Project 42 Honoring the lives of transgender and gender non-conforming murder victims

Since 2012, Molly Jae Vaughan has utilized her interdisciplinary approach to art making, to honor the lives of murdered transgender and gender non-conforming Americans. Through the creation of unique garments and diverse collaborative memorial actions, Vaughan raises awareness of the violence that transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, particularly trans women of color, face in contemporary American society.

The works that are created for Vaughan’s Project 42 bridge textile, printmaking, and painting processes into visually captivating patterns, each developed for a specific person. These patterns are then digitally printed onto fabrics and sewn into garments created for a specific collaborator to wear. Hand printed, stitched, and embellished elements further personalize each work.

Members of Vaughan’s studio team and project volunteers make fabric flowers for members of the public to tie onto Lorena Escalera Xtravaganza’s memorial garment during a workshop at Bellevue City Hall in 2018.
Project 42 flags flying in Pioneer Square for Transgender Day of Remembrance in 2017

Memorializing the dead is a sacred act, upon which entire belief systems are structured. Vaughan’s work, begun before most of the online data bases and websites dedicated to Transgender Day of Remembrance were established, raises visibility of the epidemic of violence the trans and gender non-conforming community faces by emphasizing each individual from her chronologically selected list of 42, with complex actions and labor heavy processes. For Vaughan, each individual’s life is worth equal time, whether they were a leader, a star, or simply someone trying to survive on the streets.

The process of creating each garment begins with a location where a life was lost. Using google earth, Vaughan captures visual documentation of the murder location from multiple distances and angles.

Google earth satellite capture of murder location on Michigan Ave, Miami, Fl where Rosita Hildalgo was found dead.

In addition to satellite images, Vaughan will often include captures from Google street view if available. From these captures colours and shapes pulled directly from the location are abstracted and incorporated into a pattern.

This shape, created by asphalt and a manhole cover in the road outside of the building where Rosita was murdered, was edited and digitally painted, becoming a key visual component for the larger pattern.
The final digital painting and collagé incorporated into the larger pattern for Rosita.
Colours for this pattern were sourced from the artists own memory of Biscayne Bay, Miami, and Miami Beach as well as the satellite images.

By using these specifically sourced visual elements, Vaughan is able to symbolically represent each individual without speculating who they were, what they liked, or who they wished to be. Like walking in a city where every inch holds untold amounts of memories from millions of moments, terrible and happy, the abstracted patterns can be easily consumed and overlooked. Like each life lived and lost. Perhaps by only asking why an artist would created this pattern and object, can a viewer, be pulled in for a larger discussion. Vaughan believes that in order for this violence to end, allies as well as those who oppose human rights, must be challenged to engage the issue with their own labor and research. From many interactions and conversations with the public, Vaughan recognizes that in order for things to change, society must take responsibility for all of the forms of oppression that the intersectional identities of the victims were subjected to.

The finished garment, flag, and background for Rosita Hildago installed at Bainbridge Island Museum of Art.


It takes a village.

Mentorship, advocacy, community and knowledge building are vital components of the work Vaughan does. Dedicated to using her privilege as a means to raise up others, Vaughan shares her skills and experience with students and members of the community as a means to connect and engage. The works created for Project 42 are the result of many hands, each committed to adding their labor to these objects, charged not only with the spirits of those represented by the cloth, but by the energy, the joy, and the sorrow of those who came together to stitch, print, and construct it.

In the video above, you can witness the process employed to print 30 yards of organza for the dress used in the TEDX Seattle memorial action for Tyra Trent. The hand carved block for the printed fabric represents Poke Berry, a poisonous berry that grows in the area where Tyra Trent was murdered. The leaves of this plant are poisonous but also, when prepared properly, a staple of soul food in the region. This duality mirrors the dangers of being visible as a transgender or gender non-conforming individual, to live a true life can be nourishing but possibly also deadly.

In addition to assistants donating their time to the construction of the garments, personal offerrings to individual spirits are given. The most common offering is hair, which has been an important element to Vaughan’s work for over a decade. Much of the hand made fabrics in the garments is created from a monoprinting process that incorporates donated hair. Hair is also used in the production of amulets, infused with protective energies of memorial actions and thoughts.

