GOD IS TRANS is an art exhibit that asks the viewer to see God as a spirit that occupies both genders and everything in between
If most people are a product of their environment, then it will often hold true that the art born of those same people will reflect in kind.
Artist and painter Genesis Tramaine will agree and testify, proselytize and sanctify, amen! Tremaine refers to herself as an “urban evangelist painter,” because her mission as an artist is to share the Biblical gospel of Genesis in a way that is contemporary and relatable to those who have ever felt disenfranchised or somehow outside of the Bible’s message.
Genesis Tramaine was born and raised in Bed-Stuy, on the 6th floor of 325 Lafayette Garden Projects, across the street from the 88th Police Precinct and down the block from Pratt Institute, “between the crossroads of God’s glory and doing the wrong thing,” laughs Tremaine. But, she says, the experience shaped the essential parts of who she is as an artist today.
“Growing up in Brooklyn in the projects means there’s a different type of culture at your fingertips,” she says. “You only get one set of everything. You use what’s near you. You’re always conscious about running out of things, and so it means you have to be good the first time; you’re not offered second chances.”
Raised under the supportive arms of her mother and the firm religious teachings of her grandmother, Tramaine’s talent for art was discovered at very early age, and her mom always encouraged her to keep drawing.
“My mom would put my pictures up, and that made it seem important to me,” Tremaine says. “That’s when I realized I should keep going.”
She also was encouraged to read the Bible often, attend church and build an almost inextricable relationship between herself, Jesus and her personal beliefs, despite what others might think or say.
But what happens when that self-affirmation includes the realization that you are at once a project girl who is God-fearing, out-the-box creative… and queer?
“’You’re going to hell’ is still echoed in my mind,” said Tramaine of the responses she received from some of those in her religious practice, although her prayers and theological research in biblical text confirmed that God loves everyone…
“My grandmother taught me about Jesus and she taught me about who Jesus was in me. And if I had not grown up in that understanding, I would not be able to paint from a platform that says God is not male or female. That says God is a spirit that occupies us all and that we have access to the Jesus that is… to the Jesus that is the inside and outside,” she says.
“I believe that it is my charge: to recondition our visual understanding of who Jesus is.”
On Saturday, June 16, Genesis Tramaine will celebrate the opening of her latest exhibit, GOD IS TRANS at the Richard Beavers Gallery in Bedford Stuyvesant.
GOD IS TRANS interrupts the notion that God is male and asks the viewer to see God outside of traditional gender binaries, as transgender– a spirit that occupies both genders and everything in between.
On a denim canvas, Tramaine uses oil, acrylic, spray paint and pastels for an explosion of colors. The results are faces that draw the viewer in; faces representing Biblical characters of African likeness; faces depicting the various stories told in the chapter Genesis. From an 8-year-old Jesus with dreadlocks, to when Jesus was in the wilderness, to the elation of Mary and Joseph falling in love, to the poignant moment Mary discovered she was pregnant, Tramaine brings believability, relevance and a refreshingly contemporary bend to stories that, to some, might read like fables of dubious origin or intent.
Employing what is now her signature style of incongruity punctuated with pieces of familiarity, Tramaine’s paintings manage to reengage those who remain on the border of religious opinion or belief while offering spiritual fluidity to those who already love God.
“I’m a mixed media painter, artist and evangelist. What I do here is a blessing,” says Tramaine.
“I really believe it is my charge to recondition our visual understanding of who Jesus is in our lives. As a painter, the greatest gift I’ve been given is a platform to give my understanding of who God is back.
“You know, we are reflections… And well, God is trans.”