Sanni Est/Sanni Marie Cabral da Silva offers workshops at the SMU since 2018. In 2021, she received a fellowship at the Schwules Museum through the program “Weltoffenes Berlin”, funded by the Senatsverwaltung für Kultur und Europa at the Schwules Museum. With the help of the scholarship, she is able to work at the museum as an artist and a curator for one whole year. In this interview, she talks about the up-coming exhibition on trans* artists and activists from Northeastern Brazil, self-determination in the visibility of trans people, and explains why she does not prepare questions for her podcast “The T Talk”.
SMU: Sanni, many people know you from various queer events, especially in Berlin. What did you do the last few years, at the SMU and elsewhere?
Sanni: Hello, and thank you for the interview! I started at the SMU offering workshops. I had been giving workshops on youth and empowerment since 2016, and started collaborating with the museum two years later. But first and foremost, I am an artist and a curator, focusing on music and performance. Wanting to grow as an artist, I expanded my skills to curation, which developed from my activism. I did not want to be at the mercy of the despotism that is musical curation in Germany, in Berlin, or in Europe. I realized that my narratives, my body, my being were not being represented the way I would have liked them to be. This is why I started to organize my own events, like the Empower Festival, and started to enter the curatorial stage.
What do you mean with the despotism of musical curation?
Besides from identity politics, there are also certain expectations, like, which genre is expected from my body. That really bothered me. I was a DJ, but I liked narratives. I was a composer, but I dislike specific genres. It was difficult for me to feel included at events where I was booked. There was, for example, a techno event and they play exclusively techno; or at a Latin-American event, they play exclusively “Latin-American music” in many quotation marks. This was always difficult for me.
You received a scholarship to work at the SMU as an artist and curator for a year. Do you want to tell us about the projects you are planning?
I am planning to create an exhibition with two other curators from Brazil, Ana Giselle (a.k.a. transalien) and Ué Prazeres. We want to do something about trans* artists and activists from Northeastern Brazil, because all three of us are involved in supporting other trans* artists. This is a project, like all my other curatorial moves, that I am missing elsewhere in the public eye. Even the Brazilian media landscape only features stories from São Paulo and Rio in connection to trans* topics, because the broadcasting stations are located there. Many people from my region in the Northeast migrate to the Southeast as well for social and financial reasons. There is a stigma against people from the Northeast, we are regarded as “peasants”. Many people migrate from the interior regions to the coast or abroad, like me.
This means it is difficult there to gain recognition as an artist?
We have a very rich culture because it is the intersection of indigenous peoples, Europe, Africa and Latin-America. But neither inside nor outside of Brazil are we regarded as a sophisticated “high” culture – what originates from there is rather seen as craftwork. At the end of the day, what is regarded as art depends on the recognition of the colonizers. Art always has a hierarchical and aristocratic background: Rich white people define what art is and how much it is worth. This impacted me negatively as an artist because the objects from where I come from are not recognized.
What is the next step for the project?
In February, I am going on a research trip to Northeast Brazil, to connect with local artists and continue working on the concept. And, as well, to meet with my two co-curators in person. They also live in the South by now, because they work with art and this is not yet profitable in our region.
What do you want to achieve with the exhibition?
I miss the institutional recognition. As an artist, I avoided to be too obvious in my art, in my music. Music is very personal, a clear message can sometimes be too reductive. Curation is allowed to be more obvious, because it is not an artwork itself, but rather a selection of artworks, a plurality of different perspectives. On the other hand, it is about the manner of networking. It makes a difference, if I am connecting with other artists as a freelance artist. Or if I am a curator representing an institution who approaches other artists and is able to reimburse them – and show them in a European institution.
Because they get more visibility there?
Visibility alone would not be enough. Self-determination regarding that visibility together with institutional recognition is all that I have been looking for throughout my whole career. I criticize the structures, but I do not think that the gatekeepers will change these structures voluntarily. I am not an anarchist in that respect, I am rather looking for a way to sabotage the system. And it definitely works this way: from the inside out.
Your other project is the podcast “The T Talk”. Can you tell us more about it?
It is a talk format where I invite other trans* artists to talk about things that concern us. Alex Alvina Chamberland will be the guest in the first episode, a talk with Daddypuss Rex is planned for a later date. For all who do not know: “The T Talk” is a pun. “Spilling the tea” describes talking about trouble or the hottest gossip – or talking about taboos. T is the nucleus of a taboo story. And we can spill a lot of T. As a trans activist, I am striving for the goal that we present our narratives as complex as we are. We are an extreme minority in society, we are exoticised and oppressed. If we get visibility, it is often a kind of hyper-visibility: Everyone is looking at the trans* people, suddenly. Mostly, this results in very simplified and one-sided narratives about misery and violence, hypersexualized experiences and/or very medical and academic analyses respectively. All this is really important, but it’s not enough for me. I dealt with this already twelve years ago.
Which questions interest you?
After my “transition” – if it’s even possible to speak about this as a finished process – I did everything to pass. Then I realized that it’s not enough, because I still have different experiences. What OB/GYN do I go to? Which men would have a relationship with me? What can I bring into a relationship with cis people, whose stamina is very limited? And how do I deal with the loneliness that does not vanish if you pass? The occupation with gender and sociology can lead to very deep debates that actually serve everybody’s interests, not only those of trans* persons. These questions concern everyone: Where is the origin of these modes of behavior? Why is this kind of masculinity so fragile? What is femininity made of?
Why is nobody asking themselves these questions anymore?
Many people have other priorities, because they have a family, children, a relationship. They have the fulltime job to be normal. I do not have that. When you are an outsider, it does not matter who or what you are. This liberty, if you can call it that, showed me that I am very special and that my views are very special. I do not want to serve as a model trans* person or a model woman. This is why I do not have pre-prepared questions for my guests in the podcast. They have T, tea to spill – and I am here to listen to them as another “tranny of colour immigrant”. And, I think, this talk will be interesting enough.