An image of a statue of the Venus de Milo and a black and white photograph by the artist Joey Solomon.

An image in landscape orientation composed of two images collaged together. Positioned on the far left, a photograph of a statue of the Venus de Milo from the torso up, faces towards the center of the image. Her white body stands in contrast to a fuchsia colored vertical strip in the background. To the right of this strip, is a black and white photograph by the artist Joey Solomon. He is in a dorm room and reclining back into the arms of another white man, Andy Coombs, who is sitting in a wheelchair, with his legs resting on the bed in front of him. As Andy looks lovingly down at him over his shoulder, Joey gazes directly at us, while the Venus watches him from the side.

"Venus de Milo (Aphrodite from Melos),” ca. 150 - 125 BC, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY;
“Self Portrait with Robert Andy Coombs in My Dorm Room," detail, 2019, © Joey Solomon, Manhattan, New York

Queering the Crip,
Cripping the Queer

An Exhibit on Queer/Disability History, Activism, and Culture

2 September 2022 — 30 January 2023

Schwules Museum

“Queering the Crip, Cripping the Queer” is the first international exhibit exploring the multiple historical, cultural, and political intersections of queerness and disability. The exhibit includes the work of over 20 contemporary international artists whose works speak to the historical themes and objects of the exhibit, and includes a selection of work by artists who created while institutionalized and whose works were collected by the Prinzhorn Collection in Heidelberg, as well as a section on important queer/disabled artist icons Lorenza Böttner, Raimund Hoghe, and Audre Lorde.

The exhibition takes place in cooperation with the performance festival of the same title at Sophiensaele from September 9 – 17, which brings together on stage international works by queer disabled artists for the first time in Germany. But Sophiensaele and the Schwules Museum are not only linked by title and theme: works by Anajara Amarante, Pelenakeke Brown, Quiplash, and Sindri Runudde are represented both in the performance festival and in the exhibition.

Here, on this site, we include highlights chosen from each of the exhibit chapters, to give an idea of what can be experienced at the museum.

Playing this video requires sharing information with YouTube, as described in their privacy policy.

DGS video by Rita Mazza, courtesy of Rita Mazza and Schwules Museum Berlin
A video of Rita Mazza, an Italian choreographer and dancer, with shoulder length brown hair, wearing a brown and white patterned shirt, sits by a café window, and in German Sign Language invites us to visit the “Queering the Crip, Cripping the Queer” exhibit at the Schwules Museum Berlin, opening on September 1 and running through January 30, 2023. Rita tells us there will be a German Sign Language video guide and other accessibility features. Rita signs, “Come check out my work, and the work of over 20 other Deaf and disabled queer artists.”

Explore this site


a representation of an imperfect circle
A circle shape that has been slightly curved inwards on it’s lower right side and pushed inwards on it’s upper left side, as if someone had pressed that side softly with their thumb. The circle is two- dimensional and flat, but has a black and white surface pattern that resembles the pattern of marble. Similar imperfect circles repeat in the background below.

Introduction

Disability studies scholar Carrie Sandahl, who coined the phrase used for the exhibit title, writes: “sexual minorities and people with disabilities . . . share a history of injustice: both have been pathologized by medicine; demonized by religion; discriminated against in housing, employment, and education; stereotyped in representation; victimized by hate groups; and isolated socially, often in their families of origin.” Disability and queer histories are similar, if not always parallel. Sometimes queers and the disabled acquiesce to the fantasy of “the ideal body,” but queer/disabled artists mostly counter it. The exhibition is to a large degree curated by queers and people with disabilities; the contemporary artists exhibited largely self-identify as disabled and queer. Sandahl points out, “Those who claim both identities may be best positioned to illuminate their connections, to pinpoint where queerness and ‘cripdom’ intersect, separate and coincide.”

Artists:

and and from the Prinzhorn Collection: and

Curators: Birgit Bosold, Kenny Fries
Curatorship and accessibility concept: Kate Brehme
Research: Sydney Ramirez

I. “The Ideal Body”

“The ideal body”— one of symmetry, deemed beautiful by society—is a fantasy often leading to stigmatization, self-degradation, and despair. As often as this “ideal” might inspire, it also damages: after all, who can measure up to it? While spreading this “ideal,” the Greeks also stigmatized those whose bodies did not conform. The marginalized are not often represented in history, and when they are, not much is known of what their lives were actually like. Instead, we are given metaphors, such as blindness in Greek myths, used to connote “second sight” of “inner knowledge,” Tiresias in the story of Oedipus being but one example. Characters such as blind prophets also proliferate in other cultures. The biwa hōshi, the blind priest singers who roamed ancient Japan, were instrumental in forging modern Japanese language—however, along with other blind persons, they were relegated to a separate sanctioned caste.

Greek Beauty

An image of the Venus de Milo Greek statue on the left, and the Torso of Doryphoros statue with head on the right

Facing each other expressionless, the original statues are made of white marble and depict the torsos and heads of the Venus De Milo and the Torso of Doryphoros. Both are missing both arms. The Venus is missing the right arm just below the shoulder and the right arm right on the shoulder. The Torso of Doryphoros’s left arm is missing below the shoulder, whereas the right shoulder has been completely severed quite harshly. A thin crack also snakes its way around his neck, threatening to decapitate him. Venus de Milo has long wavy hair, swept up into a loose bun at the back of her head. Her skin is mostly smooth but features chips and dents where the marble has been damaged over time. Her firm round breasts point slightly upwards and a loosely wrapped sheet hangs low around her hips, hiding her public hair and vagina. The Torso of Doryphoros is similar in style, with wavy hair but cut short at the nape of the neck and around the ears. The skin is smooth and the muscles are clearly defined. Without a sheet, the Torso of Doryphoros’s hip bones lead our eye down towards his thick public hair and top part of his penis.
Unknown artist, Venus de Milo, ca. 150 – 125 BC, plaster cast, photo: Abguss-Sammlung Antiker Plastik, courtesy of Courtesy of Abguss-Sammlung Antiker Plastik, Freie Universität Berlin, Freie Universität Berlin
Unknown artist, Torso of Doryphoros statue with head, no date, plaster cast, photo: Abguss-Sammlung Antiker Plastik, courtesy of Abguss-Sammlung Antiker Plastik, Freie Universität Berlin

