GI’s Anatomy is a unique life drawing project from Gendered Intelligence exploring the science of sex and gender through art. The project aims to use life drawing to engage with complex ideas and scientific practices around sexed and gendered bodies. The project is run in collaboration London Drawing and the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama and has been funded by the Wellcome Trust.
Throughout this project the participants interrogated the ways in which scientific discourses and practices have come to shape our understanding of non-normatively sexed and gendered bodies. Through the creation of new representations of trans and intersex bodies, as artists the participants have contributed to documenting the physiology of sex and gender variance in these present times.
Transgender and intersex people often have a fraught relationship with medical institutions and discourses. They were (and can still be) positioned as ‘patients’ rather than as autonomous agents in their own lives. We hoped that through creating visual representations of difference, the participants would be empowered to articulate new ways of relating to trans and intersex bodies and new ways of relating to medical practices and language.
In addition GI’s Anatomy poses the question of how to make figurative work that is relevant today. Can we do something new with life drawing? How can we use life drawing to make an intelligent and genuine contribution to our cultural understanding of the body through art? In order to explore these questions, we collaborated with Anne Noble-Partridge and David Price from London Drawing, who combine over 20 years of teaching experience and current professional practice. Together as a project team, Gendered Intelligence wanted to provide an opportunity to do life drawing in an environment suitable for trans and intersex people with all levels of ability.
The practical component of GI’s Anatomy was divided into four workshops over two months. The programme was varied as participants were asked to carry out a range of activities as part of the drawing workshops, such as making a 10 min drawing without instruction and drawing a series of short poses from 2 -10mins each. At each session participants were encouraged to display their work and to speak briefly about the experience of drawing. In the final part of the drawing workshops, the models carried out longer poses, whilst the tutors offered one to one advice.
Alongside receiving drawing instruction from London Drawing, the participants were also provided with inspiration and stimulus on the topic of gender variance and the world of medicine. This allowed them to reflect on the intervention that their work was making into representations of non-normative/gender variant bodies more widely. For all participants, the opportunity to learn about the medical understandings of sex and gender was a chance to further their thinking and creativity in relation to new knowledge attained around what it means to be outside of sexed and gendered bodies, including their own.
Louise Chambers presented on medicalization of gender variant bodies and so-called ‘hermaphrodite’ (intersected) bodies in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. She reflected on the history of the ‘invert’ – a Victorian concept categorising the phenomena of non-normative gendered behaviour. This led on to homosexuality, transvestitism and transsexuality amongst other categorisations.
A representative from Intersex UK, an organisation that raises awareness of the needs and lives of intersex people, offered a presentation on the experiences of intersex people and their relationship with the medical world. She described Intersex / Disorder of Sex Development (DSD) as a term/s that represents someone who has atypical non-binary biological development. Their chromosomes, morphology, genitalia , gonads and or hormones are not collectively recognised as being typically male or female. In addition she talked about the legal position for intersex people, namely that those whose assigned sex at birth does not match their current gender identity means they are not and cannot be legally recognised in this gender in the way transgender people can be through the Gender Recognition Act 2004.
Dr Sarah Davidson from The Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS), The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust joined us for a question and answer session around current practice with children and young people with ‘gender dysphoria’ or who are ‘unhappy in their gender’. Surgeon Mr Nim Christopher presented a history of the phalloplasty (the construction of a penis for female to male trans people) starting with the procedures carried out from post-World War I era right up to today across the globe. He explained the various challenges from a surgeon’s perspective, such as urinary tracts. In addition we discussed the potential reality of penis transplants as well as growing penises in the laboratory.
All four presenters offered the artists diverse and engaging perspectives on the historical and present day relationship between gender diversity and medicine. In turn, the participants were enabled to engage critically with this relationship in their work. As part of the dissemination of the project, each presenter was also asked to talk at our showcase events. These were carried at the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama and as part of the Lates at the Science Museum.