Homosexuality-ies Exhibition – the history of homosexuality in ten chapters

by

Homosexuality-ies is an exhibition divided across the Schwules museum and the Deutsches Historisches Museum which chronicles the historical past and cultural present of everything lgbt and homosexuality related. After visiting the historical component in the Historisches museum, I can honestly say it was one of the most moving, comprehensive and broad exhibitions I have ever seen.

Coming out…a process rather than a singular event

Spawning two floors, there are a myriad of sub sections dealing with the specificities of lgbt+ culture. On entering, we are faced with video accounts of people who describe certain objects (on display) that have personal significance in relation to their coming out story, which most of them describe as a process rather than a singular event.

A series of portraits of gender non-conforming women in their regal masculinities by female artists

This intimate exhibit leads the way to tall beams displaying prominent lesbian figures in history, such as Virginia Woolf and Grace Jones, complete with hard hitting and socially conscious quotes about queer conditionalities. There is a particular focus on the “second sex” as Beauvoir put it; a series of portraits of gender non-conforming women in their regal masculinities by female artists. This section proudly averts the male gaze – man as bearer of the look is replaced by lesbian sensibilities. A prominent theme throughout the exhibition is the challenging of the socially imposed gender binary through an assertion that gender is the product of social rather than biological fact, thus resisting the notion of categorisation as either male or female.

Bearded ladies and tutu wearing people with penises assert their conscientious objection to the stifling status quo

Mösen in Bewegung – Christopher Street Day Berlin, 1998 Foto und © Kristina Strauß

Mösen in Bewegung – Christopher Street Day Berlin, 1998 Foto und © Kristina Strauß

We can see this through investigations of the History of Cross Dressing and Gender Questions from 1890-1970 in which bearded ladies and tutu wearing people with penises assert their conscientious objection to the stifling status quo. A Social History of Homosexuals from 1880-1970 shows covert same sex love and affection in the closeted era. American Male Nude Photography from 1880-1970 shows that male elegance and femininity is more a defiant strength than a weakness, and a decoding of art from as early as the mid 1800’s shows implicit homoeroticism throughout art history.

The lively A-Z of lgbt+ history

This leads us to the lively A-Z of lgbt+ history, showcasing a diverse selection of objects, music, ridiculously fabulous outfits, toys for budding gay children, cruising packs, publications, protests and various forms of activism during the time surrounding the stonewall riots.

When we get to the second floor…the sinister histories and present realities of queerness take the forefront

Unbekannt: Soldatenfreundschat, ca. 1913 Sepia Fotografie, Copyright: Schwules Museum*, Berlin

Unbekannt: Soldatenfreundschat, ca. 1913
Sepia Fotografie, Copyright: Schwules Museum*, Berlin

When we get to the second floor, the exhibition takes a darker turn. Whilst marriage equality politics have tended to erase the harsh realities of homophobia and compulsory heteromnormativity, the sinister histories and present realities of queerness take the forefront as we are embraced by towering blood red walls and devilish text reading “Homophobia”.
This word looms over one as you can sit in a depressed wall and listen to accounts from figures who claim such things as “I would rather have a murder child than a gay child”.

Visual maps of the world are colour coded to show the juridicial structures that keep lgbt+ people oppressed – from adoption laws to anti-gay propaganda legislation and the death penalty, there are very few countries on these maps that are oppression free.

Most of Europe still has anti-gay propaganda laws

What is interesting is that in contrast to the death penalty laws in Africa, there are many countries in this continent that have no specific legislation surrounding lgbt people. Most of Europe still has anti-gay propaganda laws. A sub section entitled Pink Triangles shows the struggles of lgbt+ people during Nazi hegemony over Europe and leading us towards the end of the exhibit is a section which borrows the dictum of second wave 1970s feminism – the personal is political.

Article by Hannah Harte

Homosexuality_ies runs 6June –1December 2015. An exhibition presented by the Deutsches Historisches Museum and the Schwules Museum*, jointly funded by the Kulturstiftung des Bundes and the Kulturstiftung der Länder