Joy Yamusangie’s new exhibition Feeling Good explores gender euphoria through jazz
Drawing inspiration from transgender jazz legend Billy Tipton, the exhibition explores Yamusangie’s experience in understanding and celebrating their trans masculine identity through music.
- Olivia Hingley
- 24 March 2022
Opening today (24 March) at NOW Gallery in Greenwich, artist Joy Yamusangie’s exhibition Feeling Good pays homage to smoky, hedonistic jazz club culture. Inspired by the legacy of jazz musician Billy Tipton, Joy has constructed an imagined jazz club in NOW Gallery, exploring how jazz offers a space for both belonging and euphoria. Featuring an array of recognisable scenes, from piano playing to lovers entwined in a passionate kiss, all realised in Joy’s trademark style, the series is full of vibrant energy.
At the centre of Joy’s thinking behind Feeling Good is jazz musician Billy Tipton, who was active throughout the 1930s. Joy explains: “When I find out about LGBTQ people in history, its always affirming to hear their stories and learn about people who felt absent from my time in education”. But, whilst Joy uses the story of Tipton as inspiration, “the paintings themselves are really about my own experiences, my relationship with gender with a focus on being trans masculine”.
In a release, Joy continues: “I was inspired by the main character in the book Trumpet by Jackie Kay which I later learnt was based on the real life story of musician Billy Tipton. Thinking of how music, specifically Jazz, allowed both the fictional character and the real musician Billy to find a home for themselves.”
An attention to inclusion, joyfulness and euphoria extends throughout all facets of the exhibition, with Joy explaining that “what I like about Jazz is that everybody in the band is the star of the show, the saxophonists, trumpeters [...] there are stars within their own stories”. Translating into the exhibition’s core themes of family and memory, Joy’s focus on the multifaceted idea of “community” also allows for a pertinent exploration of the Congolese diaspora. It is these varied stories, perspectives and avenues that has allowed Joy to create an entirely new “world” and also, what gives Feeling Good its unique and lively edge.
The exhibition's title, Feeling Good, doubles up as the name of the fictional club that Joy has devised throughout the series. Created as a way to “imagine the places Tipton would have played”, Joy thought back to all of the nightlife spaces they have been to in the past, and focused on common features: a small, easy to miss door, stairs leading down to a basement, dark walls and dim lights. “What I hope is that people come down, have the feeling that they are actually in the paintings in this new world, maybe have a seat at the bar, play a tune on the piano, whatever makes them feel good in the moment” Joy concludes. Open today until 5 June 2022, this bold and powerfully personal exhibition won’t be one to miss.
Joy Yamusangie: A New Love (Copyright © Joy Yamusangie, 2022)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.