‘John Jarboe: The Rose Garden’ was inspired by a local creative’s personal journey

John Jarboe

This spring season, The Fabric Workshop and Museum will have a new exhibit from a well-known local creative, and it explores the complexities of trans identity and belonging.

John Jarboe: The Rose Garden‘ will be on display at the venue beginning May 11, and this immersive experience marks the first solo museum exhibit from the performance artist.

Jarboe (she/her) is known in Philly for her work in the theater, specifically with popular cabaret performances and for bringing an “intimacy” to it all, and this exhibit will be no different. As the release notes, in this particular showcase, Jarboe seeks new ways of empowering museum visitors with an agency that allows for a sense of narrative surprise, vulnerability, and catharsis.

The Rose Garden was inspired by Jarboe coming out to her family as trans at age 33, back in 2018. Her aunt then told her that John not only had a twin sister in the womb but that John consumed her: “You ate her. That’s why you are the way you are,” Jarboe remembered.

John Jarboe

To honor her sister, Rose, Jarboe then went on to create this new exhibit.

The showcase, which was the result of two years of work with the FWM, will be on display at the venue until Sept. 24, 2024. The musical shrine combines the energy of a stage performance with the format of a museum exhibition. ‘The Rose Garden’ expands on Jarboe’s visionary universe that explores her origin story as a “gender cannibal” through the character of Rose, the release also notes.

Throughout different rooms, Philadelphians will see surrealist-inspired video sculptures, a series of short films with original songs, plus spaces filled with memories, stories, and provocations.

Or, as Jarboe describes it, it’s “an escape room…or rather escape ‘womb.’ People should be prepared for a hands-on adventure, like a scavenger hunt of identity through a forest of Midwestern denial.”

‘The Rose Garden’ isn’t just a place for Jarboe’s work either—the space will also be considered an open processing space for the trans and queer communities to serve as a place to hang out and also be a site for performances and gatherings (including live cabaret, community conversations, and clothing swaps.) These extra opportunities will happen throughout the run of the show.

“John is an artist with incredible energy and a deep passion to share her gender journey and the story of Rose,” says DJ Hellerman, FWM’s Chief Curator and Director of Curatorial Affairs in a statement.

“Our Studio team has been inspired by her ambitious ideas in transforming her cabaret performance into an immersive performance space. With the support of The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, our collaboration is pushing John’s work into new experiential territory, challenging the boundaries of performance, and blurring the distinction between audience and performer, all while staying true to her darkly comedic form of storytelling.”

The exhibit also uses video sculptures and other forms of media embedded into different every-day items to help tell the story (like flowers, appliances, drawers, beds, vanities, and baby books.) The experience concludes in the processing space with a presentation of ‘Dear Mom,’ Jarboe’s queer rendition of The Sound of Music’s “Do-Re-Mi” that she describes as a “sing-a-long healing ritual for trans folx.”

John Jarboe

As the release notes, filmed this past summer on Philadelphia’s Belmont Plateau, “Dear Mom” marked the beginning of the collaboration between the artist and the FWM Studio. The production required building a stage set that recreated Jarboe’s childhood kitchen and the creation of costumes for her and a group of child actors, and visitors will feel fully immersed in the set (as parts of it will be recreated) when walking though.

‘Rose: You Are Who You Eat’, Jarboe’s live show exploring her journey as a “gender cannibal,” made in partnership with the Bearded Ladies Cabaret, continues its rolling theatrical co-world premiere (begun with the 2023 Philadelphia Fringe Festival and January 2024 performances with La MaMa ETC) this summer in Washington, D.C. with the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company (June 3–23, 2024) and via a mobile art gallery with Cultural D.C. (May 17–July 14, 2024), the release finishes.

For more information, visit johnjarboe.org and fabricworkshopandmuseum.org