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Manifestation of the Personal: Sofia Queer Forum 2014

Vaska Emanuilova Gallery, Sofia
May29-June 5, 2014

This year’s Sofia Queer Forum concept “Manifestations of the Personal” resulted mainly from the panel discussion “Politics-Art-Gender” initiated after the forum’s first edition in 2012, published in the online magazine Blister. One of the discussion’s contested points was that sexuality is something personal and is as such apolitical – just like one’s taste in clothing, food or music. In the conclusions one of the discussion’s participants arrived at the question: Why politicize something apolitical?..

Yes, questions of gender, gender identity and sexuality can be perceived as personal (and apolitical?), but only in an ideal surrounding where there are no conflicts. It is a fact, however, that we are not living in one. Here and now (in Bulgaria, Europe, the world, albeit to a different extent) there are established and sometimes seemingly unshakable positions as heteronormativity prescribes. By deviating from or not accepting it the individual embarks upon a direct confrontation with all sorts of moral and institutional prescriptions which are invariably “political”. When we speak of queer, the sublime moment of manifesting the personal (i.e., its becoming public) is saturated with conflicts and contradictions and it is precisely this fullness of senses, meanings and interpretations that are the uniting motif of this year’s forum.

“Manifestations of the Personal” is a provocation of sorts – laying bare and disclocing, creating a multiplicity of shared personal spaces. Contradictory and multidirectional intimate self-expressions by eleven Bulgarian authors, some of which investigate in a contemplative way their own essence, others deal with feminism, religion and fetishism, and still others proceed from their personal stories in search of the basic question of determination. It is thus not by chance that this exhibition is prevailed by self/portraits which represent most of all self/contemplation and self/analysis.

The artists: Antonia Gurkovska, Boryana Rossa, Voin De Voin, Ivo Dimchev, Kiril Bikov, Krassen Krastev & Paul Dunca, Lubri, Natalia Todorova, Svetozara Alexandrova, Stanka Koleva.

Curatorial idea

The binary opposition “personal-public” can easily be defined if one says that the manifestation of the private automatically turns it into public – i.e. the public is everything that is accessible by others (like information or physical space) and then the private is the opposite – one’s feelings, thoughts, desires, tastes.

This is a short and easy definition that becomes unclear and illogical if it is applied to gender identity, sexual orientation or desire. At first glance this falls completely in the realm of the personal. A heterosexual man, looking, feeling and acting as such, goes into public. His sexual life remains private despite the obvious manifestation of his sexuality; he does not seem to awaken public interest. A man on high heels goes on the street. Automatically what was thus far considered  “personal” (appearance, gender identity or sexual orientation) turns into public and as such, it is an object of certain regulations (moral or legal).

These two examples showcase some important dependencies: sometimes the personal remains personal even if it is manifested, but in other cases it becomes an object of public interest despite its indirect, almost subtle manifestation. Hence, the personal is a privilege of heteronormativity, i.e. if a person fits into the norms s/he has the possibility to keep her/his “personal” life as such. But if s/he goes beyond this frame and reveals her/his “difference”, the personal automatically turns into public. Is the “personal” then an illusion?

By default, then, the public is always political. Being non-political is then a characteristic of the personal. If the personal does not exist in terms of gender and queer, then we logically come to the simple syllogism that both of them cannot (and should not) be non-political. In this sense, the fictitious non-political-ness, which some representatives of heteronomativity claim for in a desperate attempt to keep their “personal space”, is actually a powerful means for applying this very same normativity. Being aware of these dependencies and putting them into question through contemporary art is the main goal of Sofia Queer Forum and in 2014 it will encourage young Bulgarian artists to express their own position and artistic interpretations on the topic.

Stefka Tsaneva