With the exhibition “Homosexuality_ies”, the Schwules Museum* and the Deutsches Historisches Museum present the first comprehensive show on the history, politics and culture of homosexuality. Covering a total area of 1600 square meters, the show thematizes society’s handling of homosexuality in light of social, juridical and scientific repression. It follows the gradual process of emancipation from the late 18th century into the present. Jointly funded by the Kulturstiftung des Bundes and the Kulturstiftung der Länder, “Homosexuality_ies” will be on view at the Deutsches Historisches Museum and the Schwules Museum* simultaneously from 26 June to 1 December 2015. Given the ongoing, worldwide discourse on equal rights for homosexuals, both institutions see this exhibition as an act that positions a socially and politically current topic in the middle of society.
One exhibition at two locations
The exhibition at the DHM focuses on historical developments in society, politics, art, law and science since the ” discovery ” of homosexuality mid-19th century. Via a selection of artistic positions, the exhibition part of the Schwules Museum* explores the present and raises questions as to the future of gender codes and sexualities.
Abundance of materials
Until now, the history and culture of homosexual people have been conferred to the shadows of public memory. The exhibition “Homosexuality_ies” presents an impressive abundance of materials, formats and media that offer a broad public insight into the multi-faceted and nuanced history. It acknowledges the cultural-historical achievement of homosexual emancipation, which has transformed society’s understanding of gender identity. Homosexual cultures and approaches to life have sharpened awareness of the limitations of traditional gender codes and demanded recognition for the diversity of alternative models of living. “Homosexuality_ies” strikes out the usual perception that equates homosexuals with gay men, emphasizing the vital roles lesbian activists have played in all these developments.
Efforts to “cure” sexual and gender “deviations”
The show traces the history of homosexuality_ies in ten chapters, concluding with the present. It demonstrates how same-sex sexuality and divergent gender identities have been criminalized through legislation, pathologized in medicine and excluded from society. Exhibits include a copy of the first secular criminal provisions effective for the entire German territory, the “Constitutio Criminalis Carolina” from the mid-16th century which, drawing on religious traditions, punishes sexual acts “against nature” between women and men alike with “death by fire”. A letter handwritten by the author Karl Maria Kertbeny in 1868 will also be on view. That letter contains the first use of the terms homosexual and heterosexual. Since science began concerning itself with sexuality, homosexuality designated a divergence from the “normal”. The exhibition thus illustrates the efforts to diagnose and “cure” sexual and gender “deviations” in medicine and psychology. As a counterpoint, models by researchers including Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, Magnus Hirschfeld and Judith Butler represent efforts past and present to establish understanding for sexual and gender diversity.
Focus on lesbian and gay movement
A core section of the exhibition focuses on the lesbian and gay movement, particularly after the legal liberalization that occurred over the course of the 1960s. This section features a plethora of exhibits including flyers, press materials, posters, photographs, videos and objects – such as a preserved original educational brochure from 1901 by the very first homosexual civil rights association, the “Scientific-Humanitarian Committee”. Other exhibits include the script from “Coming Out” (1989), the first and last official film on homosexuality in East Germany, and footage of the “Muff Mobile” at Christopher Street Day 1998 in Berlin.
In closing, “Homosexuality_ies” aims to present contemporary debates and raise questions as to the future of gender codes and sexualities. It shows how new coalitions of trans*, inter* and queer-feminist protagonists are propelling the recognition of sexual and gender diversity in society right now. Aside from historical developments, the exhibition displays a wide range of subjective experiences: One chapter is dedicated to very personal “Coming Out” stories. Another highlights the cross-over from the personal to the political, where codes in clothes, style and manner are exhibited, which transformed over time from signs used to identify oneself to like-minded fellows into offensive tactical manifestations in public.
Contemporary international artists
A selection of works by contemporary international artists comment on the exhibition’s themes in a variety of ways. Artists include Monica Bonvicini, Louise Bourgeois, Heather Cassils, Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset, Nicole Eisenman, Katarzyna Kozyra, Tamara de Lempicka, Lee Lozano, Jeanne Mammen, Zanele Muholi, Henrik Olesen, Sturtevant, Sam Taylor-Johnson and Andy Warhol.
Archives and private initiatives
The majority of the exhibits originate from private initiatives that have conferred their collections to archives such as the lesbian archive Spinnboden, the feminist archives FFBIZ and Grauzone, Cologne’s Frauenmediaturm and the Archive at the Schwules Museum*. In that respect, this show funded substantially by the Kulturstiftung des Bundes and the Kulturstiftung der Länder raises a fundamental question regarding how the topic of “Homosexuality_ies” can be represented and presented properly in museums and archives.
The exhibition has been curated by Dr. Birgit Bosold, Dr. Dorothée Brill and Detlef Weitz, with research contributed by Dr. Sarah Bornhorst, Noemi Molitor and Kristine Schmidt.
About the picture:
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Photo credits: Heather Cassils and Robin Black
Image courtesy of Heather Cassils and Ronald Feldman Fine Arts
© Heather Cassils and Robin Black 2011