To understand what it is that Imogen-Blue Hinojosa does, first you must know that she views art-making as a “weapon of social and political change – an act of reclamation,” she tells us. Through a mix of photography, performance, film and more sculptural pieces too, Imogen-Blue transcends us into a world of activism, steered by her own personal experiences as a Latinx trans woman blended with an undeniable interest in the arts.
Imogen-Blue grew up in a working class family in Corpus Christi, a small conservative town in South Texas, and was openly queer since the age of 13. “I was constantly at odds with the expectations of the people around me and the racist, phobic culture of my home town,” she continues to tell It’s Nice That. “Because of this experience, I focused all of my energy on getting a scholarship to study in some far away city.” It was the moment that she received a 35mm camera from her grandmother that Imogen-Blue started building a personal portfolio of imagery, which assuredly ended up getting her a scholarship in Baltimore. This was also the moment that she realised that she wanted to be an artist, and thus began working in the realms of photography.
The first of a series of events (similar to that of a butterfly effect), Imogen-Blue went on to travel the world for the next five years to locations across the US, UK, Japan, China and Scandinavia. Living in numerous countries, and working as a commercial photographer and lighting assistant in Shanghai, for example, she’d always make the time to fulfil her personal artistic endeavours on the side. After a period of travel, she enrolled at Goldsmiths in London and since has been working as an artist full-time, trying to “find a balance between the nomadic lifestyle that comes with artist residencies, the process of transitioning and my work.”
All that Imogen-Blue creates has been built on deep thought and consideration, especially that which centres around the dialogue of trans identity, trauma and performance. Liturgia, for example, is an impactful series examining the ever rising death roll of trans women of colour; statistics show that in 2019 there were around 400 reported murder cases in the UK, as she mentions in the project’s description. Pearl is a further extension of these themes and blends photography, installation and performance to question the notion of the self, all the while turning a considered eye onto the Western standards of class, gender and wealth. The result is a thought-provoking series of autobiographical self-portraits created during her first year of transition. When To Leave is another example; a poignant photographic series, it lenses the aftermath of a traumatic experience sustained while Imogen-Blue lived in China, perceived through detailed landscapes of where she lived, the foods she ate in the local market and the Chinese medicine recommended to her to cure a broken heart.
Elsewhere, Imogen-Blue takes us back to a time in 2018 while on location in the Faroe Islands. Working on a project about masculinity and seafaring culture at the time, she ended up snapping a self-portrait in the mirror (which gives the piece its name, Mirror). “The photograph was spontaneous,” she says, “but took place at a pivotal moment in which I began to embrace my femininity. I had spent several years working to embrace my gender identity and at this point I think I felt most aware.” The image sees a darkly lit room serve as a moody backdrop to which Imogen-Blue stands nude in the centre, gazing concertedly to a point below the mirror. The image protrudes with comfort and acceptance, and indeed signifies this shift in attitude to which she mentions above.
There’s so much context behind these works that all but a few paragraphs simply won’t do. But rest assured that every piece that she puts her mind to has been done to a level of catharsis, where her art becomes a remedial outlet to makes sense of her past and present experiences. To such lengths that she’ll spend the majority of the creative process deep in research – “about 80 percent writing, admin and logistical planning” – while only 20 percent is given to the actual art-making. And, to achieve such thoughtful pieces, she’ll indulge herself in all sorts of cinema – most likely watching around four or five films a week – from the likes of director Wong Kar Wai, or films such as Happy Together or In the Mood For Love. “I often find inspiration in nature, which features heavily in my work,” she adds. “It’s always an ethereal setting for me, and I suppose photographically I try to hone that energy into my image making process.”
Conclusively, Imogen-Blue sees her work as tool for change, specifically when it comes to opening up a dialogue on the topic of protecting trans and gender non-conforming people. “Being Latinx, from a working class background and trans, has deeply influenced my sensibilities as an artist, though I work hard to push against the labels that often are stuck to artists based on these identities,” she says as a final note. "While my work does centre these perspectives, it also invites the general public to indulge in their fantasies.”
Imogen-Blue Hinojosa: Ya Basta Hijos De Puta, Self-Portrait (Copyright © Imogen-Blue Hinojosa, 2019)
About the Author
Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.