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Transgender artists retroactively navigate alternative gender lives with new Iridian Gallery show

TicoNoise | March 16, 2017

Moving from the middle-of-nowhere to a city is a shared experience between New York-based artists Cobi Moules and Cupid Ojala.

Both of these trans, queer artists have been paired by the Iridian Gallery for their split exhibition, Rural Fantasies, opening this Friday.

Both artists’ work features nostalgic images that retroactively navigate their childhood and reimagines what it means to be the all-American boy as youth.

“The focus on identity goes beyond this show, it something that is really important within the larger ideas within the multipole bodies of my work or my practice,” said  Moules, the New York-based artist represented by the Lyons Wier Gallery. “The things that I’m really interested in are thinking about trans identity and my queer identity- a lot of my work looks back at my childhood.”

Rural Fantasies as an exhibition will feature several types of media, from oil paintings to drawings and photographs. Although the media is different, both artists’ work pair well together as they speak to the idea that many queer folks can relate to; this discourse on queer youth and always understanding one’s identity are artfully and amusingly brought together through faux-throwback images.

“They both make very strong work that represents that they identify as transgender queer. It kind of shows some of the experiences that they have undergone and what they imagined what their life could’ve been life if they grew up as boys,” said Chris Norris, the Iridian Gallery Chair and Liason. “Cobi has this work where he has these paintings where there are 18 figures of him and he is climbing rocks and doing this sort of adolescent fun thing. Cupid has work where he has photographed himself as a boy scout, something that he was never able to experience but his brother did. [Ojala’s work depicts] what would’ve been and some activities that he missed out on.”

Cobi Moules is originally from Oakdale, Califronia and credits painting with his grandmother as one of the inspirations to pursue art: “Everything slowly happens, rather than this marker,” he said. “So that was probably influential and then that would be the beginning of it and [art] slowly became more integral in my life.” Moules has work in several galleries like the Leslie Lohman Museum in Soho, the Lyons Wier Gallery, Carroll and Sons Gallery in Boston and the Dixon Gallery in Memphis, Tennessee. Moules’ is typically in the oil painting medium but can features drawings using graphite and ranges in size.

“Oil paint is the thing that I do the most but I enjoy drawing and graphite. Those are my two main ones consistently,” said Moules. “I recently did a small animation, but even that I did a painted paper doll that moved. That became the animation- it all goes back to painting and drawing.”

Ojala’s work utilizes photography in similar ways to explore childhood landscapes and youthful dreamscapes via staged thoughts from the artists. The curation of the gallery is very much connected to the artists as well who chose their own work to speak to the other’s.

“[Ojala and Moules] came up with the title. When Cupid told me that the title would be Rural Fantasies, I saw it in the work,” said Norris. “As far as the work, we selected them as artists, based on the work we have seen on their websites and what they have up. Cupid sent us some images in addition to that, as far as what they are putting in the show- that is up to them and how they want to put that up.”

Both Moules and Ojala will be lecturing on VCU’s campus on Monday, 3/20, at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Student Commons Theater 10AM.

VCUarts has recently launched an Infusion Inclusion Initiative to diversify the speakers “… to bring in more minority voices to be represented as visiting artists. I wrote a proposal to get money to bring [Ojala and Moules] for this lecture that is coming up for Art Foundation students,” said Norris. “I work a lot with LGBTQ students in the program here. I’ve really noticed how nice it’s been for people recognizing that they are being recognized- there is more visibility. I’m excited about that [and] I’m glad [the traveling artists] agreed to lecture.”

The Iridian Gallery is located at 1407 Sherwood Ave Richmond, VA 23220 and is open to the public Wednesday through Sunday from ten in the morning to five in the evening. The gallery focuses on fostering LGBTQ+ artists by showcasing their art, art that relates to their experiences and elevating the conversation about representation in art communities in the Greater Richmond area.