Walking into the opening party for the No Gender art exhibit at NEVERAPART gallery, there was an undeniable atmosphere of community and celebration. This immediate sense of excitement was juxtaposed with the seriousness of what was on display.
For artist Sylvain Tremblay, the concept behind the No Gender exhibit was sparked 15 years ago on a trip to an orphanage in Vietnam. It was there that he witnessed doctors making the decision as to whether an intersex baby would receive surgery to make them a ‘boy’ or a ‘girl.’ People who may be born with both male and female reproductive organs often have significantly life-altering surgery on the basis of a decision made by doctors and parents, which can often be completely random.
This phenomenon struck a cord with Tremblay, who felt that these babies have their gender and sex simultaneously assigned at a point in their lives when it is impossible to know whom they will eventually become. This experience set Tremblay on a journey around the world meeting people with similar stories, culminating in the extraordinary exhibit.
On display were massive pieces of modern art surrounding the issue of the binary gender system and the tragic effects it can have on individuals who know that they do not fit into this system. Repeated illusions to something being out of place within the binary gender system were utilized, such as gender-ambiguous bodies and textual representations of chromosomal combinations outside the standard XX female or XY male classifications.
Tremblay even confronted the social maneuverings of gender with a shocking canvas covered in children’s toys, which are usually gendered as being for boys or for girls. These toys were splattered with red paint.
“For this project, as an artist, I decided to use the colour red, like blood, because blood is the life and the death too,” Tremblay explained. “I decided to take a direction that would shock the people, because they have nudity, blood, and essentially, it would be really tough to see[….] Maybe people won’t like it, but they will remember.”
The paintings in the gallery are also supported with a contemporary film that plays on loop in a dark room to further expand on the arbitrary nature of gender assignment and challenge the visitors.
“The video is really important, because in the video, you travel all around the world to show people that there really isn’t just one way people are,” Tremblay said. “I am not an expert, and I do not pretend to be an expert; I use my artistic—if you will—talents, to express people’s stories.”
Cigosi, a gender-neutral friend of Tremblay who attended the opening, elaborated on the topic of mutilation as a source of tragic inspiration.
“The sad part is, mutilation is not a temporary thing,” Cigosi explained. “You know, once you remove a little baby’s penis, or sew up their vagina, it’s done. When the young person grows up and believes philosophically that they have to fit into the binary gender system, and makes a decision […] and does all those changes to themselves […] they can become suicidal.”
The exhibit truly challenges the mind and forces audiences to acknowledge how incredibly gendered the smallest interactions in our daily lives remain. As with any social justice issue, the root of inappropriate reactions stem from a lack of understanding—one that is not surprising given that a large portion of the population does not experience the same struggle, although this does not make it any more warranted to ignorance.
Tremblay hopes that when people experience exhibits such as this one, they will ask questions and learn as much as they can about the topic, which will open up the possibility for more informed and sensitive discussions. As Tremblay succinctly expresses, his motives come from a place of empathy and care for the world we live in.
“You, and me, and everybody want to live in a society where everybody is included,” he said.
No Gender will remain open to the public at the NEVERAPART Gallery (7049 Rue St. Urbain) until April 2.