In April, 2016 the Schwules Museum* welcomed Ashkan Sepahvand to the team as a curatorial research fellow as part of the International Museum Fellowship Programme, which is funded by the Federal Cultural Foundation. Since then he has been working to develop a re-reading of LGBTIQ* history in Germany from a post-colonial perspective. The culmination of his research at the Schwules Museum* will be presented in the summer of 2017 in the form of an exhibition that will focus on decolonizing LGBTIQ* histories.
We recently had a chance to sit down with Sepahvand to discuss his work, the queer politics of partying in Berlin, and the complexities of post-colonial perspectives in curating.
So far in your career you have gotten to know some very different institutions and fields of work. How do your past experiences compare to your current experience working with the Schwules Museum*?
What makes the SMU* a very special working environment is that everyone is engaged with the institution from a very personal place of interest and identification. This is different than other places I have worked and other projects I have collaborated on. Often times, especially in the cultural sphere, there comes a moment when I, at least, have wondered what personal urgency there is to work on specific themes and concerns, simply because they are “political”. At the SMU*, it is clear that everyone involved – from the regular staff to the board members to the volunteers – are doing so because they identify in some way or another with LGBTIQ* histories, traditions, and futures. It is extremely refreshing to know that the urgency that fuels the activities of this institution comes from personally lived experiences and investments, that our various political interests and opinions cannot be separated from the subjects we perceive ourselves as and the histories we see ourselves inscribed within and implicated by. Perhaps it is also part of feeling “otherwise” that also allows for a diversity of interests to be included. Each colleague at the SMU* is interested in his or her or their own thing – from comics to religion to literature to art history to fashion to performance to migration to posters to music, it is all such a mixed bag of passions. In the spirit of a “queer” safe space, the variety of interests are seen as an enrichment to the institution, not as a distraction from a specific, clearly determined agenda. In that sense, there is always an openness to new questions and new perspectives, to bringing your own flair to the table. This affirmative, positive approach to allowing the personal to guide the work of the institution is genuinely liberating, and creates a working atmosphere in which I have the feeling I can always learn from others, be exposed to things I haven’t known about before, and to share my own position as well. In that sense, my research at the Museum* is given much space to grow, and I feel I am trusted to explore various paths without having to justify why or how.
You have Iranian-American roots. Where did you grow up and how did that influence your perspective of queer themes?
Yes, I was born in Iran and immigrated to the USA at the age of 5, where I grew up primarily in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The move to the US was not necessarily so clean-cut – we spent a year in Germany before, as well as six months in Singapore. While growing up in the US, we spent most summers back in Iran visiting my extended family there. As a kid, travel and movement between extremely different cultures and geographies was a “normal” thing, and I believe this has extremely influenced my entire sense of personhood. I recognized very early on that the world is large and complex, that difference is the norm not the exception, and that the notion of “home” and “belonging” is more on an inner state than an outside place. I guess you could say this is already the preliminaries for a “queer” sensibility, if by queer one takes anything and everything that does not cleanly “fit in” to pre-existing categories and notions. One big thing for me was somehow understanding that the absurd coincidence of being in Tulsa, Oklahoma – stereotypically known for its “cowboys and Indians” qualities – was merely one of those random chance things that happen in life. I never felt a sense of connection to the place, but also I never had a sense of disconnection, either. Rather, it felt like an in-between, a transit zone, a comfortable place to grow up in, but not a place that determines me or keeps me tied to it with any sense of responsibility. I was never actively made to feel other or foreign, and for that I am very fortunate. I definitely knew I was a “weird kid,” but that had more to do with my interests and behavior and way of being than with anything as simple as race or skin color or cultural background. Somehow, back then, and maybe I am idealizing my childhood, I never felt one had to justify being American – no one ever asked “where are you really from?” – instead, everyone shared their multicultural affinities readily and eagerly, even all those white kids who would so proudly say they are “a quarter Scottish, a quarter Italian, a quarter German, a quarter Cherokee”. This mix, or rather, the fact that everyone was a mix of some of this and some of that, was something to announce and lay claim to, and something that all Americans had in common. It doesn’t really seem to be this way anymore, with the rise of popular xenophobia and the outbursts of extreme racism in the USA today – but maybe this always was the case, the negative qualities just latent, and the “happy” days of the multicultural “we are the world 90s,” a kind of artificial denial of pre-existing tensions that the post-9/11 geopolitical mood would unravel and exaggerate. In any case, growing up with a sensibility for difference and a general mood of “wanderlust” definitely influenced not only the kind of person I have grown up to become, but also a mode of thought very much engaged with ambiguity, complexity, transformation, variation, and differentiation. A queer way of thinking. I would say it makes sense that amongst all these journeys throughout life, Berlin has become a city that has kept me bound to it in one way or another – even if I have left for longer periods of time, I always return. Berlin is a queer place – a city with many faces and none, a city of wayfarers and those who pass through, a city of constant self-transformation, a city of transgression and ambiguity, of refusing to be pinned down to one way or one state. Here I very much feel at “home.”
