Powerful Artist Jono Vaughan Speaks at Tacoma Art Museum this Thursday

Jono Vaughan’s Project 42 calls out the shortened life expectancy of transgender people, through visual and performative memorials to trans people who were murdered. She talks about the work — which uses handcrafted dresses, complex prints, and dance — on April 4 at Tacoma Art Museum.


Jono Vaughan’s work is instantly recognizable. And once you know what it is, it hits hard.

I had that experience in the most unexpected of places: practically running into it while rounding the corner at Cornish Playhouse, at a festive event (It’s a Wonderful Life with Theatre Anonymous, essentially a celebration of local theatre). There in front of me was the backdrop, and the dress. I hadn’t seen this one before, but I knew right away what it was.

Each of Vaughan’s handcrafted dresses, displayed with a matching print backdrop, memorializes a transgender person who was murdered. The patterns are lively, but underlying them is a darker truth: they’re derived from Google Earth images of the murder location, which Vaughan then manipulates into art. The whole project memorializes life that was taken too soon. The name itself, Project 42, is meant to evoke the severely shortened expected lifetime of trans people.

Vaughan will discuss her art and this powerful series this Thursday night at the Tacoma Art Museum (April 4, from 6-7:30 pm). The event is organized by the Rainbow Center, the “proudly queer, anti-racist community center,” located in Downtown Tacoma. The event is free; find info and RSVP here.

The patterns are lively, but underlying them is a darker truth: they’re derived from Google Earth images of the murder location, which Vaughan then manipulates into art.


Vaughan’s work was displayed recently (through summer 2018) at Seattle Art Museum, which hosted three dresses prominently in the third-floor galleries, along with a series of performances that freed the dresses from their walls, symbolically giving them life. The three dresses honored Myra Ical (of Houston, TX), Deja Jones (Miami, FL), and Lorena Escalera Xtravaganza (Brooklyn, NY). The performers honoring them in a series of pop-up (unannounced) performances included Randy Ford.

You can view video about the painstaking process of creating the dresses and conceptualizing both the dresses and the performances here; find loads of information about Vaughan’s work at SAM’s blog here; and read City Arts coverage and an interview with Vaughan here.

The aforementioned dress displayed at Cornish Playhouse (through mid-December 2018) honored Fred Martinez, Jr., of Cortez, CO. The performers honoring Martinez were Natalie Ann Martinez, Amanda Pickler, and Catherine Cross Uehara. The performance was held during Vaughan’s acceptance of the Betty Bowen Award at SAM.

The dress displayed at the UW’s Henry Art Gallery, as part of the exhibit Trans Hirstory in 99 Objects (MOTHA & Chris E. Vargas) (through June 4, 2017), honored Brandy Martell (of Oakland, CA). The performer honoring Martell was Anna Conner. Seeing the dress at the Henry was my first experience with Vaughan’s work.

The artist’s intention is that Project 42 will continue until 42 dresses are created. Next year, the first 21 of the series will be on display in Indianapolis, at the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art.


See photos of the Seattle exhibitions below.

Photos by Chase D. Anderson. 


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Jono Vaughan speaks on Project 42 on 4/6 at the Tacoma Art Museum, in downtown Tacoma. Admission is free; RSVP recommended, here. Accessibility notes: venue is wheelchair accessible. Restrooms on first floor include two gender-neutral, single-stall family restrooms, near the gendered multi-stall restrooms.

Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.