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April 1, 2002

UMBC's Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery exhibits Jake in Transition from Female to Male: Photographs by Clarissa Sligh

On view at UMBC's Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery from April 3 through May 18, Jake in Transition fromFemale to Male features photographs by Clarissa Sligh.

Clarissa Sligh imageAbout the Exhibition
Clarissa Sligh's work, Jake in Transition fromFemale to Male, documents the process that her subject, Deb (now Jake),went through to become "the sexual human being that he wanted tobecome." For the exhibition, the artist chose 51 images of Jake takenover three years as he transitioned from female to male. The exhibitionemploys straight black and white portraits as well as images withsuperimposed informational text.

With this series, which explores issues of identity, masculinity andfeminimity, the role of the photographer and black feminism, Slighassumes a new position in her always provocative and socially consciouswork. At times, Sligh questioned why she would want to work withsomeone who, in the end, would represent a male chauvinist ideologythat was in direct opposition to her own beliefs. However, she feltthat these issues were familiar to her because she had "always livedand worked with people who are racist and/or sexist."

Additionally, Sligh grew up in the Southeast, where the concept ofchanging identity was familiar to her: while growing, up, she heardstories of slaves escaping to become "free men" and light skinnedblacks "passing" as white. In Jake, she saw a kindred spirit who wantedto follow a similar path, to be "free" from homophobic attitudes.

The process was not easy for either subject or photographer. Jakeexperienced great physical and emotional discomfort due to all thevarious hormones and surgeries, but by 1999 the two had become friendsand found mutual admiration and respect. Sligh realized that she andthe camera became an integral part of Jake's transition by creating aspace that helped him through the process These photos not only serveas "visual evidence of the body's transformation," but also theyexemplify Clarissa Sligh's abilities as photographer and storyteller.Sligh's sensitive collage style invites us to look more closely at theimages, thereby inviting the viewer to think about the underlying classand societal values that led Jake to change his identity.

Artist's Statement
I met Jake in a small town in North Texas. At thattime her name was Deb. She asked me to photograph her sex change fromfemale to male. Although the act had its own value and meaning, I feltit was not my issue. It was not related to my work and I was wary ofthe ethical and political violence inherent in "speaking for others."

Clarissa Sligh imageAs a black woman from the south, the concept of changing one's identitywas not new to me. I grew up hearing stories about how slaves hadescaped to become "free men," and how light skin blacks "passed" forwhite. While the history of "passing," its assumption of fraudulentlytrespassing, and the question of authenticity seemed to parallel Jake'scircumstances, I did not think she would relate it to herself as awhite middle class person from Indiana. She wanted to be the kind ofman who embraced patriarchal and misogynistic values.

Clarissa Sligh imageThat she modeled herself on a male chauvinist paradigm was repugnant tome. Yet there was a part of me that understood Jake's desire to be aman. I remembered wanting to be a boy at least until the age of 14.Weight training was also something we had in common. While I felt thatJake would defend the status quo, which privileged males, I reluctantlydecided to support her desire to record the sex change in order to makeit easier for others to understand. At that time, very littleinformation was available.

We began working together in early 1997. Thinking of the project as oneof documenting evidence, I was not prepared for the complexity orintensity of the act. In an attempt to understand the strong emotionalwhich it elicited from others and the touchy mood swings that Jakebegan to exhibit, I researched the process, kept a journal, andinterviewed Jake and some of her friends. I also began to photographand videotape my own body as part of keeping track of myself. AlthoughJake's physical appearance was still androgynous, he legally became amale by mid-1997.

As photographer, I was there to shoot the movie. Jake wrote the script.He was the director and the actor. The relationship of me as voyeur andJake as performer was awkward for both of us, but we pushed ourselvesto continue the work. That I witnessed Jake's process and switched froma position of "objective neutrality" to one of supporting him is stillhard to believe. I had to confront and overcome the taboos to which"nice colored girls," who are usually from very conservativeupbringings, conform.

By the end of 1997 we had a fairly close relationship. My working withthe camera had carved out a safe space in which he could reflect on histransitional process. Although it was a challenge for me to make thephotographs, I grew to respect Jake's passionate, intense commitment tohimself.

Clarissa Sligh imageBy the end of 1998, Jake's physical appearance, attitudes, and behaviorwere that of a stereotypical male. Yet having gone through the processof making himself what he had always wanted to be had matured himtremendously. By 1999, I could see too that I had changed. Thephotographs and texts, which I continued to create, were as much aboutmy process as it was his. Only then did it become clear that theproject was also a visual journey and journey about me.

The exhibition, organized by the VisualStudies Workshop in Rochester, New York, has been funded in part by agrant from the New York State Arts Councilon the Arts. The project is the result of Clarissa Sligh's residencyat the Visual Studies Workshop, which was supported by a Chase ManhattanArts and Cultural Grant. The Kuhn Gallery's presentation of Jake in Transition from Female toMale is supported in part by UMBC; the Friends of the Library &Gallery; and the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency funded by theState of Maryland and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Gallery Information
The Albin O. Kuhn Gallery serves as one of theprincipal art galleries in the Baltimore region. Items from the SpecialCollections Department, as well as art and artifacts from all over theworld, are displayed in challenging and informative exhibitions for theUniversity community and the public. Moreover, traveling exhibitionsare occasionally presented, and the Gallery also sends some of itsexhibits throughout the state and nation. Admission to the Gallery isfree.

Hours of Operation
Sunday: Closed
Monday: 12 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Tuesday: 12 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Wednesday: 12 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Thursday: 12 p.m. - 8 p.m.
Friday: 12 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Saturday: 1 p.m. - 5 p.m.

General Gallery information: (410) 455-2270
UMBC Artsline (24 hour recorded message): (410) 455-ARTS
Media inquiries only: (410) 455-3370

UMBC Arts website:
Gallery website:

Images for Media
High resolution images for media are available online: or by email or postal mail.

All the images in this release are available at 300 dpi on the abovewebsite.

From Baltimore and points north, proceed south on I-95 toexit 47B. Take Route 166 toward Catonsville and then follow signs tothe Albin O. Kuhn Library.

From I-695, take Exit 12C (Wilkens Avenue) and continue one-half mileto the entrance of UMBC at the intersection of Wilkens Avenue andHilltop Road. Turn left and follow signs to the Albin O. Kuhn Library.

From Washington and points south, proceed north on I-95 to Exit 47B.Take Route 166 toward Catonsville and then follow signs to the Albin O.Kuhn Library.

Daytime metered visitor parking is available in Lot 10, near theAdministration Building. Visitor parking regulations are enforced onall University calendar days. Hilltop Circle and all campus roadwaysrequire a parking permit unless otherwise marked.


Posted by dwinds1 at April 1, 2002 12:00 AM