How do you feel about Berlin night-life and parties? How does this effect your research at SMU*?
In general, I think there is much to be learned from partying. Though it may seem like “just fun,” I believe a party is a genuinely political space in that real-time connections and conflicts unfold, are negotiated, and are constantly improvised. Partying is an activity that carries with it extreme possibility and risk – the possibilities of passion and affect, and the risks of consumption and ignorance. Ecstasy – and here I don’t mean the drug, but the literal meaning of the word, “to stand outside oneself” – is a political experience, one that is formative for the self but also for a sense of possibility between and amongst various communities. In Berlin, where partying has not only become an institution in its own right, but also a mode of being that somehow achieves a semi-permanence, this is something hard to escape – if not in terms of participating, at least in terms of having an opinion about, towards, or against. I think the excess that Berlin offers is, in one way, something quite unique within a Western metropolitan context, as most other cities (such as London, New York, and Paris) have strictly regulated and contained the possibilities of public excess to the bare minimum (at least in official venues) – in that sense, there is a certain freedom of sensuality and exploration of the ecstatic that should not be underestimated in the power it holds for sensitive minds to find novel ways of articulating imagination. On the other hand, I do have a certain skepticism concerning exactly that discourse of “freedom” that partying is so often framed by – for in many ways, partying is the basis for Berlin’s economic situation and for its modalities of informal labor. Partying, with its professionalization in Berlin, is also a market that sets certain limits of play and creativity, certain aesthetic standards, and specified modes of being that in many ways perform a kind of “primitive accumulation” – pioneers for new horizons of speculative value whereby the “self” is made the primary currency to be bought and sold as a type of pleasure-performance. The partygoer is very much a contemporary form of factory-worker, working on his or her self, creating this self as an object of value, and allowing the dreams, hopes, fears, and desires of this self to open up avenues for capitalization. The notion of “freedom,” in this case, doesn’t account for the limits set up that regulate a set of motions within a space that is “free” only up to a certain horizon of possibility. There are many normalizing processes going on, and these happen through a kind of participatory, domino-like effect, which again create contradictions out of the norm. This is what is so fascinating about partying, and in a place like Berlin, where the intensity of its underground celebration cultures, its temporal breadth and affective density, allows for much reflection on contemporary sensual regimes – how subjects under late capitalism feel and express themselves, how desires are articulated and put into practice, and how infrastructures regulate these flows, allowing certain phenomena to expand while preventing others from growing. On top of all of these considerations, partying is one of the “traditions” of queer history, particularly gay history – its hedonism, celebrated and derided at the same time, is indicative of a certain “inoperativity” queerness has challenged society with. That is, the refusal to be productive, to produce – to reproduce even, to “make sense” and “have a purpose,” going against the utilitarian logic of capitalist social relations. In this way, partying has also been a space of retreat, escape, and self-creation, a mode of survival through lavish expenditure, where, yes, even if one’s life may be shit and everything in danger, there is still the possibility to connect, laugh, love, dance, and collapse together, if even for a few hours, into some type of temporary utopian sublime. So much creation and anguish has come from this tradition of celebration – so much art and thought. For this reason, partying cannot be separated from the process of imagination and creation that “work” or “research” aspire to formalize – it belongs to it, cannot be quantified in relation to work, but is a constant source of affect that feeds one’s practice, without which the practice of creating culture becomes stiff, stale, and numb. It is a replenishment of sensibilities, even if these may be contradictory or hard to process in the moment – indeed, partying only shares its practical knowledge with significant delay, a kind of accumulation-apparatus that builds up sensations, perceptions, memories (both good and bad) that eventually give rise to a language that can be articulated somewhere within one’s work. I cherish my ties to this culture because it continues to give me so much, including my work at the SMU* and beyond.
