Vienna Pride 2021
at Kunsthistorisches Museum, Weltmuseum Wien & Theatermuseum
From 7 to 20 June, 2021 Pride takes place in Vienna. On this occasion, the Kunsthistorisches Museum, the Weltmuseum Wien and the Theatermuseum have assembled a diverse and queer event programme. Join us in seeing Old Masters in a new light and discover ambiguity, exceptions to the norm and eroticism where you wouldn’t typically expect them.
The drag queen Tiefe Kümmernis has been guiding a tour at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in 2019 as part of the FACES project. Her alter ego, Benjamin, is an art historian and worked with us for our education department. In this video, Tiefe Kümmernis invites you to queer explorations in the Gemäldegalerie.
The Kunsthistorisches Museum presents objects from five millennia – but what do they have to do with the Pride parade? One might assume that LGBTI* people have only existed for a short while and that’s why there are no related objects in historical collections. This assumption is false, however – diverse types of gender identity and sexual preferences have always existed, but without the current terminology and discourse.
*) LGBTI* = Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex.
The asterisk (*) denotes that this enumeration is not definite.
Even mighty warriors sometimes loved members of their own sex. Achilles, the legendary hero, had a partner named Patroclus. When Patroclus was killed by Hector in the Trojan War, Achilles was quick to slay Hector in revenge. On this ancient vase painting, Hector’s father is demanding the return of his son’s dead body (lying beneath the bed) from Achilles (lying on top of the bed).
The Weltmuseum Wien is one of the world’s foremost ethnographical museums, with extensive collections of objects, historical photographs and books about non-European cultures. Among the multitude of objects from all over the world, there are many indicators of the fact that queer topics are not only a current phenomenon, but that they have been a part of various cultures for a very long time.
In India and other regions of South Asia, members of a third gender who are neither male nor female are called hijras. Hijras are already mentioned in the Indian myths of the Ramayana and Mathabaratha. Today, the hijra community comprises two to three million people in India and since 2009, hijras have been legally recognised as the third gender. Bahuchara Mata is the goddess of the Hijras and is worshipped by them. There are several legends about Bahuchara Mata: once the goddess was a princess who castrated her husband because he was more interested in behaving like a woman in the forest than in marital intercourse. In another story, Bahuchara Mata cursed a man with impotence for molesting her and only after he gave up his masculinity, dressed as a woman and worshipped Bahuchara Mata did she forgive him.
In scholarly Buddhism, the Goddess Tara embodies the “protective acts of compassion”. She offers protection from the dangers which seekers might face on the way to Nirvana: pride, misguidance, wrath, jealousy, fallacious ideas, parsimony, lust and doubt. For many laypeople, she is somewhat of a motherly figure when it comes to finding support for the troubles of this world.
According to the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, Tara was incarnated as a princess, who steadfastly worked for the welfare of all sentient beings. When she reached a higher plane of existence, a sneering monk remarked to her that she could now reincarnate in a (putatively) more convenient male body, because a woman’s body was rather hindering in reaching enlightenment. The princess thereupon made a promise to always incarnate as a woman and to attain enlightenment in a female body. In Tibet, she became known as Tara the Saviouress, and offered inspiration for generations of practitioners of both genders. With her awakening, she proved that a female body can achieve enlightenment in the same way as a male body.
The stage, a world of appearances and illusion: shouldn't a person's gender be irrelevant there? But a look at the theatre of the past and present shows a different picture. To this day, only two genders in stereotypical representations shape the characters in dramatic texts and their realisation on stage. A not insignificant part of this is due to the so-called "classics", which still largely determine the playbills today. In recent years, however, individual playwrights and theatre productions have increasingly dealt with the diversity of society, for example in relation to gender and sexual orientation, in order to break up the male-dominated canon. This also means that the usual hierarchies and norms in theatre are being questioned and undermined, for example through participatory working methods. New perspectives on well-known characters from the classics of theatre history, such as Hamlet or Medea, also make it possible to question preconceived stereotypical patterns and behaviour.
Trousers were already known as items of clothing in antiquity, but it was not until the 14th century that they were largely attributed to gender. Even though it was mainly men who wore trousers, over the following centuries women were in principle not forbidden to put them on as well. This only changed with the Age of Enlightenment and the rise of the bourgeoisie. The strict separation of the male and female worlds with the attributions of gender-specific characteristics was also reflected in fashion. Trousers (to be worn practically) were attributed to the (male) world of work; if worn by a woman, it was tantamount to an attack on patriarchal social structures.
Theatre has always functioned as a mirror of society. Social and political concerns - both positive and negative - have also been communicated through the stage. Socially committed playwrights who give a voice to the discriminated have always existed. For centuries, women were forbidden to perform in public; it was not until the Commedia dell'arte at the end of the 16th century that the first female actors entered the stage. Before that, women's roles were played by men. However, the emancipatory struggle was far from over when they entered the stage; appearance and dress as well as behaviour away from the theatre played a far more important role than for men. Female characters in classical plays are also mostly roles with little content and a one-sided image of women. Taking on male roles gave actresses the opportunity to show more multi-faceted characters. Wearing trousers on stage is also an attack on patriarchal social structures.
Adolf Wilbrandt, a writer celebrated during his lifetime and known for his wide range of themes, as well as Burgtheater director from 1881 to 1887, wrote the story 'Fridolin's Secret Marriage' in 1875. The bisexual main character is based on a friend of Wilbrandt, the art historian Friedrich Eggers. The story was the first of Wilbrandt's works to be published in English translation in the USA in 1884 and is probably the first German-language literary text to depict a homosexual relationship. The modern term "homosexuality" did not even come into being until the 19th century, although homosexual acts had always existed, although they were not described as such. It was only in the course of establishing certain gender-specific characteristics, stereotyping and ideals that a homosexual identity was attributed as "the other", "the pervert".
Wilbrandt's narrative was far ahead of its time, which is why it was later mentioned not only in literary but also repeatedly in academic texts on homosexuality.
Death in Venice was published in 1912 and is one of Thomas Mann's internationally most successful novellas. An elderly writer becomes obsessed with an unfulfillable love affair with a teenager, only to die as a result.
In 1971, Luchino Visconti made a film of the text, and in 1973 Benjamin Britten's opera Death in Venice was premiered at the Aldeburgh Festival in Suffolk, which he and his partner, the tenor Peter Pears, co-founded. In Vienna, the opera was performed at the Wiener Operntheater in 1994.
Benjamin Britten is considered one of the most important British composers. His best-known operatic works include Billy Budd (1951), also a setting of a novella, this time by Herman Melville, A Midsummer Night's Dream (1960) and Peter Grimes, which was first performed in 1945. The 2015 new production of Peter Grimes at the Theater an der Wien won the International Opera Award. Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears were already living together as a couple when homosexuality was still a punishable offence in Britain. It was an open secret that no one talked about. It enabled Britten to be very successful in the society of the time, to receive many commissions for compositions, to be invited to the royal family, but at the same time to create homoerotic song cycles and to give joint public performances with his partner.