Assistant Anh Ngo braids donated hair for use in a memorial work.
The artist tries on a headdress she produced for the performance at Seattle Art Fair in 2018. The central element of this headdress is the hair braiding, created from Vaughan’s hair and the hair of Studio Manager Amanda Pickler. The center hair braid was part of a donation of hair from a former student.
Donated hair being organized by colour and level. This hair was used inside the headdress created for the Seattle Art Fair in 2018
Artist Debra Baxter loaned three of her quartz crystal necklaces to Project 42 for the exhibition of works at Seattle Art Museum. The crystal was chosen specifically by Debra as a means to clear the energy between the spirit represented in the garment and the viewer.

Community engagement is vital if the violence that is effecting the transgender and gender non-conforming communities is going to stop. Project 42 helps to create spaces for conversations and actions through public workshops, lectures, and collaborative performances. Vaughan, who is also a Assistant Professor and a former k-12 teacher, uses her background in education to create opportunities in which slow labor offers a space for conversation and connection.

Assistant Jessie Vergel teaches a workshop on fabric flower making at Seattle Art Museum to a group of mostly retired museum docents. The workshop was developed by Jessie, another form that Project 42 mentorship has taken.

Assistant Anh Ngo helps print a relief print to be incorporated into the memorial garment for Rosita Hildago.

The block for the print incorporated into Rosita’s memorial garment was hand drawn and carved by Vaughan over a period of many hours.
The print features White Crown Pigeons, an endangered species found in South West Florida and Cuba, that eats the berries of the Machineel Tree which is extremely poisonous and toxic to humans. The image is both reference to the duality of nature but also references man made issues, such as extinction, when a natural adaptation already allowed for a major trait of survival to be developed. That which nature could not do, society has been able to. Vaughan sees a deep connection here to living as transgender in America, where survival of the self is challenged further by the constructs of social identity laws, beliefs, and restrictions.


The collaborations are the largest component to the projects impact and activitsm. Collaborators can be anyone. And how they choose to create their memorial action is personal and is the result of their own willingness to share something of themselves with the spirit whom they honor and represent.

Each garment is created for a specific performer. Here the artist and performer Randy Ford have an initial fitting with a mock up sketch dress for Randy’s performance at Seattle Art Museum in 2018.

In the image on the left, collaborator Natalie Ann Martínez, wearing the garment created for her collaboration, returns to the desert region where Fred Martinez Jr. was murdered to honor his life and spirit.

Studio Manager Amanda Pickler and collaborator Catherine Cross Uehara perform in a memorial ceremony at Seattle Art Museum in 2017 honoring Fred Martinez Jr. Fred, who was a Navajo/Dine Two Spirited individual, was murdered in Colorado. Connections to the location and tribe surfaced as the collaborators came together for the performance. Fred’s memorial action included historical footage of a Navajo memorial ceremony in which a young woman prepares Yuca to wash her hair with, the action symbolically recreated on stage. That young woman, now an old woman, is still connected with Catherine’s family and sent a blessing to the ceremony.

Collaborations can take many forms and be created by anyone who is willing to be open with the spirits who reside in the garments and objects created.

Assistants preparing backstage for our TEDX performance.
Empowerment is a key goal to the work that we make for Project 42. Though our focus is on raising awareness of the issues of violence facing the trans community, the artist is also dedicated to teaching and mentoring young artists so they too can achieve their own community and artistic goals.
Through working with collaborators from the trans community, the artist hopes to use her platform as a means to elevate and support artists whose work should be as visible as her own.

Some collaborations, like our performance and talk for TEDX Seattle, combine activism and art as a means to connect with extremely large communities. This form of memorial action places the individual’s spirit in spotlight as a conduit for expression and education.

Randy Fords powerful and emotional memorial action during the projects TEDX talk provided us with a live audience of nearly 2500 people.

See the entire TEDX talk by clicking the link here.

A center concept in Project 42 is interpersonal connection. The work hopes to raise more than just emotions within each collaborator, we seek to raise difficult questions, and to challenge each collaborator to shift from a place of allyship to one of activist.

For other collaborators, working with the project also creates a space to understand their own experiences as transgender or gender non-conforming individuals. To memorialize Tiffany Berry, Marcel Michelle-Mobama a recent victim of violence herself, used her history as a trans woman of color to explore the possible space in which her own last day is reflected in Tiffany’s final actions. Project 42 works with all collaborators who wish to engage in the work, but specifically only allows trans women of color to narrate a life or death of a trans woman of color. The intersectional reality of most murder victims in the trans and gender non-confirming community points to the many layers of oppresssion those killed faced. As a result those who do not have the same identity as the individual they are representing are asked not to imagine this persons life but rather to share events and actions cemented in human compassion. Respect is the core of understanding.

