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Darling of the Month: Julia Heuser and the lithographs “Vespertilia” by Leonor Fini

1. May 2023

Our colleague Julia Heuser loves to travel, wears elaborated nail designs and is not whirling through the Gay Museum for the first time. In this interview, she talks about her last years in- and outside of SMU, simultaneously showing us why she feels so close to her 1972 darling.

Julia, please introduce yourself: where are you from, what do you do, how do you keep yourself busy?

I’m Julia Heuser, I’m originally from a small, not really pretty town near Karlsruhe. Now I’m studying ethnology in Göttingen – I’m just finishing my bachelor’s degree here – and I’m part of the press team at the museum.

What museum do you work at?

*both laugh*

Good question, mino! I work at the Gay Museum in Berlin.

Oh, that’s how I know you! *laughs* What are your tasks here?

During my internship in the press and public relations of the SMU, I worked a lot on the content for the museum’s social media channels. Then I briefly disappeared abroad to study. A year later, I’m back again, supporting SMU with its online presence.

You were in Vietnam, right?

That’s right, I was in Vietnam at the Hanoi National University and also had a small TikTok career. But I thought, before the fame gets to my head, I have to go back to the beginning, back to Berlin.

We are happy about that! What’s your favorite thing to do here, now that you’re back?

Hmm, I think my favorite thing to do is research for posts that deal with queer history and art. I’m also realizing right now that this totally fits in with my studies. I enjoy compiling information and presenting it in a way that people outside of SMU will enjoy looking at and reading through. It gives me pleasure to realize that I have put together a comprehensible text. That’s how knowledge transfer works!

Is that why we see you running back and forth between the archive and the office so much?

Yes, one could say that. I just make sure that the things from the archive get an audience. To do that, I sometimes have to dust something off and bring it – literally – to the surface.

How interesting! Are there any challenges you’ve faced through this work?

Well, there are quite a few areas of work here at the museum, that sometimes you underestimate how many different people you actually end up working with. And coordinating that, meeting all the deadlines, avoiding misunderstandings… It’s also important to me to work in an orderly manner. And keeping your own order while relying on others’ order systems can get stressful. That might be the biggest challenge!

Public relations in a nutshell, I would say. Shall we continue with your darling?

Yes, please! My darling is from Leonor Fini. Actually, I should be talking about several darlings, because I love all of her depictions of women’s bodies. The museum has a few postcards of them, but I think the drawings are even better. They’re super beautiful, artistic, surrealistic depictions of women.

How did you get your darlings?

I was talking to Jona, our federal volunteer, about the postcards in the museum store. Jona is currently working on how to reposition the assortment to bring in more diversity. We noticed that there was an uneven distribution of male and female artists, representations of bodies and aesthetics. That’s when I started looking for more representations of women’s bodies. I was also interested in finding works that not only showed women, but were also made by women and depicted their perspective. Here I quickly came across the works of Leonor Fini.

Beyond gender, what else connects you to the artist?

Fini painted mainly in Paris in the 1930s and 40s, where she had full access to the scenes of Surrealism and Dadaism. And yet she was such a, how do I say this now… a bit of a “crazy cat lady”, and I feel very connected to that. She spent most of her life without a romantic relationship, surrounding herself with her 17 cats and making great art. In her representations, I find the surrealism extremely appealing because that allowed her, especially in representing women’s bodies, to play with the theme of imperfection. To me, that expresses: real bodies don’t conform to patriarchal standards of beauty. And yet, these are great iterations of female beauty, that one just loves to look at in her paintings; they’re that freaky. That’s exactly how Leonor herself was, from lifestyle to fashion.

I love your enthusiasm for your darling!

Totally! Fini’s story just inspires me, she moved around a lot as a kid and gained an anti-authoritarian attitude because of it. She was even expelled from school once and deemed unteachable. Later in Paris, she refused to join groups of other great surrealist artists so that she wouldn’t be bound by any rules there either. I admire this way of moving in the world. In this I recognize a constant resistance to patriarchal and heteronormative ideas. She stayed true to what she felt was right. There was nothing too colorful, over the top, surreal….

How would you describe your sweetheart in three words?

Aesthetic, anti-authoritarian and EXTRA*laughs*

Very nice! So is that how you think the gaps down at the museum store can be addressed?

Absolutely! Our museum may be called the Gay Museum, but we’ve been dedicated to sexual and gender diversity for quite some time. With exhibitions like Homosexualität_en and Lesbisch Sehen in the past, and more current shows like Queering the Crip, Cripping the Queer, visibility for diverse groups has also been created time and again. To now see that reflected a little more in the store would be great.


Photo: mino Künze