Disability studies scholar Lennard J. Davis writes about the Venus de Milo: “She has no arms or hands, although the stump of her upper right arm extends just to her breast. Her left arm has been severed and her face badly scarred, with her nose torn at the tip and her lower lip gouged out. Fortunately, her facial mutilations have been treated and are barely visible, except for minor scarring visible only up close. The big toe of her right foot has been cut off, and her torso is also covered with scars, a particularly large one between her shoulder blades, one that covers her shoulder, and one covering the tip of her breast where her left nipple was torn out. Yet, she is considered one of the most beautiful female figures in the world.” “The ideal body” of Greek sculptures has had an inordinate amount of influence on our conception of beauty, masculinity, and femininity. This “ideal” reappears throughout history and is often used both to inspire and oppress.

Stigma

ΣΤΙΓΜΑ

The word stigma in Greek letters

The word stigma comes from the Greek, meaning “to mark” or “to brand.” Erving Goffman, in his book Stigma, writes: “The Greeks, who were apparently strong on visual aids, originated the term stigma to refer to bodily signs designed to expose something unusual and bad about the moral status of the signifier. The signs were cut or burnt into the body and advertised the bearer was a slave, a criminal, or a traitor—a blemished person, ritually polluted, to be avoided, especially in public places. Later, in Christian times, two layers of metaphor were added to the term: the first referred to bodily signs of holy grace that took the form of eruptive blossoms on the skin; the second, a medical allusion to this religious allusion, referred to bodily signs of physical disorder. Today the term is widely used in something like the original literal sense, but is applied more to the disgrace itself than to the bodily evidence of it.”

II. Saints and Sinners

In the Middle Ages, impairments were considered either a divine punishment, the devil’s work, or a special distinction. The disabled were dependent on alms, and their lives were often characterized by exclusion and extreme poverty. The institutionalization of the disabled began. London’s Bethlem “asylum” for those deemed “mad” was founded in 1247. Bethlem was commonly known as Bedlam, which became shorthand for chaos and confusion. In some forms of Buddhism, disability is understood as a result of karma from a previous life. Same-sex desire was considered a sin in the Christian sphere of influence. Since the late Middle Ages, homosexual acts were punished by death as “sodomy.” In contrast to later times, this applied to both sexes. There is a lack of historical sources, which makes it impossible to estimate how many people were executed because of their same-sex desires.

Claire Cunningham

Playing this video requires sharing information with YouTube, as described in their privacy policy.

Interview featuring Give Me a Reason to Live, 2016, created and performed by Claire Cunningham, video: 4:26, light design: Karsten Tinapp, sound design: Zoë Irvine, cello: Matthias Herrmann, video courtesy of Perth Festival, Western Australia
An interview with Claire Cunningham about her performance Give Me a Reason to Live for the Perth International Art Festival. As Claire talks, excerpts of her dance performance play in the background. Some depict her leaning all her body weight onto her two crutches on a dark theatre stage, lit by a spotlight, as the camera zooms in on her feet, waving gracefully in the air as her torso leans on her crutches and her hands support her weight on the stage. Other excerpts depict her moving fast, using her crutches to raise herself up from a sitting position to a kneeling position, and then collapsing down again, over and over. Finally, the video shows her in a standing position, using her crutches to swing herself up, backwards and forwards, and suspends herself in the air for longer and longer periods of time while she mouths the words to on an opera playing in the background. The video ends with a sequence in which she undresses and stands, trembling, without the aid of her crutches.

Claire Cunningham creates and engages in multi-disciplinary performances. Give Me A Reason to Live was created when Cunningham was one of five European choreographers invited to be part of the project Bosch500, commemorating 500 years since the death of painter Hieronymus Bosch (1450–1516). In this interview from the 2016 Perth International Arts Festival, which includes performance excerpts, Cunningham says she was “shown a sheet of sketches of beggars and cripples … all the beggars are cripples, all the cripples are beggars … as beggars and minstrels were the only way of surviving [for the disabled].” The academic who showed Cunningham the drawings told her the disabled beggars “might symbolize sin.” In the piece Cunningham asks: “what is it like to be pushed down? When is a bent-over posture representative of oppression, and when is it penitent, which would be seen as a good thing in a Christian context?” Ultimately, in this work, Cunningham asks: “What is it like to believe in something?”

III. The Power of Depiction

In Renaissance art, the Greek “ideal” reemerged. Physiognomy was prevalent. Composed of the Greek words for “nature” and “judge,” physiognomy is a belief one could judge a person’s character by their outward appearance. A famous example: Shakespeare’s Richard III, whose disability was not extreme in real life, became a symbol of evil. In art, idealized bodies were celebrated, while disabled people were portrayed as objects of fascination, scientific research, or as figures of fun. Even today, physiognomy continues to reign: for example, villains in movies are often disabled. Disability studies scholar Vicki Lewis writes, “Consider the ease with which good and evil can be portrayed by the addition of a hook, a wooden leg, or an eye patch. Introductory screenwriting manuals even recommend that aspiring writers give their villain a limp or an amputated limb.” But today, a truer counter-narrative is emerging: queer/disabled artists celebrate their bodies and their lives.

Riva Lehrer

A painted self-portrait of the artist Riva Lehrer

In gloriously rich colors, Riva is depicted wading waist high into a lake, surrounded by reeds, as rain begins to fall around her. The green water swirls and ripples from Riva’s body and the raindrops as they hit the water. She is facing away from us, her upper clothing, golden in color, has been unzipped at the back and hangs from her right arm and is draped around her hips. Her back is the central focus of the image. In fleshy red, pink and orange tones we see how it curves towards the right, protruding outwards at her right shoulder blade. The rain water runs down her back in snaking rivets, over what looks like scar tissue, over muscle, over bone. Riva’s arms are outstretched behind her, seemingly for balance as she glides away from us through the water, her hands weathered and grasping upwards towards the falling raindrops that have pooled there. Her face is turned to the left, and we glimpse her calm expression. The side of her left breasts is also exposed and, like her face, softly lit by a ray of light.

