sexuality is a mystery to a lot of people because it is not something that they have access to.”

Schipani points to an urgency in providing that access as a central motivator for him – to dispel the mystery of transmasculine sexuality and elevate it for an audience not just of curious cis people, but trans people searching for their reflections in art. “It is important for other trans people to see someone like them enjoying themselves in a safe and beautiful way.”

Recognized every year in November, Transgender Awareness Week (Nov. 13-19) celebrates and uplifts the voices, experiences, and achievements of trans and nonbinary communities around the world. The week culminates with Transgender Day of Remembrance (Sat., Nov. 20), an annual observance honoring the lives of those who have been lost to anti-trans violence. The Transgender Education Network of Texas hosts its virtual TDOR event this Sat., Nov. 20, 6pm.

In celebration of this year’s Trans Awareness Week, The Austin Chronicle’s Qmmunity section spotlights members of Austin’s trans and nonbinary community with stories published daily online this Mon.-Fri., Nov. 15-19.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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Transgender Awareness Week 2021, Transgender Day of Remembrance 2021, Xavier Schipan, Austin artists, Lora Reynolds Gallery, Lou Sullivan, McNay Art Museum, 2021 Texas Biennial, Big Medium 2021 Texas Biennial, Big Medium

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