Grace Giordorno stands with her photographs made with Project 42 garments. Project 42 works to promote our collaborators and sees all possible collaborations as valid and valuable, whether from a student, a friend, or a professional performer on a stage in an important venue.

Quiet reflection

Though highly public memorials can have huge impact, the project also seeks to create quiet and private memorials, in which collaborators carry the weight of the spirit housed in their garment, alone, and without audience.

Zola Jesus, a musician who has inspired the artists and her work for many years, collaborated with Project 42 to honor Myra Ical. The woods where Zola lives are a place of contemplation and centering for her. By wearing Myra’s dress in this space, Zola shared a deeply personal connection with the spirit of a murdered stranger. These interior and personal actions are vital to the projects goal of elevating these stolen lives and making visible the invisible through human and compassionate moments.

The artist working on Myra Ical’s installation at Seattle Art Museum.
Assistants installing Myra Ical’s garment in the exhibition at Seattle Art Museum.
Sketches made for the installation of Myral Ical’s dress for the exhibition at Indianapolis Contemporary.

Space and separation are important conceptual elements for the project and the collaborations that support it. Small spaces, whether during performances or the display of garments against background wall papers/textiles, represent the reduced area in which violence can occur, a tiny distance separating survival and demise.

Another type of space is geographic distance. Geography plays a key role in the development of each pattern, but it is also conceptually infused throughout the projects goals. Project 42 performances have taken place in 4 countries- Vietnam, Italy, Germany, and the USA. In the USA there have been performances in 7 states, with some cities hosting multiple actions. Travel, remains a key component to our performances in that it represents human experiences stolen from the victims via violence.

Project 42 Performers, Locations, and Memorialized Individual

Listed in Chronological Order of Project 42 Completion*

  1. Emily Navarra - Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam memorializing Paige Clay
  2. Mia D’Avanza - New York City, NY memorializing Tiffany Gooden
  3. Paul Gordon - Cologne, Germany memorializing Brandy Martell
  4. Jono Vaughan - Tulsa, OK memorializing Camilla Guzman
  5. Jono Vaughan and Moriah Fleeting - St. Petersburg, Fl memorializing Angie Zapata
  6. Anna Conner - Seattle, WA memorializing Brandy Martell
  7. Amanda Domenech - Rome, Italy memorializing Moriah Malina Qualls
  8. Marcel Michelle-Mobama - St. Paul, Minnesota memorializing Tiffany Berry
  9. Natalie Ann Martinez, Catherine Cross Uehara, and Amanda Pickler - Seattle, WA memorializing Fred Martinez Jr.
  10. Zola Jesus - Wisconsin (private location), memorializing Myra Ical
  11. Anna Conner - Seattle, WA memorializing Larry King Jr.
  12. Randy Ford - Seattle, WA memorializing Deja Jones
  13. Jade Vogel - Seattle, WA memorializing Lorena Escalera Xtravganza
  14. Amanda Pickler, Sarah Brown, Caroline Natsuhara, Rachel Hong, and Sarah Hong - Seattle WA memorializing Paulina Ibarra
  15. Randy Ford - Seattle, WA memorializing Tyra Trent

* singular performances in which garments were made for specific collaborators

Secondary Performances for Garments

  • National Performance Network Annual Meeting, Tulsa OK - garments worn by volunteers at closing reception of conference
  • Harvey Milk Festival, Sarasota FL - garments worn in Choreographed performance
  • Transgender Day of Remembrance 2017, 2018, Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, Bainbridge Island, WA - garments worn by volunteers during annual name reading

Project 42 has been funded by Art Matters Foundation, National Performance Network, The Betty Bowen Award, Bellevue College, and Private Funders.

Though garments from the project are not for individual sale, they have been purchased by collectors for the sole purpose of donation to institutional collections. Project 42 garments currently reside in the collection of Seattle Art Museum and the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington. Both dresses can be loaned to institutions and both are available for public viewing through direct request to the collections departments.

Project 42 would not be possible without the dedication and support of volunteer assistants. The following individuals are major contributors of their labor to the project: Amanda Pickler, Sarah Hong, Caroline Natsuhara, Jessie Vergel, Anh Nguyen, Sanoe Stevenson, Allysa Jean-Baptiste, and Sarah Brown. Project 42 works have also been created through workshops and on site activities. We recognize the contributions of the participants of those actions.

All images and concepts are the property of Molly Vaughan and the original creators who have allowed for their work to be used for Project 42.

Created By
Jono Vaughan