Arts and Culture

Schwules Museum and queer perspectives

Friday, April 20, 2018

Schwules Museum hosted Kaos GL’s exhibition, Colony. We spoke with queer feminist activist Birgit Bosold from Schwules Museum Berlin on museum, their journey and ‘Women’s Year’.

As We know Schwules Museum was founded at 1984, at the former Berlin Museum. Could we listen the story of the establishment and transformation to Schwules Museum from you? How it was taken the name of “Schwules” which can be considered as a very marginal name?

In 1984 there was an exhibition in so-called Berlin Museum which was the official historical museum of the city of Berlin. At that time, Berlin was divided and the Museum was in the West-Berlin part. At that time, a bunch of students were working in the museum as guard, and all of them were gay for sure (laughs). They convinced the director of the museum to organize an exhibition about the history of gays and lesbians in Berlin in this museum. Eventually, they had got some funding, and they asked a group of lesbian historians to join and get together to work on the exhibition.

As a result, they started to work on the exhibition called “Eldorado” which can be considered one of the most famous work since then. As you may know, Eldorado was also name of a queer club in golden 1920s in Berlin during the period of sexual liberation time, as well as it was mentioned as the Eldorado Cabaret in the Christopher Isherwood’s novel Goodbye to Berlin. That is, Eldorado was an iconic place and actually an iconic word. Well, the exhibition was very successful at that time that it took 40.000 visitors which is great for that period. On the other hand, many people criticized the exhibition and the museum for exhibiting such “dirty stuff” in their place. In spite of these negative criticism, all newspapers were talking about it, and it was really successful and recognized.

Besides this success, cooperation between the lesbian and gay communities was a bit difficult at that time. The artworks there were clearly divided; there was a part of lesbian history and on the other side, there was a part for gay history. Even this simple structure could show you the debates and conflict among the two groups at that time. As far as I know in Turkish context, for example, there was not so much division or separation among gay and lesbian activism. However, it was too much in Germany. For example, when I first came to Berlin in 1982, we were struggling for different things with gays. Our main concerns as lesbian feminist community were sexual violence and racism at that time. On the other hand, gay community were dealing with AIDS crisis, so there was a small number of issues which could be shared for us at that time.

Then during the same period, another exhibition called “Lebensreform (life-reform) which is a cultural movement in the beginning of 20th century was organized in the museum. Even if the movement was closely related to LGBTI community, they did not recognize and display the importance of LGBTIs within the movement and accordingly in the exhibition. Therefore, gay and lesbian community became very frustrated, and they thought that if no one else would show and research on our history, we should do it our own. By this way, they decided to found the Schwules Museum, and since then museum became bigger and bigger by hosting many exhibitions and events. Every time while people as well as the political groups and organizations are coming, they are bringing their stuff such as photographs, personal stuff, publications, etc., so the museum has a big archive in this way. For example, we do have 1,5 million documents within the collections, and also we have furniture, very big collection of t-shirts/ buttons/ pens, and the biggest collection of ‘pink’ things. As you see, we have a really big collection any of which has somehow related to LGBTI emancipation.

The reason why we call it “Schwules” which means male gay in German. When the gay emancipation movement started in 1968 and 70s, lesbian and gay communities were struggling together at that time. Lesbians at that time were calling themselves as ‘gay’ as well. Therefore, they simply named the museum as Schwules.

This year, museum celebrates the Women’s Year. Why did you determine such theme for this year? What were the main goals or plans for the year?

I think there are a lot reasons to dedicate the works for such feminist issues. As you know, last year In October “#metoo” campaign started all around the world, but actually we decided the dedication for 2019 before the campaign. There were some other feminist works and works for women held in different organizations, so the theme was somehow in the air. But the thing is #metoo opened up the sexist structures and sexist approach within the culture sector. This was not in the focus of debate ever, because the movie sector has been considered as so liberal. So, I would say that the campaign is so important in this respect that it shows how profoundly sexist is this so-called liberal part of society. For example, in Germany a research organization revealed statistics of the movie sector that only 15% of the movies funded by public money was produced by women directors. There is another example for the museum as well here. There is an art collective researched that how many percent of the artworks in the museums were produced by women artists. Their research also shows that women are less represented in the museums, and there is nothing about quality here, it is actually just sexism.

The Year of Women in the museum also addresses that even in the LGBTIQ community there is a marginalization of female perspective – within art, cinema, organizations. It is so depressing for me about the movement itself that there is this asymmetry between male and female, cis and trans, people of color and white people, and so on. So we can see that structures of power are almost the same even people talks in a different way.

Well… The sexism, invisibility, misogyny, marginalization of women were the main topics we wanted to open up to discussion within a queer feminist perspective. We wanted to talk about all types of hegemony and all types of dominance. Because queer means for me that you can discuss all types of power structures.

In the scope of women’s year, what kind of special events were held in the museum?

Exhibitions, lectures, controversial debates, and riveting readings are in store, just as you’d expect from a museum; but also some surprises, such as healing rituals and actions—for the year will be feminist not only in content, but also in form.

All these screenings, exhibitions and discussions are touching the topics we talked about that underrepresentation of women, history of feminist and queer movements and sexualities etc.

You hosted Kaos GL’s Colony Exhibition in the scope of women’s year as well. What were the main objectives to invite Colony to Berlin?

It was a bit coincidence actually. Aykan mentioned about the exhibition and its content and we thought that it really fits well with the concept. It is framing the broader perspectives where we discuss the power structures within society and culture.

The Colony was the first exhibition of the year. And I really appreciated and it was actually kind of magic that the exhibition really picks up the broader question. Because it was basically questioning dichotomy, and it is a perfect starting point for us. The dichotomy between nature and culture, human and non-human, body and non-body, and for sure female and male… I would say that dichotomy started with ‘otherness’, because there is no balance between the parties of dichotomy. The first gender is the male and the second is female for many. You have always taken your position in terms of who is the subject, of being subject. For example, in the nature – culture dichotomy the culture is regarded as male all the time. Or you can define non-body from the perspective you define what is the body. In this respect, the dichotomy is also a starting point for hegemony and dominance as well.

But secondly thinking in a queer way is intersectional that how the structures infere with each other. Colony Exhibition deals with the intersectionality, interference of different structure of power, and different strategies of othering.

I also really like the gesture of the exhibition that the content is also really feminist.

What would you think about the queer art within the LGBTI/ Queer activism in general?

I would say in the history of feminist, lesbian or queer movement culture, art and artists always play an important role. When you look at the history, the art places were always marginalized by the majority. But for the development or the vitality of the movement/ communities the impact of this art spaces which were very much framed were really important. Even in Germany queer perspectives are marginalized even today. When you are in Berlin, you might think that “Ooh the whole world is queer” but it is not the reality. In order to understand that you can just go 10 km away from the centre and situation become completely different. This is the queer bubble feeling. It is not the reality of Germany. For example, in 2015 there was the first ever exhibition telling about the history of the movements but we were not part of it.

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