Since 2013 you have been organizing a „technosexual reading circle.“ What exactly does „technosexual“ mean?
„Technosexual“ is a term used by the author / theorist Paul B. Preciado in his book “Testo-Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era” from 2008. In fact, when the English translation of the book came out in 2013, I thought to myself – OK, this book is about something that not only I relate to personally as well as in my academic interests, but it also addresses various aspects of contemporary life that so many people in my immediate social circle are affected by, participating in, experimenting with. So I thought, hey, why read this alone when you can read it together? And that is how the “technosexual reading circle” began – initially as a gathering around Preciado’s work, which then unfolded into multiple directions. We were primarily active from 2013 to 2015, with semi-regular gatherings at a friend’s studio in Kreuzberg where we read and discussed texts around sex, drugs, and biopolitics, yes, but also much more than just that – Preciado’s book is so rich and full of research and references, that to unfold its bibliographic possibilities allows for much room to explore. How can we talk about sex if we don’t talk about the desiring subject? How can we talk about power if we don’t talk about knowledge? How can we talk about technology if we don’t consider the relation between what is considered “nature” and “culture”? Increasingly, “technosexual” came to mean much more than it would initially appear. Technosexuality, in a basic sense, is an acknowledgement that sexuality is in and of itself “technical,” giving rise to technologies of (re)production (both biological as well as social) that express themselves in the form of sexual practices and sexual identities. The “technicity” of sex forms the sexual(ized) subject, allowing particular selves to articulate themselves. In that sense, Preciado carries forth Foucault’s understanding of sex as a truth-operation, as a practice of speaking, saying, and doing that creates knowledge while at the same time deploying a matrix of power-relations. However, Preciado takes this a bit further, arguing for a re-evaluation of contemporary sexuality and how it incorporates, if not needs, technology into not only its modes of representation, but into the possibilities of performance. A crucial starting point for Preciado’s analysis of technosexuality is the invention of the birth control pill shortly after the Second World War – all of a sudden, a particular form of sexuality could exist, in part due to a technical mediation into biological function: the restructuring of a female’s hormonal cycle to make her sexuality temporarily non-reproductive. This continues today – the “techno-bitch” meets the “techno-fucker,” individuals, whether male or female, who have technologically enhanced, modified, appropriated, supplemented, and/or transformed themselves both physically, psychically, chemically, and affectively in order to practice certain forms of sexuality and/or identity (at certain times or places). The women on birth control who can no longer get pregnant, the man on Viagra who can fuck anyone anytime, the HIV-negative individual on PrEP who no longer uses condoms, the individual who consumes various narcotic substances simply to be able to “have fun,” the integral role of virtual interfaces (in the form of apps and smartphones) in not only stimulating sexual desire, but being a form of immaterial sexual exchange in and of themselves – all of these, and many more, are indications of “technosexuality.” These developments would not be possible without the confluence of pornography and the pharmaceutical industry – on the one hand pornography generates imaginations around what sexuality and bodies should look like and feel like, while on the other hand the pharmaceutical industry provides “solutions” and “innovations” for making these imaginaries real and embodied. Together, the real issue – and what the core of our discussions in the technosexual reading circle revolved around – is the “self,” as a construction of knowledge-power within late capitalism. The self – the individual subject – the desiring “I” – my body and your body – is something to work on, make better, take care of, optimize, and celebrate. It is, on the other hand, a market, something to consume, something to acquire, barter, and exchange. Thus, to address “technosexuality,” it becomes much more than simply