Riva Lehrer, artist and writer, focuses on socially challenged bodies, which have long been stigmatized. In 1997, Lehrer began Circle Stories, a series of portraits of disabled artists and academics who explore body issues in their work. She says, “The circle of the wheelchair is the nearly universal symbol of disability. The wheel transforms the ordinary object of the chair into a mark of physical and social difference. Circle Stories charts the existence of a community of Disabled innovators who work to redefine disability in the 21st century.” In Lehrer’s self-portrait 66 Degrees, disability is portrayed as part of nature and unhidden.

IV. “Perfecting...”

The Enlightenment brought to the fore two major ideas. One is the idea of freedom and equality. The other is the belief that reason should be the standard of social and personal action, that scientific rationality could perfect society by solving all its troubles and create an ideal society. Both concepts were paradoxical, since the vast majority of people were excluded from rights and considered incapable of rationally using their own minds. Columnist Jamelle Bouie writes: “At its heart, the movement contained a paradox: Ideas of human freedom and individual rights took root in nations that held other human beings in bondage and were then in the process of exterminating native populations. Colonial domination and expropriation marched hand in hand with the spread of ‘liberty,’ and liberalism arose alongside our modern notions of race and racism.” Today, we are still enmeshed in the Enlightenment paradox as we struggle to perfect society based on less exclusive ideas.

Pelenakeke Brown

A print by the artist Pelenakeke Brown titled 'she revealed' A print by the artist Pelenakeke Brown entitled .she revealed.

In “her return,” we see black text, written on a white page in lower case typewriter style font. The title written at the top of the page in the center, and taking up the bottom two thirds of the page, a paragraph of text that has been blackened in black marker making the majority of the text underneath it illegible. Five words have been selected from different points within the paragraph and left unmarked. Together they form a new sentence that reads: “Her return is to speak.” In “she revealed” we see in the same style of font, the title written at the top of the page in the center, and on the lower half of the page, a large paragraph of text that has been again blackened in black marker. Several words have been selected at different places within the paragraph, and together, they form new sentences: “she displayed marked preference left grasp would hold. extend hold flexed wrist. quite unusual not bringing left arm it was resistance. Her resistance revealed.”
Pelenakeke Brown, prints from grasp + release, 2019, courtesy of the artist

Pelenakeke Brown is an interdisciplinary Samoan/Pākehā artist. Her practice spans visual art, writing, and performance. The prints of grasp + release were created after she received her medical file in 2018. Brown describes these works as “fragments of [her] excavation process.” She says, “Requesting this information about myself felt subversive. I created dance scores from my file to access the text. Break into it. Take ownership of its words. Words which were mostly foreign, cold medical terms with occasional surprising glimpses of the humans involved, the little girl and her (my) beautiful mother and the difficult journey she had.” Interventions to alleviate, or cure, disabilities are common, sometimes necessary and helpful, but sometimes harmful. In grasp + release Brown reclaims both her body and the texts written about her body.

V. Enforcing/Resisting “Normalcy”

During the 19th century, medical science increasingly gained power. Methods were used to measure humans and define “norms” and “normality.” The concept of “the homosexual” and “the disabled” entered the lexicon. Same-sex desire, gender nonconformity, and disabilities went from being characteristics to identities, leading to both community building and stigmatization. “Scientific” efforts intensified. Eugenics popularized a new set of beliefs and practices for the “improvement” of society. People were classified as carriers of “desirable” or “undesirable,” and supposedly inherited, traits. Reproductive and sexual behavior was to be controlled so that “undesirable” traits were “bred out” by preventing reproduction. At the same time, however, new movements emerged against such repression. People with disabilities, queer people, and feminists fought for equal rights as well as sexual and reproductive self-determination.

“Ugly laws” and Paragraph 175

It is hereby prohibited for any person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated, or deformed in any way, so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object, to expose himself to public view.

1881 City of Chicago Ordinance
— — —
Paragraph 57a
The peddling license shall ordinarily be denied
1. If the person seeking the license is underage;
2. If he is blind, deaf, dumb, or suffering from mental infirmity.*

* The reason for this rule is that physical or mental infirmities should not be abused as a cover for begging, and that these fragile persons should not be exposed to dangers. If the concerns are excluded for special reasons in both respects, the peddling license can be granted.

Trade Regulations for the German Reich, Decree of June 1, 1891
— — —
Paragraph 175
(1) A man who commits fornication with another man or lets himself be misused by a man for fornication shall be punished by imprisonment.

Reich Criminal Code 1871

As early as 1729, a so-called “ugly law,” prohibiting disabled people from public view, existed in England. The first such U.S. law was San Francisco’s in 1867. These laws did not only target the disabled but also beggars. In Berlin, an 1871 law banned peddlers who were “disfigured in a repulsive way.” The last “ugly law” in the U.S. was repealed in 1974. In 1871, the German Criminal Code included Paragraph 175, which criminalized homosexual acts between men. An estimated 140,000 men were convicted under the law, which was not fully rescinded until 1994. Anti-sodomy laws were ostensibly enacted to protect younger men from the predation of older men. However, as many cases show, the laws were enforced so as not to “provoke public offense,” the same idea underlying the “ugly laws.”

