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Galician Center for Contemporary Art Opens Everywhere: Sexual Diversity Policies in Art
"Powerless Structures" by Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, Photo: EFE/lavandeira jr

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA.- The core of this exhibition rests upon the different representations of sexual diversity as a concept within Art. Through this embracing designation it is possible to witness images mainly on homosexuality, lesbianism and the sexualities and identifications usually gathered in the acronym LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and queer), it can also be completed with the one regarding intersexual people.

The aim is to delve into the production of ideas regarding this topic, emerging in artistic practices mainly since 1969 and carried up until today.

Why 1969? In this year, the gay liberation movement was organised as a result of the protests in New York City, particularly in late June, at the Stonewall Inn bar, since it was hounded and repressed by members of the Police force.

Lesbians, transsexuals and transvestites, as well as homosexuals, took part in this commotion. Needless to say that this year is taken here as a symbolic reference since, prior to this date, there had already been actions and cultures rebelling against convention.

Everywhere is a project structured on the dawning of different representations of desire and of the several subjectivities, which confront convention and the patriarchal and heterosexist power, having produced valuable examples in photography, painting, drawing, video, installation and other disciplines. It also represents a conceptual inquiry into the heterodox way of life and the concept of community; also into what this signifies in terms of the constitution of an identity culture in a hostile social environment, particularly during the sixties and seventies. An identity, which would later be questioned by queer postulates, at least since the early nineties.

However, in order to come to terms with the extent of the representations and artistic productions, both individual and collective, the knowledge of the contributions by other cultural manifestations is needed also from a political perspective; thus helping us to understand the different existing perceptions on homosexuality and trans-sexuality for instance. Regarding this it would be necessary to take into account the impact of medical discourse and science on art and visual culture, whilst also exploring how the laws in different countries established decrees and regulations punishing homosexual acts, frequently ignoring lesbianism in its ruling; a punishment still being enforced in many places.

Furthermore, it is of the utmost importance to be aware of the web of visions and cultural constructions originating from film, literature, music and the mass media. It is crucial to take these into consideration, due to the importance they hold in the conformation of a collective imagery filled with persistent prejudices and stereotypes often supported through the use of slander and shame. Opposing this collection of biased and selfish visions, gay, lesbian and transsexual collectives rebelled following the example set by feminists and the civil rights advocacy groups.

The emergence of AIDS and its instrumentalisation by reactionary social groups was used to blame the gay community among other demonised sectors of society. The different revolts against this stigmatisation revitalised the rise of various types of political activism. Art illustrated many of the questions debated over the AIDS pandemic.

Everywhere explores the contingent evolution of the representation of sexual diversity from the times of greater repression and homophobia to present day. This includes the consideration of the succeeding proposals on equal rights and on the stimulating positioning of queer thought with its well known critique of fixed identities and the supposed respectability associated with the notion of normality.

The importance of Western art (USA, Germany, Spain, Great Britain, France…) is undisputed but the revision will also pay attention to the incorporation of artistic proposals relating to countries in which the laws criminalise, to varying extents, diversity and sexual freedom (Iran, Turkey, India, Palestine, Lebanon…).

This exhibition is structured around several sections not conceived rigidly

1 A sexual paradise? Myth and reality during the sixties and seventies
Prior even to the birth of the gay movement in 1969, the big American cities, particularly New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, are the scenes that nurture a permissive and even freedom imagery, not distant from the emergence of several subcultures: leather, S&M, porno, as captured in Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs. There are basically two trends in gay culture: on the one hand, those who try to re-masculinise and increase manly homosexuality through the cult to the body and extreme practices. On the other hand, those who opt for more flexible stances: camp and androgynous (see the works by Luciano Castelli, Jack Smith, Andy Warhol). Additionally, these were years of a thriving boom of identities under formation, and the beginnings of the identity and community spirit also within the lesbian sphere (Tee Corinne, Barbara Hammer).

2 The stigmatisation of AIDS and the birth of a new consciousness
The emergence of AIDS is utilised by religious and reactionary groups in the United States and other parts of the globe (Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union…) in order to reprove the homosexual population for the uncontrolled sex and the moral unrest caused. They were particularly harsh years, especially since 1982, when AIDS was given its name. From 1987 onwards, an orchestrated activism emerges around collectives such as ACT-UP rebelling against slander and humiliation. Many artists group and take part in such activism (Gran Fury, David Wojnarowicz, Keith Haring, Pepe Espaliú…). Other creators, such as Brazilian artist Leonilson, work individually also shedding light and hope upon years of darkness through which sexuality is demonised.

A new conscience and a desire to be seen emerge (e.g. the lesbian collective Fierce Pussy).

