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Trans district art installation opens

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Artist KC Crow Maddux installed his art for "PLURALS" at the Oros Gallery at Pentacle Coffee January 8. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Artist KC Crow Maddux installed his art for "PLURALS" at the Oros Gallery at Pentacle Coffee January 8. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

The first Compton's Transgender Cultural District art exhibition opened this month, and organizers hope it's just the beginning.

There was a reception for the exhibition, "PLURALS," Friday, January 10, in the Oros Gallery at Pentacle Coffee.

Aria Sa'id, a transgender woman who is the executive director of the district, said that the opening was "truly amazing."

"We had about 60 people come out to see the exhibition and support the artists and the transgender district," she said.

"PLURALS" is a transgender and queer art show featuring the work of New York City-based artist KC Crow Maddux and Oakland-based artist Joel Gregory. It is being curated by Oakland-based editor Ellis Martin.

Last year, Gregory and Martin collaborated on the production of a book, "We Both Laughed In Pleasure: The Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan," Gregory said.

Sullivan was a San Francisco-based gay, transgender activist who died from complications of AIDS in 1991. As the Bay Area Reporter previously reported, Martin was one of two editors who curated entries from Sullivan's diary.

"Ellis was one of the two editors," Gregory, 33, said. "I was publisher and designer."

Seeing Gregory work as a graphic designer made Martin interested in what the pair could do together.

"Joel did the graphic design and I was super interested in the project," Martin, 26, said.

After the end of that collaboration, Martin reached out to Maddux to join Gregory on the "PLURALS" project. Maddux, who is from the Midwest and lives in Brooklyn, said it is his first show on the West Coast.

"I'm excited that Ellis invited me," Maddux, 39, said.

The introduction to the "PLURALS" show, written by Martin, said that "Maddux works against linear, white, cis, hetero, patriarchal, capitalist structures."

When asked how this applies to the show, Maddux said that the shapes he is using aren't circumscribed by the very specific Western standards people are used to.

"So much art is in a square or a rectangle because it's easier to be commodified," Maddux said. Maddux uses the wall as his canvas, not confining himself to a frame.

On the other hand, Gregory took photos from the now-defunct Craigslist personals as their inspiration.

"I had been visiting that site cruising for a long time, thinking about different art projects that could be done" Gregory said.

Craigslist personals shut down in 2018 after a federal law signed by President Donald Trump targeted sex trafficking and sex work.

"It was an important queer space for people who were closeted," Gregory said. "It's a way of memorializing that; a way of reminding the viewers that it was an important space and we need spaces like that for a healthy social body."

Maddux and Gregory collaborated remotely and in person on visual placement, but their works in the show are separate and they met in person for the first time last week.

Founded in 2017, Compton's Transgender Cultural District is the first legally recognized transgender district in the world. It's named after the first known uprising of trans and queer people in the U.S., the Compton's Cafeteria riots of 1966 that took place at the now-shuttered diner in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood.

The cultural district encompasses six blocks in the southeastern Tenderloin and crosses over Market Street to include two blocks of Sixth Street, one of which is home to Pentacle Coffee.

Bobby Valentino Sanchez, who identifies as queer, is the owner of Pentacle Coffee.

"I think it's really great," Sanchez said of the exhibit. "It's a great opportunity to have a beautiful show in the gallery and work with the cultural district."

The cultural district's mission is to create an urban environment that fosters the rich history, cultural legacy, and empowerment of transgender people.

Sa'id said that having the exhibition is in line with the mission of the cultural district.

"The art exhibition is one of the many efforts we are leading this year to showcase the brevity of transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming art and culture and specifically, our perspective in the human experience," Sa'id wrote in an email to the B.A.R. January 12. "As one of our guiding values of our mission is to promote the cultural heritage of transgender people in the Tenderloin and around the world, I think this was a natural next step in our effort."

"PLURALS" will remain on exhibit through February 28 at Pentacle Coffee, 64 Sixth Street, in the South of Market neighborhood. The coffee shop is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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