discussing how people have sex and what drugs they take or toys they use – rather, the entire set of operations needed for articulating and constructing the self within modalities of expression, representation, and embodiment afforded through capitalism’s need for unlimited growth has to be examined. Technosexuality is, in this sense, part of an “ecology of the self,” a site where distinctions between natural and artificial, biological and cultural, become increasingly fuzzy and the future viability of the “human” – as a concept and a mode of life – is at stake. In retrospect, initiating these conversations with and among friends in Berlin through the reading circle was a transformative moment for me and my thinking – although the discourse opened by “technosexuality” is complex and leads towards much abstraction, it is also a space accessible to anyone and everyone who is willing to reflect even a tiny bit on how they pursue their desires and consume pleasure and sensation in our contemporary world. This allowed for many different forms of participation in the reading circle gatherings, not limited to merely academic jargon, but especially open to the knowledges that come out of lived experience. In that sense, the reading circle initiative helped me to articulate how and why the most simple and unreflected things, such as laughing, loving, fucking, dancing, desiring, and having fun, are to be taken seriously. These activities, and many others, are to be understood as generative of an extremely dense amount of knowledge that must be accumulated through active immersion, participation, and self-experimentation, not through any form of “objective” thinking and theorizing from afar.
You were chosen, through an extensive selection process, to participate as a curatorial fellow at the Schwules Museum* for 18 months as a part of the German Cultural Foundation funded program, “International Museum Fellowship Program” Your task: to develop a new reading of German LGBTIQ* history from a postcolonial perspective. What does this mean exactly? (For you personally, as well as for your official work)
I am interested in working with the history of the LGBTIQ* movement as part of a larger history of the oppressed, marginalized, and minoritarian. In this sense, I see a universal affinity between what various historical movements of liberation were attempting to articulate – women’s rights, gay rights, civil rights, worker’s rights, indigenous rights – particular movements that came together on the basis of what I like to term “projects of liberation.” Although the actions, demands, and criticisms of each vary and are directly related to the experiences, contexts, and self-consciousness each group has historically been exposed to, what creates a “universal” basis between them is the mere fact of difference. Different from and differing to the patriarchal, heterosexual, reproductive, capitalist, white, male regime that directly and indirectly polices, disciplines, and orders what is considered to be normal and appropriate. This position of difference, I feel, is something that seems to be taken for granted, and easily ignored – that all of us are in this struggle together, not against one another in order to lay claim for our own individual interests. In many ways all of these “projects of liberation,” the LGBTIQ* movement notwithstanding, were failures – even if many rights have been gained and social acceptance has been, to some degree, achieved. The failure lies in the compromises made with the standard regime of power – what used to be radically demanded, a different world altogether, was all of sudden diluted to an acceptance of the world as it is, this time with “differences” merely included. No more struggle against the nuclear family structure – no, gays want to get married, they want to have a few kids, a dog, a car, and a house, too. No struggle against patriarchal masculinity – no, gender still finds itself policed and qualified on a gradient of what is acceptable and desirable, and what is strange and abject, masc4masc, femme4femme. No struggle against capitalist (re)productivity – we work harder than we have ever worked before, and judge each other constantly by our performance as “winners” or “losers.” No struggle against the construction of race and its undercurrent of xenophobia – no, now we celebrate “multiculturalism,” a continuation of exotic spectacle and racially-reductive prejudice, while at the same time we aren’t “sexually” into