The guardians of the German language have recently added the word “queer” to the Duden edition 2017, the equivalent of the Oxford English Dictionary. The word now officially describes a person whose “gender identity differs from the mainstream heterosexual norm in society.” Such difference and the possibility to offer safe spaces for such queer groups have been used by various cities as a “sign of quality” and PR tool. In 1993 a newspaper called Queer (“trade journal for subculture”) started in boom town Leipzig in the former socialist East of Germany, suggesting that the student city is particularly open to non-heteronormative lifestyles. In 2005 the gay-lesbian magazine Siegessäule re-branded itself as “queer in Berlin,” which later evolved to “We Are Queer Berlin.” Again, the queer community is celebrated as an important part of the “cool” German capital. British historian Peter Ackroyd published his book Queer City in 2017 as a history of “Gay London from the Romans to the present day.” He did so exactly when the British capital presented a never before seen multitude of events and exhibitions on LGBTIQ* history, attracting numberless foreign visitors. For many politicians and members of the tourist industry, “queer” has become a synonym for an open, tolerant and forward looking society – a symbol for urban utopia.
One of the most important queer communities of the world lives in São Paulo, the biggest city of South America with more than 20 million inhabitants in theentire metropolitan region. This community is impressively diverse with regard to ethnic groups, more so than most queer communities in Europe or North America. How does the co-existence of these highly diverse groups work in São Paulo, in the past and today? How affected are they by racism, how free are they, and what possibilities of expansion do they have, in a time when Christian Evangelicals gain more and more political power in Brazil and use that power to shut down e.g. exhibitions about queer art, as happened in September 2017? What can we learn from a range of urban processes – social movements, artistic interventions and otherwise – about the building of a future queer community? Who are the protagonists of the current Brazilian LGBTIQ* movement, and how are they different from those of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, as seen in the documentary film São Paulo in Hi-Fi by Lufe Steffen? Why does São Paulo have a state funded Museum for Sexual Diversity since 2012 that’s directly modeled on Berlin’s Schwules Museum*? And why is Saint Tibira do Maranhão the first indigenous queer martyr of Brazil?
These are some of the central questions the exhibition Queer City: Stories from São Paulo explores. They are inspired by the film Queer City, based on a collective curatorial process in São Paulo that carries the same name, initiated by Lanchonete.org since 2015. In the film 16 LGBTIQ* positions are presented by 16 LGBTIQ* Brazilians explaining their views. For them, queerness is a broad term that can be linked to a range of LGBTIQ* politics and realities, as well as to histories, futures and places. The film Queer City is about opening the discussion of how we want to live and work, share and survive in a contemporary urban space. These questions and discussions invite comparison with Germany and the highly aggressive debates there within the queer community about the “right” political, post-colonial and academic interpretation of “queer.”
This exhibition is the direct result of an invitation of the German Foreign Ministry that flew Schwules Museum* to Brazil, as the first ever German museum to receive such an invitation. In São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro the Schwules Museum* representatives met with local activists, artists, journalists, filmmakers and colleagues from the museum world. Many of them are now part of the exhibition, as a sign of new networks being established between Germany and Brazil.
The exhibition is curated by José Gabriel Navarro, Todd Lanier Lester/Raphael Daibert (for Lanchonete.org), and Dr. Kevin Clarke. Project management: Uta Stapf. Art Direction: Martin Hoffmann.