Year X, n°34, September – December 2020 [ + Fluid Heritage

Year X, n°34, September- December 2020

curated by Nicole Moolhuijsen e Viviana Gravano

To David Kato Kinsule and Yelena Grigoryeva [1]

Up until recently, cultural institutions such as museums, libraries and archives, were considered as places for the conservation of tradition, often disconnected from the actual needs of society at large and therefore far away from the urgent issues of the present. Nowadays the awareness of their social responsibilities towards current inequalities, disparities and discrimination is higher than ever, also in the light of a lively international debate on accessibility, which has contributed to repositioning the attention on people’s needs and their diversities. In recent decades, several publications on activism in the context of heritage organizations [2] have highlighted multiple possibilities for action on complex and politically controversial issues in the present, such as climate change and migration. They have emphasized how silences and positions of presumed neutrality result in complicity in creating inequalities. The 34th number of “Roots-Routes” focuses on LGBTQ+ issues in this scenario of nascent activism that invests with responsibilities contexts and institutions traditionally more reluctant to take position.

How can institutions devoted to training (such as schools of all levels, museums, libraries and archives) play a role in challenging stereotypes around gender, sexualities and love?
What forms of violence against Queer and LGBT + people are there in media narratives and mainstream visual culture? What are the responsibilities of language?
How to identify and contrast different forms of violence and discrimination against diversity through activism in art and culture?
What silences, stereotypes and omissions of points of view are there in the representations and interpretations of cultural contents in museums, libraries and archives?
Which stereotypical imaginaries and which discriminatory formalisms in the world of performing arts?
What are the possible contaminations and collaborations between bottom up cultural productions, cultural institutions and the world of education?
How to encourage diversity in the approach to themes around the expression of gender identity, affectivity, sexuality and the body as diversified and identity aspects in the life of everyone?

In 1985 the Guerrilla Girls released the poster entitled “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum”, highlighting the imbalance of the Metropolitan Museum’s policies of representation from a gender perspective. The criticism by the group of female activists was an attack on the New York institution, where only 5% of the exhibited artists were female, as opposed to over 85% of the naked bodies depicted in the works. This critical position to artistic and cultural circles soon spread to other contexts, as did activism and the questioning of power structures within institutions. In 2010 the artist Matt Smith interpreted a significant part the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery’s collection from a Queer perspective. The resulting exhibition Queering the Museum created connections between the meanings of the works and diversities of gender, sexualities and love through installations and new labels which presented disruptive narratives if compared to traditional and disciplinary approaches.
Looking at an organization or a cultural production from a queer perspective it means analyzing its power dynamics with the hope of subverting its hierarchies and focusing the reflections on the processes, which lead to the exclusion of different communities. Neglecting the fluid nature of gender, denying conditions of accessibility and protection of rights to non-binary and Trans people, means discriminating and contributing to marginalize multiple voices and life experiences. Gender and sexualities, in their most intimate nature and possibility of expressions which are necessarily culturally situated – as feminist studies, LGBTQ+, Queer and Trans studies have underlined, albeit from different positions – constitute central aspects of people’s identity . However, they develop in relation to other factors and can only be considered from an intersectional perspective. It is essential to approach these issues without forgetting to take a postcolonial and intercultural perspective. Concepts of “otherness”, which were born in modern times and are heirs of colonial cultures, have also shaped the way of defining fixed and heterosexual identities of the colonists themselves. The ethnocentric visions are closely connected to the colonial patriarchal imagery that designed all the stereotypical and discriminatory forms. So today any research practice on LGBTQ+ issues cannot fail to take into account a non-ethnocentric and postcolonial perspective.

[1] David Kato Kinsule (Nakawala, 1964-Bukusa, 2011) was a Ugandan activist and was considered one of the fathers of the LGBT Movement in Uganda. He worked for Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), a Kampala-based non-governmental organization committed to the protection of LGBTQ+ people in a country where homosexuality is still considered a crime. He was assassinated in early 2011, shortly after winning a lawsuit against a magazine that had published his name and photograph identifying him as a homosexual and asking his assassination for it.
Yelena Grigoryeva  (Veliky Novgorod, 1977-St. Petersburg. 2019) was a human rights activist and LGBTQ+ rights activist. She was murdered in Saint Petersburg, Russia on July 21, 2019 after being stabbed and strangled to death by unknown assailants. Grigoryeva’s identifying information had appeared on a website in July by a group that called itself “Saw” encouraging its readers to hunt, kidnap and kill a list of LGBTQ+ people.
[2] Cfr. M. Reilly, Curatorial Activism, Thames & Hudson, London 2018; R. Janes e R.  Sandell (eds.), Museum Activism, Routledge, London-New York 2019; N. Felshin, But is it Art? The Spirit of Arts as Activism, Bay Press, Seattle 1995; L. Frye Burnham, S.Durland (eds.), The Citizen Artist. An Anthology from High Performance Magazine, 1978-1998, Critical Press, New York 1998.