Asians or Blacks (“it’s just my preference!”). The efforts made in the ‘60s and ‘70s to make visible the legitimate existence of the otherwise, to draw attention to the embodiment and practices of women, LGBTIQ* individuals, people of color, people of lower socioeconomic class, and indigenous folk, was met with an acknowledgement of each “identity” presented as a political solution. Identities could be included within the political sphere, as separate and discrete entities, reduced to their particular modes of life. In this way, difference stopped making a difference; difference became simply a way to differentiate subjects along a spectrum of the normal, a way to manage within the standard regime of power. Today we are seeing that “identity politics” was not able to solve any of the original concerns voiced by the otherwise. It provided a superficial sense of inclusion, even opening up markets to the buying, selling, trading, and consuming of identities. And yet, homophobia, racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and extreme inequality still exist, rearing their ugly heads all over the world with the rise of right-wing extremism, hyper-nationalism, and isolationist tendencies amongst individualized identities who wish to be socially, politically, and culturally kept separate from one another. For me, to work with the Schwules Museum* and its incredible archive of materials documenting LGBTIQ* histories in Germany and beyond is a wonderful opportunity to re-read the narrative of “gay liberation” with an eye on all the other modes of life involved in, contributing to, as well as working against “universal liberation.” How I see my approach differing from what would be a standard interpretation of a “postcolonial” perspective on LGBTIQ* histories is that I am not striving for a politics of inclusion – that is, to say, look, here, these modes of life were included, and here, these modes of life were excluded. I find this to simply be a demonstrative exercise – an act of finger-pointing that creates unproductive divisions amongst the otherwise. What I am interested in is to create a perspective that “stays with the trouble,” considering the intersection of complex histories across varying scales and intensities. Is it possible to speak about colonialism and LGBTIQ* histories without reducing the topic to merely a matter of racial inclusion and exclusion? Instead, to see how various operations of othering have been enacted by the standard regime of power, but also further complexified from within the otherwise itself – that is the real challenge. How does, for example, the colonial encounter with not only the body of the other, as the “savage heathen,” but also the environment of the other, as “pristine wilderness,” fall into a longer history of how patriarchal, heterosexual, capitalist power desired to expropriate, enslave, and exploit “nature” in its hunger for wealth at the expense of others and, even, the Earth itself? And how does the construction of “homosexuality” concur with this deeper history, in that it is the result of an “anthropological” perspective on human kinship relations, a way of “naturalizing” the “unnatural,” of making “productive” the non-reproductive? What fantasies of nature, of a “natural” way of being and a “natural” habitat, do the various instances of LGBTIQ* histories enact, aligning themselves to a form of representation that is perhaps best-described as self-anthropological? What are the political problems and conceptual potentials between “queerness” and “indigeneity”? How has nature been appropriated along the terms and conditions of capitalist primitive accumulation in order to construct and commodify the very “nature” of sexuality? How does this postcolonial confusion, between contemporary identity politics and modernist anthropology, reveal insight into some of the impasses to radical transformation that LGBTIQ* histories, along with other projects of liberation, find themselves confronted with today? These are some of the questions my research at the Schwules Museum* poses and attempts to pursue further.
Postcolonialism is a term that is appearing more and more in contemporary debates – one that is sometimes received as an accusation. Why is this term important today? Why are these related issues only now being put under the microscope? (Or has it been addressed before and no one noticed?) What is the challenge in the subject matter and the terms? (as well as to the sensitivities?)
