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Radical Trans*feminist Art at the Schwules Museum

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Millionaires Can be Trans* // You Are So Brave was a highly successful multi-media exhibition framed by a series of performances, film screenings, and lectures at the Schwules Museum this summer and early fall. As stated on the Millionaires Can Be Trans* // You Are So Brave website, the exhibition was “framed by a program of artists who critically engage with various identity constructions and their inscribed power structures”. Ranging from a work on performed femininity as a commodity (Olivia Sparrow), to a performance on the body, pain, astrology, bureaucracy, and erotic dreams (Juli Apponen), the exhibition had elements of both visioning and critique. I had the opportunity to speak with Alex Alvina Chamberland and Vince Tillotson, two of the curators from the curatorial team for the exhibition, to ask them about their process, experience as curators, and visions for the exhibition.

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The curating process for Millionaires Can Be Trans* was non-hierarchical, invested in community organizing, and focused on radical trans*feminist visioning and politics. The curating process specifically focused on reaching folks outside of the U.S./American political context. “The idea was to invite people for a dialogue beyond those perspectives, because they dominate so much of the discussion”, says Chamberland. Chamberland spoke to the curatorial team’s desire to “deepen a radical discussion around trans*politics that was really skeptical to capitalism and class hierarchies”. The team had an open call for submissions to the show and embraced artists with various levels of established followings in the art world. The exhibit questioned why certain trans narratives are established in the art world and in mass media as a whole. In both their process and in the final exhibition, the team of artists and curators focused on deconstructing dominant trans* narratives and the fetishization of trans* bodies, and centered lived experiences and self-determination.   

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In addition to the artwork at the museum, there were performances, lectures, and community events as a part of Millionaires Can Be Trans*. Tillotson explained that the original vision was to create a “community space that we could constantly use” for the exhibition, events, and community building. That vision was not possible because of structural barriers and lack of funding and resources. Even with the lack of funding, the entire exhibition (events included) was highly successful. The exhibition and the events that frame it support the radical queer community both in Berlin and internationally.

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Deepening the radical trans* narrative was central to the goal of the curators for the show. Many of the curators have experience in various forms of community organizing, and the curators were interested in introducing and upholding narratives that critiqued dominant trans* narratives both globally and locally. As a part of the exhibition, there have been a series of lectures on radical trans*feminism. At the beginning of the talk ‘The Failed Political Myth of Equality Through Law – A Case for Prison Abolition’ Mijke van der Drift outlined what radical trans*feminism is. Radical trans*feminism: acknowledges existing structures and how they have major issues, is critical of the hetero-capitalist colonial project, and believes that we can change the conditions under which we live. This framework, ideology, and way of living upheld and maintained the poignant power of the exhibit. Millionaires Can Be Trans* // You Are So Brave was one of the best multimedia exhibitions in all of Berlin this summer.