Steven Solbrig

photograph by the artist Steven Solbrig titled #1 photograph by the artist Steven Solbrig titled #2

The photograph #1 depicts a close up shot of two hands tightly clasped together against a black background. We see two fingers, two thumbs, two knuckles, but cannot distinguish between the left or right hand. The skin is flushed a pinkish-red from the strain of holding the pose, while fingernails, black hairs and lines form an intricate landscape. Photograph #2 depicts two arms against a black background, shot from the elbow up positioned in the center of the image. One arm stretches up from the bottom of the image, the hand is splayed out, palm facing toward us. It is positioned behind the other arm, the skin on this arm is a dark brown tone. It is hard to tell if it is lying in a shadow, or in fact a darker skin colour. The arm in front is a beige color, covered in thick dark brown hairs. The hand at the top rests just below the hand behind it, and is clenched into a fist.
Steven Solbrig, from series Unmatched Touch, #1 (2013), photo on canvas #2 (2015), photo on canvas, courtesy of the artist

Steven Solbrig is a white genderfluid artist born in the former GDR. Solbrig is a photographer, moderator, author, speaker, and performer, always with an activist attitude. The era of industrialization during the 19th century left behind a legacy, by which bodily performance (and bodies themselves) are still measured, categorized and standardized today, enforcing the idea of “normalcy.“ In the Unmatched Touch series, Solbrig demonstrates that the queer/disabled body resists such normalization.

VI. Elimination

On January 30, 1933, the Nazis took power in Germany. Soon after, eugenics became law. Eugenicist Ernst Haeckel’s belief, “politics is applied biology,” was realized. Queers and the disabled were increasingly persecuted. Some queers and numerous disabled people were forcibly sterilized. By 1945, about 400,000 people were sterilized against their will according to decisions made by “hereditary health courts.” Disabled children were registered and sent to “Hospitals for Special Care,” where they were experimented on and killed by injection or starvation. On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, the beginning of World War II. The Nazi government commenced the Aktion T4 program, and a few months later, the mass murdering of disabled people in gas chambers began. In 1941, after the official end of Aktion T4, the murders continued by both gas and other means. The disabled, like other groups viewed as weakening the Reich, were deemed “useless eaters” and “unworthy of life.”

Elizabeth Sweeney

A poster by the artist Elizabeth Sweeney in the shape of a triangle, with its pinnacle pointing downwards

The triangle is black, set against a white background. Text in large, white capital letters fills the inside of the triangle. It reads: “abnormal addict alcoholic arbeitsscheu antisocial asocial asexual burden barren crazy cripple deaf deformed disabled deviant drunk draft-dodger dumb dysfunctional freak freeloader handicapped homeless idiot ill insane invalid lesbian lame lazy lunatic maniac midget mute mutant pansy pathetic poor psycho prostitute pre-existing condition retarded spinster unfit unsettled unsuitable unusual unstable uncontrollable” and then after a pause, “unrelenting.”
Elizabeth Sweeney, The Unrelenting, [2014] 2022, poster: digital print on paper, courtesy of the artist

Elizabeth Sweeney is a visual artist, arts researcher, and curator. She is also a neurodivergent queer of Acadian settler descent, who grew up in rural Nova Scotia, Canada. Sweeney says about The Unrelenting, her three-part project that begins with the large black triangle hanging outside the museum: “Many of us must still fight against sanctioned shaming, segregation, and persecution.” The symbol of the black triangle, “a badge used by the Nazis to label, shame, and persecute a large and diverse group of people, intends to mark both a taking up and a taking back of space around the Schwules Museum. It is a call to those who live with these labels, especially those who historically called the neighborhood home, and have been displaced by its gentrification.” The curators envision all of us who pass the triangle to reach the exhibit joining in solidarity with the black triangle community, free of shame and stigma.

Hans Heinrich Festersen Letters

A collage of different objects pertaining to the life of Hans Heinrich Festersen.

Various photographs, letters, and personal documents belonging to Hans Heinrich Festersen, Schwules Museum Berlin

Listen to excerpts from letters by Hans Heinrich Festersen

Excerpts from letters by Hans Heinrich Festersen, audio recording by Hauke Heumann, 3:45, Schwules Museum Berlin

Translation of the excerpt from Hans Heinrich Festersen's letters from prison in Berlin Plötzensee to his sister Ruth Festersen. He was arrested on October 12, 1942 and executed on the night of September 8, 1943.

Berlin Plötzensee, 12. February 1943

My dear sister.Thank you very much for your kind lines. I can only agree with your loving exhortations. . . . You so beautifully reminded me the other day that I also had to think of my future! This I have done by occupying myself with the intention to marry! Are you surprised about this? One can not deny me a certain right to live. Since I can no longer make great demands myself, I had thought of a slightly physically handicapped classmate. This is a Miss Hanna [Karow?], to whom I have already written. She will probably call you in the near future. After all, I have been wandering around in institutions long enough, and that is no life. . . . I can't get permission to go to church, because I still have companions from Lobetal here who are in prison for the same thing as I am. . . . I have been here for 4 months on February 20 and still no court hearing. You just have to be patient. Hopefully we will see each other soon. . . . For today, I finish, greetings and kisses. Your brother Hansemann.

April 20, 1943, My dear [Ruthel?] sister, You wrote me another very dear letter, just don't be sad that I cried so much, you know such moods often come over me, I'm not quite as strong with my nerves as you might think. . . . Of course I am grateful to God that he gave me such a loving sister in you, who stands faithfully by my side in all my situations in life. . . .

May 22, 1943, My dear Ruth, Today I received your detailed mail, and thank you most sincerely for it. Now I also have some things to report to you: 1 On May 11, I was now summoned as a witness against [Hannemann?], I testified according to the truth that I had nothing planned with him, which he also confirmed to me. He said that he had visited me only once in your presence. Think he was sentenced only to 6 months in prison. By the way, I now have a new file number. 86/509/11943, Berlin District Court. 2 I was presented to our prison doctor several times, I told him that I had my knee condition due to the premature birth. —Today, May 22, I had to present myself to the medical officer of health Dr. Schmitt. He had me write my curriculum vitae and examined me carefully. On the 25th I should come to him again. He said that castration was out of the question for the time being, and if so, then only because of my sexual drive. . . .

You will receive my letter only on June 1, which will not leave before the 25th, because there is still a Sunday in between. . . . For today I end with greetings and kisses from the heart entirely your brother Hans!

