The New Art Gallery Walsall to connect trans and queer artist in the UK and Pakistan

Catherine Muxworthy October 30, 2022

Lead Pic: Alex Billingham, Fluid Bodies Experiment. Photo by Alex Billingham and Vicky Roden

Newly announced residences for the New Art Gallery Walsall are intended to connect trans and queer artists in the UK and Pakistan. The Belonging / Disbelonging residencies will see the New Art Gallery Walsall and Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture (IVS), Karachi working in collaboration with curator Aziz Sohail.

Proudly announcing that they would be working with artists Alex Billingham in Walsall and Sophia-Layla Afsar in Karachi, the New Art Gallery Walsall explained that these new residencies will be “facilitating dialogue, debate and conversation across communities in Karachi and the West Midlands with a focus on inclusivity, care and kindness.”

Introducing Alex Billingham, the New Art Gallery Walsall explains that she is a trans fem, disabled artist; born in the Black Country and trained at Cumbria Institute of the Arts before returning to the Midlands.

“Alex focuses on live art and its intersection with experimental theatre and film.

“She notes that ‘survival underpins my work’ and that it is important for them to ‘find better ways for us all to survive into the future’. In their work, they explore how genderqueer, trans and disabled identities collide and intermingle. Alex is ‘intrigued by the points where nuclear technology and our fear of it meet, with a particular fascination with the fetishisation of nuclear dread in western media’.

“Currently they are interested in ‘revisiting how we connect with it through a queer perspective while nurturing an obsession with outdated hopes for the future.’ They ‘enjoy an analogue approach to manipulating digital technology that allows me to realise a low-fi visual style, binding grime with glitter to make beautifully dirty work.’”

Alex Billingham, Fluid Bodies Experiment 3. Photo by Alex Billingham and Vicky Roden

As part of this new residency, “Alex proposes to make work which is a celebration of the joy of being trans/queer. She will create film works based on performance using costumes, sets and props. The outcome will be fun and accessible, while acknowledging the privilege of UK legal protection and the pain that shadows queer existence. She is interested in the idea of transuranic elements which are synthetic, unstable and decaying but are also fantastic elements that enrich and save our lives. She regards this as a fabulous trans allegory!”

Sophia-Layla Afsar meanwhile, describes her work as “multidisciplinary, blending trans and neurodivergent advocacy, emotional care, and play”.

The New Art Gallery states that “Layla has worked with a range of mediums including poetry, prose, situation art and film. She has explored themes including isolation, opacity and nondisclosure of personal information by trans persons, objectification of trans bodies and narratives, utilisation behaviour by neurodivergent people and motionful stillness by autistic folks.

From Holding Space for Trans and Queer Grief, co-led by Sophia-Layla and Aesha Munaf. Cred: Aziz Sohail

“During her residency, Layla plans to collaborate with local minoritised creatives. So far, she has focused much of her creative attention on marginalisation at a community level or the broader liminality of gender transition. She now wishes to focus on more individual experiences, offering a window into how (dis)belonging is punctuated by micro moments of inclusion and exclusion.

“For her, it is the sum of such micro moments that determine neuro and gender minority, experiences of psychological safety, taking up space and contribution to civic life. As the current moral panic around transness (and its response) maps a predominantly gloomy presence, capturing and creating experiences of authentic joy and emotional care is a priority to offer a counterbalance to these narratives.”

Both artists will have a showcase exhibition of their work at the IVS Gallery in February 2023, curated by Aziz Sohail.