Artwork / Swollen / Sex Reassignment Surgery

before and after portraits of transgender woman
Gwenn Seemel
Before and After: Sex Reassignment Surgery
2006 and 2007
acrylic on bird’s eye piqué
30 x 54 inches (combined dimensions)

When I decided to use earth changes to represent the transitions each of the subjects in Swollen were going through both in the background of the portraits and in the text that accompanied the paintings, some changes were obvious choices. For example, mountain-making fit easily with the breast enlargement surgery and a volcanic eruption made sense for puberty.

In this case though, with the sex reassignment surgery, I had to reach a little further with climate change. I wanted to evoke the confusion many cisgender individuals feel when confronted by the transgender experience or by anything that does not follow traditional notions of gender, and global warming’s status as a politically divisive issue also felt related to the way gender identity is so politicized. In the end, no matter what we believe about climate change or transgender identity, we know two things for certain: that polluting the earth is not good for us and that judging others based on our own narrow experiences amounts to a kind of social pollution.

What follows is the text I’ve been talking about that was originally displayed with Before and After: Sex Reassignment Surgery.

Forget wooly mammoths and times long past, the earth is now-today-presently in an ice age and, more specifically, in a warming period of that age. And it’s not just ice ages that we fail to understand, but all permutations of our planet’s climate. The complex combination of factors which dictate global temperature trends, wind velocities, and precipitation patterns are easily misunderstood and, as it turns out, easily politicized. The earth’s climate is not simply a matter of hot or cold.

painterly portrait
detail image
painterly portrait
detail image