Hans Heinrich Festersen (1907-1943) was hanged during the "Murder Night of Plötzensee" on the night of September 8, 1943. He lived in the Hoffnungsthaler Anstalten in Lobetal, a Protestant institution for the unemployed and homeless. Like many others, he had been sent there by relatives or committed by authorities because of their disabilities or for violations of morality laws. He was arrested by the police on October 12, 1942 for violating Paragraph 175 and sentenced to death on July 13, 1943 under the Dangerous Habitual Criminals Act. Historian Andreas Pretzel, who has researched the trial documents, concludes that "the death sentences were aimed at the destruction of life allegedly unworthy of life," which means because they were considered disabled. The Schwules Museum collection houses a small bundle of five letters from Festersen in Plötzensee prison to his sister Ruth Maria. The oldest preserved letter is dated December 14, 1942; the last one May 22, 1943. The letters were given to the Schwules Museum by his nephew Peter Festersen in 2009. In an audio collage compiled from the letters, we let Hans Heinrich Festersen have his say.

VII. Our Icons

“The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house,” Audre Lorde says. The lives and work of Lorde, Lorenza Böttner, and Raimund Hoghe prove how true this is. They use their queer/disabled bodies as a site of opposition and transformation. Their art reclaims the agency that has been too long denied to queer and disabled people. They use their experience and ingenuity to reshape what is considered acceptable in society and in art. They challenge the “norm/normalcy,” and smash it. Remember that only a few decades before, their work would have been ostracized as “degenerate” and they themselves would have been persecuted and perhaps even killed. Now, however, they are beloved icons and mentors for generations of queer/disabled artists and activists.

Lorenza Böttner (1959-1994)

An image of a poster from the exhibition Lorenza Böttner: Requiem for the Norm in 2019 at the Württembergischer Kunstverein in Stuttgart

A slightly out of focus photograph of the artist Lorenza Böttner is set against a black shadowy background and fills the entire poster. We are drawn to the top left corner and the sharpest part of the image, where Böttner’s eyes, adorned with light-blue eye shadow stare out at us piercingly, enticingly. Travelling down the body: her flat, taut chest displays what look like either black curly hairs or tattoos peeking out of the top of Böttner’s soft pink, satin full-body leotard. Her arms recede into darkness at the shoulders and travelling further down her torso, her right thigh points out to the right with her lower leg folded beneath her. Her left leg bends upright at her hip, and her knee is bent, her lower leg thrown casually behind her head, like a makeshift pillow, slender toes just visible on the left side of her head. The text of the title of the exhibition is strategically placed right in the center of Böttner’s splayed legs simultaneously blocking our view, and enticing us to use our imaginations to create the detail that we can’t see there.

Lorenza Böttner, originally named Ernst Lorenz, was born to a German family in Chile. When eight years old, while attempting to rescue a bird nest resting on electrical wires, Böttner was electrocuted and had both arms amputated. The family returned to Germany. Böttner defied expectations of medical diagnosis and society by being accepted into Kassel’s School of Art and Design, where Böttner changed her name to Lorenza. She looked to Greek sculpture, re-imagining herself as the Venus de Milo, questioning ideas of perfection, beauty, and value. Historically, art has been dominated by the hand, which Böttner upends by creating with her foot. Her work is “a requiem for the norm,” as curator Paul B. Preciado says. She died of AIDS in 1994. Böttner’s rediscovery began in 2017 with a small selection of her work at documenta 14. Now, she is an international icon of queer/disabled art with exhibitions curated by Preciado—most recently at the Leslie-Lohman Museum in New York City.

Raimund Hoghe (1949-2021)

A black and white photograph of the performer Raimund Hoghe standing on a theatre stage

The photograph depicts Hoghe from his shins up, wearing a black shirt, black suit pants, black plastic sunglasses (possibly Ray-Bans) and a large black and white satin hat. His legs are neatly pressed together, his right leg slightly raised and pointed in at the knee, his left hand resting just below his hip, inside his pants pocket. In his right hand he holds a long, black, elegant cigarette holder between his fingers, poised just to the right side of his mouth. He stares proudly, defiantly out into the audience, his chin held high.

Playing this video requires sharing information with YouTube, as described in their privacy policy.

Raimund Hoghe, Swan Lake excerpt, 2008, video: 2:46, courtesy of Numeridanse and the estate of Raimund Hoghe, courtesy of Rosa Frank
Hoghe stands in the center of a theatre stage. A short-statured man with a hunched back, black short hair, wearing a black shirt, black trousers and dress shoes, he faces another taller man in a white tee shirt and tan trousers. Three people stand several meters behind them against the black stage curtain. Another person brings chairs onto the stage. Hoghe and the other man seem oblivious, staring into each other’s eyes as they continue to dance together. Their hands are placed together, palms facing and stretched upwards. Hoghe has his body leaned forward and over the other man, who bends back. With palms still touching, the other man now leans over Hoghe. The camera zooms in as they stand back-to-back, hands clasped as they repeat this leaning gesture – first Hoghe leaning backwards over the man, then, the other man leaning backwards over Hoghe. They repeat this, then Hoghe reaches over his shoulders, takes the other man’s hands in his and bends his body over his own until he is crouched underneath him on the floor. As the music reaches a crescendo, Hoghe removes his hands so that the other man’s body is balanced on top of his own. He rolls the other man off onto the floor, leaves the stage, then returns several times, running and simultaneously removing strips of black tape from the stage floor.

In 1989, Raimund Hoghe decided, quoting Pier Paolo Pasolini in the interview Danse Vulnerable, “to throw his body into the fight.” Hoghe says that as a writer for Die Zeit and dramaturg for Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal, he could hide his body, which he could not do on stage as a performer in his own theater pieces. In 1994, he created his first solo for himself, Meinwärts (a neologism roughly translatable as “toward myself”), inspired by the life of the Jewish tenor Joseph Schmidt, who fled Germany in 1939. In Meinwärts, as well as in many other performances, Hoghe deals with disability/the body, Nazism, HIV/AIDS, and migration. He also transformed classical works such as La Valse, Bolero, and Swan Lake. The multidisciplinary artist Perel says, “Hoghe’s presence demands more than just spectatorship. He is not asking the audience to be stunned by virtuosity, but to be present with him in the instance of language, movement, or sound unfolding. To Hoghe, bodies tell stories in their fact of presence.”

