Seattle-based artist Molly Vaughan’s series Project 42 addresses the pattern of violence against transgender people in the United States, providing both a form of memorialization and an entry point for engagement and discussion. Begun in 2012, the project’s name is taken from the short life expectancy of transgender individuals in the United States, which the artist estimates is forty-two years, based—in lieu of official census data, which excludes trans identities—on third-party texts and research. Eventually the artist plans to make forty-two individual works.
Each of the three dresses in this exhibition memorializes the life and death of a transgender person who was murdered: Myra Ical, Deja Jones, and Lorena Escalera Xtravaganza. Vaughan alters images of the murder locations and turns them into abstract textile prints, which she then sews into a garment. The style of the garment is inspired by the life and history of the individuals. A collaborator wears each dress in a performance that commemorates and celebrates the individual, an act that Vaughan describes as “the returning of humanity and the sharing of missed opportunities.”
Molly Vaughan is the 2017 Betty Bowen Award winner. The namesake of this distinguished award, Betty Bowen (1918–1977), was a Washington native and enthusiastic supporter of Northwest artists. Her friends established the annual award after her death to celebrate and continue her legacy of supporting artists of the region. Since 1977, the Seattle Art Museum has hosted the yearly grant application process by which the selection committee chooses one artist from Washington, Oregon, or Idaho to receive an unrestricted cash award.