Remaking Ourselves In Our Own Image
BY BRIAN McCORMICK | Since 2003, the Queer Zagreb Festival has advocated and promoted queer life and culture in that Croatian city with audacity. It has become a major art festival in Europe, all the while challenging and expanding the parameters of queer artistry.
“Queer art is not taken seriously often by curators,” founder Zvonimir Dobrovic told Gay City News. “It took us some years in Zagreb to get on the map, to get people to notice programming we are doing can be on par with international centers.”
Ten years on, he has proven to be more than equal, having presented more than 300 artists.
Queer arts festival challenges the constraints of queer
“I have relationships with artists a lot of people in the curating world will know in some years, once these artists reach Berlin or Paris,” he said, “but often they have been to Zagreb first.”
In 2012, Dobrovic launched the Queer New York International Arts Festival (QNYIA). This year’s festival is dedicated to festival co-director André von Ah. Dobrovic and von Ah married in August and in early September von Ah died suddenly. (Just days earlier, he had published a piece in the Huffington Post about Kennedy Center director Michael Kaiser’s wedding, which was officiated by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.) Initially, Dobrovic wanted to cancel the festival.
“The idea of facing New York, where André and I had a lot of memories, was just too difficult to imagine,” he said. “But then I thought that out of my own comfort it would be unfair to André and all the work he put into it.”
In addition to performances, this year’s festival includes a Queer Art New Music Series, a film screening and talkback, a series of discussions, and other public programs.
“He was very keen on putting more context into the festival based on experiences last year,” Dobrovic said of his late husband.
Last year’s festival was met with dissent from some critics and artists around notions of queer identities and aesthetics. A major newspaper had to run a correction for an “erroneous description” about a panel discussion. For Dobrovic, this all misses the point.
“When someone hears ‘queer,’ they immediately think it has to tick all the boxes,” he said. “A festival cannot do that — otherwise you have a salad, with a politically correct dressing of course, but it does not need to do that.”
“We know what queer art is,” Dobrovic elaborated, “but no one thinks how it can be also moving beyond gender, it can go beyond being purely iconic, it can talk about positions of power, center and margin, beauty, ideas, race, ethnicity. Queer is a powerful term to address these. But it is so smeared with homophobia that people cannot get over.”
He added, “Working in Croatia, I learned to recognize homophobia in different masks and layers. It is not always a punch in the face.”
Addressing specific performers on tap, Dobrovic said, “Room 100 from Croatia and Antonia Baehr [Germany] are artists that will define what Queer New York tries to do, as they both in their ways question queerness beyond purely gender, sexuality, or other usual prisms that stem from feminist thought.”
Among the 16 acts from 10 countries in this year’s QNYIA festival are New Yorkers Shane Shane and Heather Litteer, Dan Fishback, and Max Steele.
“We both were very committed to working with New York and US-based artists,” Dobrovic explained. “The role of a festival, any festival, always has to be communication and dialogue with its own geography. So, this year we really wanted to work with local artists much more and to put their work shoulder to shoulder to the international programming.”
For Dobrovic, the definition of queer is dependent on geography. But his hypothesis places queer art on alternative terrain, independent of queer activism.
“Activism is linear,” he offered. “There is a timeline, a goal. With art, all these lines are erased. For example, you can be in Croatia and say, yes, they are 10 years behind Brazil in terms of LGBT rights, or 20 years behind the Netherlands. But, the beauty and the difference is you cannot come to Croatia, Brazil, Philippines, or any other country and say, in terms of queer art, they are 10 years behind.”
The imprint of von Ah on the festival is indelible.
“He was always excited about Brazilian arts,” Dobrovic said. Von Ah got performance and visual artist Gabriela Mureb and choreographer Angelo Madureira to present at the festival this year.
“He insisted that Raimund Hoghe be in the festival as well,” Dobrovic explained, “and now in this twist of fate, Raimund will have a special one-off performance [October 25] as a tribute to André.”
Hoghe will also be presenting “An Evening With Judy,” his new solo project, as part of the festival.
Even before this year’s festival has started, Dobrovic is thinking about the next.
“I want even more the partnerships,” he avowed. “I want BAM, Baryshnikov Arts Center, New York Live Arts, and the work there to be called queer and make a difference to the festival and help the artists in that sense be empowered. But just to note, it is impossible that Raimund Hoghe, after being in New York quite a few times, only now comes with an umbrella of queer. You have to be blind not to see queerness in each of his works, in the energy he gives, in the visuals.”
We know queer when we queer see it.
QUEER NEW YORK INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL | Multiple venues | Oct. 23 – Nov. 3 | queerny.org
QNYIA 2013 is presented in partnership with the Abrons Arts Center (466 Grand St. btwn. Pitt & Willett Sts.), with events at Grace Exhibition Space & Gallery (840 Broadway, btwn. Park & Ellery Sts., Bushwick), The Invisible Dog Art Center (51 Bergen St., btwn. Boerum Pl. & Smith St., Boerum Hill), Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater (425 Lafayette St., btwn. E. Fourth St. & Astor Pl.), La MaMa, ETC. (74 E. Fourth St., btwn. Bowery & Second Ave.), Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art (26 Wooster St., btwn. Grand & Canal Sts.), the New School (66 W. 12th St.), Participant INC. (253 E. Houston St., btwn. Aves. A & B), and New York Live Arts (219 W. 19th St.) For a complete schedule visit queerny.org