Audre Lorde (1934-1992)

a black and white photograph of Audre Lorde, standing at a podium and giving a lecture

Lorde is a Black woman with short curly hair, wearing metallic rimmed glasses, a white oversized shirt and a serious look on her face. On the podium we see two posters side-by-side, advertising the talk she is giving, the text is written in German, and from this we glean that Lorde is in Germany. A Black woman in her 20s or 30s sits to Audre’s left, her hand under her chin as she listens and watches Lorde intently.
Audre Lorde at a reading in Munich, 1987, photo by Elija Sydney Tourkazi


I’m thinking about the feminist book fair in London, which was held in a room that was inaccessible to disabled people. At the bottom of the insurmountable steps, a petition was passed around expressing a complaint about it. ... I was very concerned that so many women did not sign it.  ... I observed this and wondered why they would even want to participate in a feminist book fair. What are they trying to find out here if they already can’t see such a connection? This was a book fair that was not accessible to women with walking disabilities and all they were supposed to do was take a stand and put their name down. ... Something like this could only happen because there was no disabled woman in the preparatory group and therefore this question simply did not come up. What matters to me is that we broaden our awareness in such a way that no disabled woman or black woman needs to be in the preparation group for this. It is important for all of us that such events be made available to disabled women, and we should make sure that they are announced in black women's magazines.

Audre Lorde, interview by Dania und Vera, June 15, 1984, from: Spinnboden (6), Berlin 1984, p. 4–5, courtesy of Spinnboden – Lesbenarchiv und Bibliothek

“Black, lesbian, feminist, warrior, poet, mother” was how Audre Lorde often introduced herself. From 1984 until her death in 1992, she was frequently in Berlin and taught as a visiting professor at the Free University of Berlin. She was a crucial inspiration for the emerging Afro-German women’s movement. Long before the word “intersectionality” became popular, she raised awareness for the differences between forms of oppression, but also for their interconnectedness and the strength that comes with shared struggles. Her books The Cancer Journals (1980) and A Burst of Light (1988) continue to pioneer a feminist perspective on body (“norms”) and illness. They document not only her life with cancer, diagnosed in 1978, but also her fight for self-determination and against pathologization: “The struggle with cancer now informs all my days, but it is only another face of that continuing battle for self-determination and survival that Black women fight daily, often in triumph.”

VIII. Freak Out

Though disability rights groups in the U.S. began forming in the early 20th century, by the 1970s the disabled mobilized as never before, showing that societal barriers, both physical and attitudinal, were the cause of disablement. Their message thus resembles that of Rosa von Praunheim’s iconic film It is Not the Homosexual Who is Perverse But the Society in which He Lives (1971), which kicked off queer liberation in West Germany. Inspired by the U.S. civil rights movement, the disability rights movement adopted strategies of civil disobedience with provocative actions, demonstrating disability not as an individual fate or medical problem but a sociopolitical issue. By reclaiming the words “crip,” and even “freak,” as a source of pride, we have also reclaimed power. Much has been achieved to remove societal barriers and improve cultural representation but there is still much to be done for us to be truly equal participants in society. So, keep freaking out!

The Thalidomide Scandal

An image of a bookmark-shaped advertisement from pharmaceutical company Grünenthal

Advertisement reads in black print: „Mit den besten Wünschen für 1961!“ (with best wishes for 1961!). The advertisement was for the sleeping pill thalidomide, dated 1960, and is a long, approximately four- centimeter-wide piece of now yellowed paper with its top edge cut into a triangle point.

Between 1957 and 1961, thalidomide was marketed in Germany under the brand name Contergan as a sleeping pill and sedative by the pharmaceutical company Grünenthal. Because it supposedly had hardly any side effects and also helped against nausea, it was especially recommended to pregnant women and available over the counter. After cases of birth “defects” in newborns began to accumulate in the late 1950s, the connection with the drug was proven, and it was withdrawn from the market in 1961. In Germany alone, at least 4,000 so-called “thalidomide-affected” children were born, of whom about 2,800 survived. This was only decades after medications had been used for experiments in the Nazi Reich. The scandal generated major media attention. The visibility of the affected children and the public protest of their parents contributed to the perception of disability as a social issue rather than a tragic individual fate. The struggle of those affected for appropriate compensation has not been concluded to this day.

Deaf Queer Sex

A black and white photograph of Gunter Trube by the photographer Barbara Stauss. A black and white photograph of Gunter Trube by the photographer Barbara Stauss. A black and white photograph of Gunter Trube by the photographer Barbara Stauss.

Part of a series of square-format photos titled The communicating line, which shows Trube performing in sign language different words. The first image depicts Trube standing in front of a black background, wearing black, so only his head is visible. He has dark eyebrows and is balding. He is positioned in the middle of the image but the lower half of his face is obscured by a burst of bright white marks of light, otherwise known as light-painting. This is the result of using a flashlight in a darkened room and a long camera exposure to create luminescent streaks of white light. In this image, the effect is an illuminated bouquet of lines hovering in midair just in front of Gunter’s mouth and below his astonished eyes.
In the second photo he performs the word dinosaur. Also, this second image depicts Trube standing in front of a black background, wearing black, so only his head is visible. He has dark eyebrows and is balding. He is positioned in the middle of the image with his hands out in front of him in a grasping motion. His face is contorted into a fierce sneer, teeth bared, eyes locked on us. Light emanates from his two hands and it appears as if he is holding onto it, trying to master it, as it flies off into two unyielding spirals to his left and right.
In the third photo he performs the words big bird. Also, this third image depicts Trube standing in front of a black background, wearing black, so only his head and left hand is seen. He has dark eyebrows and is balding. He is positioned in the middle of the image, his left hand resting at his side. As two flares of light dance up the edges of the image from bottom to top in a curving, twisting way, Trube’s face peers out at us from the darkness, his chin slightly turned down and to the left, distrustful, angry eyes looking up at us, his mouth pulled down at the edges into a frown.
Barbara Stauss, The communicating line (Gunter Trube: Barking, Dinosaur, Big Bird), photos, courtesy of Barbara Stauss

