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Darling of the Month: Romain Pinteaux and a postcard from Rosa von Praunheim

1. November 2022

As a visitor, you may not directly see the work Romain does. That does not mean at all that it is unimportant. During his internship in the SMU’s archives, he takes care of the sorting of its stock. This is how he found his SMU darling in the first month of his internship, which made him think a lot about art and activism.

Dear Romain, introduce yourself: who are you, what do you do in life and how did you end up here at SMU?

I’m Romain, 23 years old and I’m an intern in the archive from September to December. My internship at the SMU is completely voluntary, since I’ve already finished my master’s degree. I studied art history and film studies in Paris. The first time I came at SMU was rather by accident: when I was visiting Berlin, a friend of mine, a real Berliner, really wanted to show me the museum. In France we don’t really have queer archives. A collective is forming right now, but I’m not up to date on where that’s going.

An internship in the archives – what does that mean?

Most of the time I do very general tasks: that means I get an overview of the inventory and then I sort things that have not yet been pre-sorted. It always begins with boxes containing documents with a variety of topics, such as the AIDS crisis or Berlin subcultures. This work is important so that the people visiting the archives can work well with the materials.

What kind of materials are you dealing with?

That’s very different. In the last month, for example, I sorted many documents related to Rosa von Praunheim. Of course, this included material around his films, which I put in order and provided with a description. There are also a lot of press articles about Rosa von Praunheim because he was very provocative. That’s why he caused many scandals. There were more press articles than footage of himself! Besides that, there are also personal documents. For me personally that was really interesting. Rosa von Praunheim was a very important figure in both the Berlin and New York queer subculture.

Which also brings us to your darling – tell and show us what you chose!

Of course! I picked out a postcard from Rosa von Praunheim from New York in 1987. It was addressed to a person named Birgit from the Aidshilfe of Berlin. Although the situation in New York was very serious at the time, the tone of this postcard seems very light to me, even easy-going. The city was seriously concerned by the AIDS crisis and in that year, the collective “Act Up” was also founded.

If you had to tell your grandmother about your darling on the phone, how would you describe it?

(laughs) That would be complicated. My grandmother is 82 years old, almost the same age as Rosa von Praunheim himself. By the way, he will turn 80 this November! My grandmother must have heard about AIDS. I would tell her that it’s a postcard from a person who has a lot of questions: how do you live in times of AIDS? How do you love in times of AIDS? How can art and activism change things?

What is so fascinating to you about this object?

I especially like that it is a personal testimony full of lightness from a very important person at a serious and hard time. Rosa von Praunheim was a central figure between the New York and Berlin underground. I am very interested in the relationship between these two scenes and would like to do my PhD in this area. The postcard also addresses Rosa’s own HIV status. He doesn’t say “I am negative!” in an emotional way, he writes almost casually: “I’m negative”. For me, this is a small part of a big story. It’s about his life, but it’s also about something bigger. For example, he also writes about how the management of the question on safer sex offered many opinions at that time: “Here, everyone thinks it’s criminal that you proclaim that blowing is allowed”. By “you” he means the Aidshilfe of Berlin, which coped with the crisis differently than the activists in New York.

Has the image of Rosa von Praunheim changed in the course of your work?

I already knew him as a provocateur within the gay community. However, I didn’t know that the scandals he caused were also making waves in the yellow press. The press articles also gave me a better understanding how he was thinking about gay emancipation: he wanted to make homosexuality public. That was not always unproblematic, because he outed many people without their consent.

What would you say: What can we learn from this postcard today?

Above all, I learnt that art is very important – especially in times of crisis! I didn’t experience the AIDS crisis myself, but the public debates it caused make no sense to me. The culprits are not artists or queer people. The institutions and public health care facilities are to blame. The US President of that time, Ronald Reagan, did not speak once about AIDS for seven years. Art can serve as a way of dealing with this crisis: to process and capture feelings that are otherwise not talked about.