3 Between queer thought and normalisation policies. From the nineties to present day
This section reflects the impact and influence of Judith Butler and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s de-identitary theories, among others with regards to the valuation of performance parodies which lack a falsely considered model as an original (man or woman: strict gender pair). Many images emerge, previously invisible, of women pretending to pose as men or of males questioning the stereotypical femininity. These are also the years, during which the transgender community gains strength at the same time that sectors of the integrating LGBT movements focus on the achievement of civil rights. However, the excessive commercialisation of the so-called gay scene brings about a certain degree of depolitisation and critiques arise. The image of the respectable homosexual couple yields conflicting responses: acceptance in some countries and social segments, and enraged attacks from the Church and right-wing organisations.

Conflicting times in which a wider presence in the public space (streets, parks, public toilets…) is gained by those, whom after years of fear towards AIDS, are still considered perverse for having sex in the open and at the same time laws are being passed equating homosexuals and heterosexuals (Holland, Sweden, Spain, Belgium, Canada…) and promoting marriage and family life.

3.1 The attractiveness (and the need) of transformation
The possibility of change is key in order to understand the realities of those whom have been classed as undesirable through history. This in itself had been taking place in previous times, but it is since the nineties when the artistic visual culture emphasises it strongly, as shown in the works of Catherine Opie and Del LaGrace Volcano, close to transgender communities.

The impact of queer theory is present in the use of performance and masquerade: women pretending to be men (drag kings) and men pretending to be women (drag queens). The human activities are the product of social constructions even of what is regarded as natural without being so (Marcel Odenbach, Cabello/Carceller…). Discourses on intersexuality gradually push their way through (Ins A Kromminga).

3.2 Heterodox sexuality in the occupation of public space
The world is vast and full of realities, struggles and desires. Legal advances towards equality for homosexuals and lesbians do not imply that sexual practices have to take place exclusively in a monogamous relationship. The parks (Jesús Martínez Oliva, Tom Burr), urinals (Zoe Leonard) are spaces used at certain times of the day and night to have sex and channel those desires, affections and emotions.

3.3 Communities, families, couples, friendships, relationships
The idea of community has been important as a form of resistance when confronting heterosexist dictates that deny sexual differences. The existence of such communities (temporary, lasting) is not incompatible with the formation of couples (Sunil Gupta). The family’s reality has been partly transformed since gay, lesbian and transsexual people in some countries (very few) may achieve legal equality. The relationships between fathers, mothers and children still struggle to come out of the closet (Mark Raidpere). Marriage and the pre-existence of non-typified parallel situations are social structures that coexist in different countries.

3.4 The transgressing permanence of desire
The greater visibility achieved by homosexual and transsexual expressions in Western countries, both on the street and in the mass media, does not imply that there are no negative responses, prohibitions and rejection. Sexual fantasies are still present (Monica Majoli) both in men and women (Nicole Eisenman, LSD). The promiscuous desire is channelled through all sorts of ways, among these, also prostitution (Dias & Riedweg), referred to without morals.

3.5 Lights and shadows of the culture of masses from a rebellious perspective
During many years, in a regime with sexophobic rules and laws, the expression of diversity looked for channels in certain musical subcultures (Leigh Bowery, Azucena Vieites) and in the night scene (Jack Pierson) associated to diversion and freedom.

The impact of what is regarded as different in popular and commercial culture (music, fashion, design, television, advertising…) brought about a certain degree of complacency towards consumerism that some queer sectors have criticised (Cabello/Carceller).

3.6 Revisions of History and Memory through queer eyes
The history of culture has been masculine, heterosexual, white and misogynous. Certain artists attempt to unveil images generated by populations excluded from power (Renate Lorenz & Pauline Boudry). The memory of the past and its critical recuperation is essential in order to achieve dignity and knowledge (Henrik Olesen). Art is also the platform to demystify certain images which art itself has generated (Yeguas del Apocalipsis, Juan Dávila).

4 Sexual diversity in a global world
Apart from several exceptions, since the mid nineties and especially since the turn of the twenty-first century, the strict connection of LGBTQ culture to the West is widely questioned. The globe seems to have widened, and daily realities of plural sexuality in countries such as Iran (Tariq Alvi), India (Tejal Shah) and the Arab world among others, find their own niche –still limited– in the mass media. However, brutal discrimination and the punishing of homosexuality still endure in eighty-five countries.

For homosexual, lesbian and transsexual people, living free today is an almost impossible ordeal (Akram Zaatari, Ahlam Shibh).

Santiago de Compostela | Aids | Catherine Opie | Del LaGrace Volcano | Zoe Leonard | Sunil Gupta | Tom Burr |

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