The concept of postcolonialism is actually quite well established, and it has been thoroughly engaged in varying capacities especially in the Anglophone and Francophone contexts. This goes already back to the ‘60s and the work of Franz Fanon, but its “academic” peak comes during the ‘90s, accompanying the rise of cultural studies as a discipline and the predominance of post-structuralist, post-modernist critique within literary and historical studies. Nevertheless, it is important to contextualize the more immediate urgency within both English and French-speaking circles of thinking “postcolonially,” due to the very real fact that the United Kingdom and France were major world-colonizing powers, and the United States itself is a product of as well as an heir to its colonial past, especially visible in the particular histories of race and class conflict within the American context. So, in many ways, postcolonial theory attempts to think through how power, capital, and imperial interest affected not only the formation of certain social, political, cultural, and economic structures, but also how particular subjectivities were formed, maintained, and monitored. Just because a Caribbean island is no longer a colonial subject of another nation, or just because a particular race of people is no longer immediately enslaved to a class of landowners, does not mean that the “problem” of colonial subjection and race-based enslavement simply goes away. The basic question here asks: how do oppression and marginalization continue, despite the end of formal colonialism? How has the “mind” been colonized as a result of this oppression? This is the aspect of postcolonial theory I find the most compelling – how the long-standing effects of the colonial experience, literally as well as metaphorically, remain and continue to operate not only within existing structures, but within subjective experience. What is interesting is how this concept has surfaced in Germany quite recently, from the mid-2000s on. On the one hand, one could easily argue and say, well, Germany hardly had a major colonial, territorial presence – yet, this is missing the point. It is important to take postcolonialism beyond its literal engagement with the histories of colonization, and instead to think of it as a register whereby the oppression, subjugation, and marginalization of difference, especially in its embodied form as subject-based “identities,” can be critically apprehended. Following this approach, it becomes clear that the German context urgently requires a consideration of how identities, races, classes, and power intersect – especially given more recent histories of migration, cultural exchange, globalization, and economic growth. I am of the opinion that “postcolonialism” is an inadequate concept, for it assumes a position “after the colony.” If we approach “colonization” as the process whereby the standard regime of power – white, male, patriarchal, heterosexual, productive, and capitalist – maintains itself as the norm, subjecting all difference to its authority and control, then we realize there is no “post” moment – all of us still inhabit this epistemic colony. Thus, I find “decolonization” to be a more productive term, for it addresses the important task of both critical and creative work to de-program and re-sensibilize modes of life against and beyond the standard regime of power. Decolonization is, primarily, a process that thinking itself must go through – to work through, identify, and break down the structures of perception, judgment, and expression so strongly shaped by the values and norms of heteronormative, capitalist, masculinist power. In Germany, as well as throughout the world, there is a real need for decolonizing the forms of thinking and doing that replicate and maintain the fear of and resistance against any and all forms of difference that potentially could disrupt the working order of bourgeois, heteronormative society. This translates to local contexts in different ways: in Germany, for example, one can consider how migration is viewed as merely a challenge of integration – if they want to live here, they must adopt “our” ways. On the other hand, diversity is reduced to a manner of consumption – consuming the aesthetics of a “different culture” while asking of the other to be “the same as Germans.” A decolonizing process goes beyond simple binary oppositions of “us” and “them,” “white” or “black,” “normal” and “deviant.” Instead, it requires a deconstruction of standardizing and normalizing forces within the complexity of sociocultural formations. Therefore, it also affects any perspective on the histories of LGBTIQ* subjects, as well as any critical attempt to work with contemporary conditions amongst LGBTIQ* communities. It is an active process – it decolonizes, rather than remaining decolonial. It requires examining how any history of oppression involves an encounter with, an internalization of, an appropriation by, and a re-reading through the social, environmental, and psychic structures established by a set of affects that can be identified as combinations of white, male, Western, bourgeois, heterosexual, and nationalistic – the “norm” of Modernity. This norm is not only a power embodied in an outside figure, it is also a mode of thinking that runs within all processes of subjectivation. Whether the subject that emerges successfully incorporates these affects or remains impoverished in relation to them is not the point, rather, that power radiates from inside out and replicates itself through participation within the social. In short: “white male heterosexual capitalist” is not important as a form of being, as a person who is all of those things, but as an affect, as a mode of thinking and perceiving, which anyone regardless of their embodiment may consciously or unconsciously deploy. Given that today’s “globalized” culture has its aesthetic sensibilities, if not also its infrastructural foundations, in the Northwestern Hemisphere, any form of globalization must be counteracted with a decolonizing inquiry that attempts to locate how these situated affects continue to reproduce a certain quality of power that maintains the inequalities and injustices of the Modern world (the form may appear different, but the underlying content remains the same) as if one had never left the 16th century altogether. As an example, one could consider a re-reading of the more recent institutionalization of homosexual marriage as a norm to strive for. The arguments for gay marriage simulate heterosexual reproductivity as an empty signifier. Instead of questioning the inherently artificial construction of the nuclear family structure, the dual-partner model, and the intrinsic proving ground for social training under capitalism that the secularized (though still deeply-Abrahamic) form of marriage exhibits, a healthy “compromise” is made with established conventions. A decolonizing process would attempt to counteract convention by insisting on non-recognizable, inoperative, opaque, and offensively over-visible modes of establishing networks of intimacy. A decolonizing process, in short, demands nothing less than the active re-composition of the world altogether.
