Meet Rae Senarighi.
A name and spirit you won’t soon forget. Rae is a Portland based graphic designer and visual artist set to “trans-form” the art world. And subsequently, the world as we know it.
Via a self-funded large scale portrait project he calls “TRANSCEND” Rae is on a mission to have trans identities and experiences represented in galleries and museums all over the world. TRANSCEND as described by Rae himself,
“Is a portrait series celebrating transgender and non-binary artists, activists and leaders throughout the world. Transgender is not just about one experience, not linear and not simple. Each transgender person is unique with incredibly diverse experiences yet we are united in a common struggle. Portraits in this series are of individuals living their lives out in the open, and choosing integrity over safety. To live openly as transgender requires personal courage to live authentically in oppressive environments.”
To achieve the diversity of trans identity and experiences Rae was looking for in the series, he employed the use of social media. Instagram specifically. Using the platform, Rae was able to connect with and reach out to trans individuals with an array of experiences from all over the world. Rae felt it important to not just paint who inspired him, but to reach out and gain their blessing before doing so. “Even though they are putting themselves out there in Instagram they may not want to be a part of this very specific kind of show” He told us. Talking to subjects was also an important element of Rae’s creative process, and helping him capture more intimately each subjects ‘essence’. He told us.
The portraits in TRANSCEND – which is still an ongoing and being added to – are each painted using a variety of very intentional messages and symbolism. Each subject is painted “Waist up. Starring grounded at the camera. In a traditional portraiture sense. Like where subjects used to just sit and stare forward for hours, and days and months at a time.” Like royal figures would have been painted historically. The subjects are also all painted using rainbow colours as a nod to diversity and LGBTQIA branding. And vast blue sky backgrounds, a commentary on how “trans people are constantly told not to take up any space: ‘Don’t even go out in public because you can’t use the bathroom.”
We recently caught up with Rae and asked him a bit about his work and goals.
Tell us about your goals with TRANSCEND?
“I have very lofty goals with this project and I feel brave enough to do that because this work isn’t about me. It’s not about me it’s so much larger than me so it gives me the courage to be brave and just reach for the stars with this stuff. I want trans representation in portrait galleries around the world. That’s what I’m audaciously reaching for. I want to see that representation.”
What’s been your favorite part of showing TRANSCEND so far?
“One of my most cherished moments was having a person of color come up and tell me. ‘When I stood in front of your painting *Seen below* I felt connected to my ancestors.’ That to me feels like the best compliment that I could ever receive. Especially as someone painting people who had had very different experiences than me. Those who have experienced so much oppression just walking through the world every day. Being able to show them the respect they deserve means so much to me. Just that moment made everything all the effort worthwhile.”
Rae has a very clear understanding of the trans community and their needs. His art is powerful and infused with much intention. When you look at the TRANSCEND portraits you can’t help be moved by their beauty and mastery. But more than that, each one begs your curiosity. Suddenly as you look longer, letting your curiosities be indulged, you find yourself getting educated on the issues. Then not only are you moved, but inspired. And suddenly walking through the world moving and educating others talking about Rae’s work. Rae’s art is a movement in and of itself. Don’t believe us? Scroll for yourself.
TRANSCEND is currently touring various galleries and festivals in the U.S. You can learn where to experience the collection in person here. Follow Rae and his work @transpainter and see his recent Netflix special here.
Images c/o artist Rae Senarighi