This semester, the Rose Art Museum is hosting a new exhibit in the Gerald S. and Sandra Fineberg Gallery called “To build another world” by  Tuesday Smillie, a Brooklyn-based artist. This installation looks at trans-feminism through the lens of protest banners. 

This medium of protest  banners is absolutely perfect for Smillie’s message and subject matter, as is the timing of this piece. As protests become ubiquitous in the current social and political climate, these banners strike closer to home for more people. Unlike the paper signs that are customary at protests such as March for Our Lives or the Women’s March, these are made of large pieces of cloth. 

The banners are very reminiscent of the banners seen in early LGBTQ+ rights marches — most famously Stonewall. This connection was confirmed with a piece called “Street Transvestites,” which included a photograph of trans-rights activists Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, famous for their work starting the Stonewall riots, holding the banner that inspired the piece.

“Street Transvestites” is almost an exact replica of Rivera and Johnson’s banner, with added layers of black lace placed strategically over it, almost obscuring the words. This gave the appearance that the banner was loosely dangling by adding shadows of varying depth to trick the viewer’s eye into thinking that the full banner was crumpled and hanging low, instead of proud and taut. While the antique picture left a triumphant and joyful feeling, the piece itself felt sad and hopeless. To me it seemed to say, “No one has been able to pick up where these two inspirational women left off,” implying that they have been forgotten, and therefore unthanked, by the gay community due to being transgender women of color. 

This powerful piece made me take second and third laps around the small gallery. All of these banners could not be held by one person alone but rather were held together by pairs or groups, a clear contrast from the most common protest signs today — individual cardboard signs. Directly preceding “Street Transvestites” is a banner called “Together,” which boldly states “Strength in Differences. Safety in Numbers.” 

I couldn’t help but think of the people that would hold this banner together and the bond they form in the act of holding a protest sign together. I left the gallery immediately searching the internet for ways to help my trans sisters with the midterm elections so close. “To build another world” highlights the importance of protesting together for a common cause, and the ugliness and hopelessness in being alone.