Gunter Trube (1960–2008) was a legendary bartender at Berlin's Kumpelnest 3000, artist, sign performer and poet as well as crucial activist of the Deaf movement. As early as the 1980s, he founded the association Verkehrt Gehörlos (a pun involving facets of queer and deaf / deaf connections / Deaf sex), the first organisation of queer Deaf people in West Germany. In cooperation with the photographer Barbara Stauss and a group of Deaf people, Trube developed an educational brochure for Deaf for the Deutsche AIDS Hilfe (DAH), a truly pioneering achievement. Trube also appeared as a sign performer. In the early 1990s, for example, he performed poems by Berlin women artists as part of the project Hormones of the Male.

Syrus Marcus Ware

Playing this video requires sharing information with YouTube, as described in their privacy policy.

The video opens with the black screen divided into eight smaller screens, some showing abstract images of television static, some show documentary footage of events such as protests. Slowly our six Black protagonists – a man, around 30 years old, a woman around 20 years old, a couple of people around 50 years old and a child around four years old enter the screen, each of them asking “Do you read me” or “Can you read me?” while looking at and directly addressing the viewer. The imagery alternates between a single image of each one of these protagonists and a black screen split into multiple images, showing news footage of fires, war, protests, and imagery of the protagonists all crowding around the camera, positioned on the ground.
Syrus Marcus Ware, Ancestors, Can You Read Us? (Dispatches from the Future), 2019, multi-channel video: 3:16, courtesy of the artist

Syrus Marcus Ware uses painting, installation, and performance to explore social justice frameworks and Black activist culture. Ware’s multi-channel video Ancestors, Can You Read Us? (Dispatches from the Future) is an “imagined and staged dialogue with a future beyond the current epoch of Black social death and insecurity and this time marked by the ever-present capitalist forces of greed and the persistent script of police and state violence.” Ware’s work provides sustenance as queer/disabled people continue to find agency both in society and in our individual lives.

 


Plan Your Visit

Please wear a medical mask during your visit. Medical masks are required during guided tours.

Exhibit Dates

2 September 2022 — 30 January 2023

Location

Schwules Museum
Lützowstraße 73
10785 Berlin

Tickets

Visit the Visitor Information Page for tickets and other information.

We offer guided tours of the exhibition, further information can be found on our Education Page.

Hours

  • Monday: Noon-6PM
  • Tuesday: Closed
  • Wednesday: Noon-6PM
  • Thursday: Noon-8PM
  • Friday: Noon-6PM
  • Saturday: 2-7PM
  • Sunday: 2-6PM

Public holidays: closed on 1st January, 24th December, 25th December, 31st December and public holidays on Tuesdays.

Access Information

The wearing of FPP2 masks at the exhibition opening is mandatory. If this is not possible due to access reasons, please inform us before your visit.

Building:

Other information

Interpretation

Public Transport

Exhibit Events

Backwards and Forwards:
Queering the Crip and Cripping the Queer*

Date: 6 October, 8PM

A color photograph of Carrie Sandahl.

A photograph of Carrie Sandahl, a white woman with shoulder length blond hair , a gray, black, and pink patterned scarf around her neck. Carrie wears eyeglasses and is smiling.

Photo: Carrie Sandahl A photograph of Carrie Sandahl, a white woman with shoulder length blond hair, a gray, black, and pink patterned scarf around her neck. Carrie wears eyeglasses and is smiling.

In 2003, Sandahl conceptualized the verb “to crip” to explore the affinities between queer and progressive disability communities. She extrapolated the concept from the verb “to queer,” which emerged in the 1980s and 1990s to describe representational strategies, used in queer communities to make visible and destabilize heterosexual norms. She drew on the similarities and crucial differences between how crips and queers see and represent their experiences by analyzing the work of solo performance artists who identified as both. Since 2003, the use of “to crip” or “cripping” has taken on a life of its own in academic and activist circles. Sandahl returns the term’s origin story that ground it in the lived experience of queer and disabled people and that point to future directions in activism, the arts, and academia.

The wearing of FPP2 masks in the exhibition halls is mandatory. If this is not possible due to access reasons, please inform us before your visit. The event will take place in English spoken language and will be interpreted into International Sign. The event will be streamed. You can reach the stream on the day of the event on our youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/SchwulesMuseum

Entry: 4€

Carrie Sandahl is a Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the Department of Disability and Human Development. She co-directs Chicago’s Bodies of Work, an organization that supports the development of disability art and culture. Her research and creative activity focus on disability identity in performance and film. Sandahl’s publications include a co-edited an anthology, Bodies in Commotion: Disability and Performance, which garnered the Association for Theatre in Higher Education’s award for Outstanding Book in Theatre Practice and Pedagogy (2006). Her collaboratively created documentary, Code of the Freaks, a critique of disability representations in cinema, premiered in 2020.

* The title for this talk nods to the theater artist and scholar David Ball, who in 1983, wrote the textbook, Backwards and Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays. Ball’s technique provides a set of tools to understand how a play works by studying its mechanics before creating meaning. Sandahl’s work focuses on how representational techniques of queering and cripping work together to create new meaning about the lived experience of disability and queerness.


Desire Lines and Death Loops

Date: 8 October, 4PM

A color photograph of multidisciplinary artist Perel

A photograph of multidisciplinary artist Perel, who sits on the floor, and holds a cordless microphone in her right hand and with a raised arm holds their siler metal cane with their left hand. Perel is wearing a black short-sleeved top and a black thigh length skirt.
Photo Credit: Michael Bause

Photo: Michael Bause A photograph of multidisciplinary artist Perel, who sits on the floor, and holds a cordless microphone in her right hand and with a raised arm holds their siler metal cane with their left hand. Perel is wearing a black short-sleeved top and a black thigh length skirt.

