An altar for Chyna Doll Dupree
Two artists commemorate the local transgender woman who was murdered in New Orleans
Two years after Chyna Gibson was tragically shot and killed in New Orleans amid citywide Mardi Gras celebrations, artists Jessica Sabogal and Shanna Strauss collaborated on a mural to honor Gibson, a Sacramento black transgender woman and well-known dancer who performed under the name Chyna Doll Dupree.
The 72-by-22-foot mural now hugs a wall behind the Lavender Library (1414 21st Street) and was unveiled on March 31 to coincide with the internationally recognized event known as the Transgender Day of Visibility, a day dedicated to celebrating the transgender community and raising awareness of discrimination faced by trans people worldwide.
“To our knowledge, as far as we know, this mural is the first of its kind. As queer women of color, our only experience celebrating queerness/trans lives has been in private (night clubs, private home gatherings, etc.),” Sabogal wrote in an email to SN&R. “Having a massive public art work act as a monument honoring a black trans woman is one of the ways to claim space and make visible the experiences of our communities.”
There’s a strong juxtaposition of mixed media presented on the mural: reclaimed wood shaped as an arched altar frames a photograph of Gibson—with flowers, feathers and a golden halo placed around her to represent the sacredness of her life. The altar is mounted in between painted imagery of protests with signs that read “white silence equals violence” on one side, while the other displays a message from Sabogal and Strauss stating that the community needs to protect trans daughters ending with the hashtag #RiseUpAsOne.
Sabogal says the mural is meant to act as a sacred altar where family and friends of Gibson can always gather and remember their loved one.
“Normally in my work, I would photograph the main subject of the mural, but because Chyna is no longer with us, I chose to photograph the woman who willingly uplifted her throughout the majority of her life,” Sabogal says.
That woman was Gibson’s mother, Tammie Crittindon-Lewis, illustrated beside her daughter in earth-toned colors with her hands curved up as a symbol of her uplifting Gibson throughout her life.
“Who would Chyna have been if it weren’t for Miss Tammie? Where would we all be without the people around us making sure we are safe and telling us it is OK to be exactly who we are?,” reads the artists statement written by Sabogal and Strauss. “It is not on trans folks to ensure for their own safety, so the hands also represent the non-trans community lifting up and supporting our trans brothers and sisters.”
Although this was the first collaborative effort between Sabogal and Strauss, it won’t be the last. The two have decided to continue to work together to create a new series of murals titled This Woman’s Work that will combine their different techniques with a common vision to highlight the invisible labor of women.