What are your plans for the future after your 18 months at SMU* are over?
I am planning a research-based group exhibition, which will be presented as the result of my 18-month Fellowship at the Schwules Museum*. A small publication will also be released as part of the exhibition – not so much a catalogue as a kind of discursive companion. The working title for this project is “ODARODLE,” and so far it seems a group of around 10 Berlin-based artists occupying a variety of positions on the queer spectrum will be contributing, each with newly commissioned works. The show will present these new works alongside an “editorial thread” of archival and documentary material I will assemble, as well as an accompanying public program of performances and discourse. The point of departure is a re-reading of the many narratives that emerge out of, in relation to, around, and beyond the exhibition “Eldorado: Homosexuelle Männer und Frauen in Berlin 1850-1950 – Geschichte, Alltag, Kultur,” presented in 1984 at the Berlin Museum and curated by a working group of gay men and lesbian women, some of whom would, in turn, become the founders of the yet-to-be Schwules Museum*. In many ways this foundational exhibition developed the strategies of (self) representation, display, collection, and research that would come to define the new institution. It formalized ongoing discussions over decades of liberation and resistance movements in Germany and beyond as to how an oppressed community is able to take back its history into its own hands, to compose its own “minoritarian” perspective. Yet, it also developed a particular museological trope that still characterizes the Schwules Museum* today – an insistence on the sexualized-politicized subject (the homosexual, the queer, etc.) as a self-determined object of study, an ethnographic inquiry of and by a particular community in relation to itself, its traditions, its histories, its cultures, its “natural” habitat, even. Following this view, the Schwules Museum* can be considered an ethnological project and its collection ethnographic, a thought-exercise that opens up many questions around the politics of the subject and the ambiguities afforded by anthropology and its methods. How has anthropology been complicit in the othering of bodies and natures? How has the colonial imaginary, with its roots in the Early Modern encounter of Europeans with the Americas, its peoples, and its ecologies, developed certain epistemological operations to identify, qualify, classify, and “understand” the Other while simultaneously using this knowledge to oppress, discipline, and normalize such difference? How does this deeper, more complex history problematize the political foundations of self-determination and autonomy demanded by LGBTIQ* movements? How do “sexuality” and “nature,” concepts crucial to the politics of the left – from the personal is political to free love, from green environmentalism to separatist ‘queertopia’ – become troubled by their unarticulated relations to the colonial construction of the Other, where the subject is reduced to merely an (over)sexualized body and (its) naturalized nature? How can the site of “Eldorado,” with its multiple references spanning various temporalities and geographies, from Berlin to the Amazon, help open up a “decolonizing” perspective on the Schwules Museum* itself? These are just some the questions I am pursuing with this project, which I hope will open up an expansive space of associations and imaginations around the Museum* and the various histories within which it finds itself inscribed. ***
*Ashkan Sepahvand is an Iranian-American writer, editor, and curator. His previous experience includes working with the Haus der Kulturen der Welt as a Research Fellow for „The Anthropocene Project“ (2012-2014). Since 2013 he has been co-organizing the technosexual reading circle, among other activities. His research interests include histories and imaginations of the body, the senses, sexuality, dance, party culture, undergrounds, the commons, utopia, science fiction, ritual, and queer worlding, among other topics.
For more information on Ashkan’s research, upcoming exhibitions, and events at the Schwules Museum* sign up for our newsletter today!