Multidisciplinary artist Perel will be performing “Desire Lines and Death Loops“ at the “Queering the Crip, Cripping the Queer” exhibit at the Schwules Museum Berlin on 8 October at 4pm. Perel will invite visitors into a choreographed encounter with queer/disability history under the Nazi Reich into a ritual honoring queer/disabled icons: artist Lorenza Böttner, performer/choreographer Raimund Hoghe, and writer Audre Lorde, as well as some living icons.

The wearing of FPP2 masks in the exhibition halls is mandatory. If this is not possible due to access reasons, please inform us before your visit. The event will take place in English spoken language and will be interpreted into German Sign Language.

Entry: 9€, reduced 3€.

Perel is a multidisciplinary artist whose work is centered on disability and queerness as they relate to care, consent, sexuality, and personal and historic trauma. Utilizing choreography to examine power exchange between the artist and audience, “Perel is a master at timing, of tension, relief, and intimacy while creating a space of learning and unlearning.” (Victoria DeJaco, Spike Magazine). Perel asks, “How do we move across space and time with respect to our collected histories?” Perel tours and teaches internationally, as a university lecturer and mentor to emerging disabled artists at organizations in New York City and Berlin. They recently received the Disability Futures Fellowship (2020-2022) from United States Artists, and the Ford and Mellon Foundations.


Pink Splashes: Queering the streets through abolitionist interventions

Date: 23 November, 7pm

Syrus Marcus Ware
Photo courtesy of CBC A portrait of Syrus Marcus Ware sitting and smiling at us. Syrus has brown skin, a short beard, and is wearing bright pink clothing, black ornate metal rimmed glasses, a large silver hooped earing in their left ear, and light brown/blonde dreadlocks over their left shoulder.

Syrus Marcus Ware will be exploring the uprisings of 2020 and the queer and trans Black activist interventions that brought art and activism together to push for abolition and decolonization in Northern Turtle Island. Syrus Marcus Ware will consider artworks that were created in response to these interventions – both works created through his practice and that of other Black artists in Northern Turtle Island.

Bio

Dr. Syrus Marcus Ware is an Assistant Professor at the School of the Arts at McMaster University. A Vanier scholar, visual artist, activist, curator and educator, Ware uses painting, installation, and performance to explore social justice frameworks and black activist culture. His work has been shown widely across Canada in solo and group shows, and his performance works have been part of local and international festivals. He is part of the < strong>Performance Disability Art Collective and a cofounder of Black Lives Matter-Canada. Syrus is curator of the That’s So Gay show and a co-curator of Blackness Yes!/Blockorama. In addition to penning a variety of journals and articles, Syrus is the co-editor of the best-selling Until We Are Free: Reflections on Black Lives Matter in Canada (URP, 2020).

Event information

The event will take place in English spoken language and will be interpretated into International Sign. The wearing of FPP2 masks in the exhibition halls is mandatory. If this is not possible due to access reasons, please inform us before your visit.

Entry: 4€

The event will also be streamed on the YouTube channel of the Schwules Museum without interpretation into sign language. The video recording with English subtitles will be available on YouTube some days after the event: https://www.youtube.com/c/SchwulesMuseum

There is a beanbag seat for the audience, which can be reserved. If you need a specific seat or a more relaxed entrance due to visible or invisible disabilities, please come 20 minutes before the performance starts.


Queer, Crip Activism and the Arts: Nina Muehlemann and Steven Solbrig in conversation with Kate Brehme.

Date: 3 December, 7pm

A collage showing Nina Muehlemann and Steven Solbrig.
Credit: Jean-Marc Thurmes; korn/antal Nina is lying on a round silver bed in the middle of a stage. Medusa is on the left, sitting upright and speaking into a microphone. She is a white person with a short round body and long wavy brown hair with chunky silver-blue streaks. Her eyes are heavily made up in green. She is wearing a harness net body, showing a lot of milky skin, with some thin silver snakes woven into the straps, nestling into her chest. She is also dressed in grey-blue snakeskin leggings and silver socks. Steven Solbrig is depicted on the right, gazing down in his black sweatshirt, exposing his short, silver-brown hair.

In celebration of International Day of Disabled People, join queer, disabled artists Nina Mühlemann and Steven Solbrig and curator Kate Brehme as they discuss the state of queer, crip activism in German speaking arts contexts.

Nina Mühlemann (they/she) lives in Zurich and is an artist and theatre and disability scholar. In 2018 they completed their PhD at King's College London in Disability Studies and Performance Studies. Currently, Nina is working in the research project "Aesthetics of the Im-Mobile" at the University of the Arts in Bern, researching the im-/mobile dance and theatre practices of disabled artists. From 2018-2019 they were artistic co-director of Future Clinic for Critical Care, a socio-cultural animated theatre practice project, with performances at Gessnerallee Zurich and Impulstanz Festival Vienna. In 2020, they co-founded Criptonite with Edwin Ramirez, a crip-queer theatre project that centres on the work of disabled artists. Criptonite's most recent work, "Pleasure", premiered in Munich in October 2022.

Steven Solbrig, white, genderfluid, queer, with a disability, grew up in the former GDR. In the early 2000s, Steven completed an apprenticeship in a facility for the disabled, including boarding accommodation. Steven photographs, teaches, writes, and performs, among other things on the visibility of (art) with disabilities, from the perspective of disability studies and this with an activist attitude.

Event information

The event will take place in German spoken language. The wearing of FPP2 masks in the exhibition halls is mandatory. If this is not possible due to access reasons, please inform us before your visit.

Entry: 4€

The event will also be streamed on the YouTube channel of the Schwules Museum. A video recording with German subtitles will be available on YouTube some days after the event: https://www.youtube.com/c/SchwulesMuseum

There is a beanbag seat for the audience, which can be reserved. If you need a specific seat or a more relaxed entrance due to visible or invisible disabilities, please come 20 minutes before the performance starts.

Other Events

Please visit the Events Page for a full list of exhibit events, tours, and workshops.