Year of the women* (001)


For more than 30 years now, New York’s Guerrilla Girls have been decrying this scandalous fact: wimmin* have to be naked to get into museums! And the Girls still have every reason to rage. December 2017 saw publication of the biggest ever empirical survey of gender discrimination in the European and US-American art worlds. Its database: 2.7 million transactions in the period 2000 to 2017, submitted by over 1,000 galleries representing 100,000 artists. Only 5 percent of the documented sales involved works of art by women*; sales revenue from the top two artists, Picasso and Warhol, far outstripped the combined revenue of all the women* artists put together; and to this day, not a single woman has made it into international art’s so-called top league. This, despite the fact that the proportion of women* students in art schools has been a steady 50 percent since 1983. Art historian Linda Nochlin asked way back in 1971, Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? Yet little has changed since then, conclude the authors of the survey. The notion of the single male genius is as predominant as ever.

Of course it is not the fault of collectors, galleries, and museums that these ugly truths persist, since the ballgame in their sector simply mirrors prevailing social norms. There’s no denying nonetheless that they help perpetuate those norms. And yes, we’d even go so far as to name misogyny and sexism as root causes, and, in this particular context, the quantifiable depreciation or even invalidation of women’s* perspectives and positions, creativity, work, and reputations.

If not to put an instant end to, then at least to begin addressing this sorry state of affairs, the Schwules Museum has declared 2018 to be YEAR OF THE WOMEN* and rolled out a program to match. 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.

The YEAR OF THE WOMEN* kicked off with 12 MOONS, a film program curated by artist Vera Hofmann to redress the under-representation of women*’s perspectives, specifically in media and museum contexts, but also in the arts and society overall. Month by month, the screenings raise questions about the construction and communication of forms of womanhood, and also gauge the potential of an alternative gaze. In our quest for the classics of lesbian and feminist film history, contemporary queer positions, and the voices of women* of color, we welcome your suggestions as to which stories need to be told and heard. The film program changes with every new moon, and can be viewed during regular Museum opening hours in the film lounge created especially for the occasion.

From the first sun-kissed days of spring to the end of the year, we’ll be mapping feminismS in a series of events framed as OUR OWN FEMINISMS; and yes, that’s definitely feminism with an -s, in all its multiple meanings. Curated by Carina Klugbauer, Vera Hofmann, Chris Izgin and Tjona Sommer, the series will trace historic battles fought by feminist and queer individuals and movements, and finally ask: Where do we stand today? Whether feminismS are just a vague interest or your defining vital force, these events are for you—in fact, for anyone who enjoys working out all kinds of issues, in mutual respect, rather than trashing and excluding divergent perspectives. Joining in the discussions will not require a PhD, by the way, and times and topics will be posted well in advance on our website and Facebook page.

LESBIAN VISIONS will be in the spotlight a little later in the summer, when we propose a melancholic, utopian gallery that reflects lust and longing between women in artistic spheres. We question why “lesbian” motifs are so thin on the ground and what these motifs could be. We ask whether who women love and live with is relevant at all, or if the personal is still political and therefore of artistic importance. The temporal-spatial span of this curatorial research will be Berlin’s prolific, upbeat women’s* art scenes, east and west, from the immediate post-war years to the present. Birgit Bosold and Carina Klugbauer will curate the exhibition.

A second show within the permanent exhibition TAPETENWECHSEL (Change of Scenery), will sound out the thesis that gay liberation could never have seen the light of day without the mental midwifery of dykes and other feminist women. This, the first ever exhibition to pay tribute to the LESBISCHES AKTIONSZENTRUM (LAZ; Lesbian Action Center), one of the leading lesbian campaign groups of the 1970s, will be co-curated by LAZ activists Christiane Härdel, Dr. Regina Krause, and Monne (Monika) Kühn, and the founding mother of the Schwules Museum, Wolfgang Theis.

Next in autumn follows an exhibition about the WomenLesbianTrans*Inter* (FLT*I*) BDSM scene in Berlin. Curated by Birga Meyer in close cooperation with women*, lesbian, trans* and inter* people from the international BDSM community and complemented by a program of events, it will offer insights into aspects of this scene that have been nurtured over many years in safe, sex-positive spaces, not only introducing visitors to possibly unfamiliar expressions of desire but also sharing participants’ knowledge and experience of consensus, health, care, generationality, and the diverse relationships that play out there.

In 1984, the chair of a major Delhi-based hijira rights organization petitioned Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko on behalf of all its members: since an Indian astronaut was about to join a Soviet space probe, (the first of his country to do so) the time was ripe “[to] give parity to the sexually under-privileged and socially neglected persons of the ‘Third Sex’ by sending at least one of this group into space in future ventures.” (Hindustan Times, October 4, 1984). The petition was not granted. In her project HIJIRA FANSTASTIC, scheduled likewise for autumn, artist and media scholar Claudia Reiche will examine just how this mission to outer space might have looked.

The transition to winter will take place under the aegis of queer feminist collective Coven Berlin. Its exhibition EXTRA+TERRESTRIAL will demonstrate how queer urban communities are now reclaiming wise women* and witches’ ancient lore of rites, rituals, and magic, and fusing these with modern, web-based technologies. For we need this potent mix to forge effective tools of resistance and smash heteronormative, capitalist patriarchy.

Wolfgang Theis returns to TAPETENWECHSEL this time to pay homage to cultural activist MAHIDE LEIN, an old hand at lesbian-feminist advocacy who has worked tirelessly for decades on the Berlin scene, to advance sex positivism, generational diversity, multiculturalism, and human rights.

What else? We’re turning our café into a DYKE BAR this year, as a token of our love of these venues now threatened with extinction; and we’re providing a small OPEN PROJECT SPACE that can be used at short notice for all sorts of stuff, from meetings to co-working sessions, bookworm buzzes to in-the-flesh chatsBoth spaces are devised as symbolic and concrete opportunities for open-minded encounters.

We see the program currently launching at the Schwules Museum as an experimental field with transformative potential, the goal of which is a more future-oriented and participative (museum) practice. As a grassroots organization (i.e. one lead and organized by activists), the Schwules Museum has always fostered and thrived on frank communication with its visitors and the communities it represents. We want to continue that tradition this year with even more transparency, so as to collectively develop resilient concepts for queer/feminist cooperation, and anchor them for the long-term in the Museum’s practice.

Translation: Jill Denton