Vaslav Nijinsky (1889 - 1950)

Montmartre Cemetery - Paris, France

Escaping your mind into your vocation got you out of Russia. You gave Sergei your body and he made you a star. Your sexual gestures in Spring caused riots in Paris. While trapped on a boat you married your stalker, despite not sharing a language. Retiring before 30, schizophrenia and heterosexuality stole your last years.

Vaslav Nijinsky, digital print, text, 2019

Queer Expats of Paris (installation view), digital prints on aluminium, 60x60cm each , 2019

 

Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898)

Cimetiere du Trabuquet - Menton, France

Illustrating your way to infamy by being a foppish dandy artist who satirised Victorian morality, you once proclaimed, “If I’m not grotesque I’m nothing”. Becoming entwined with the British Decadents, Wilde saw you as a ‘kindred spirit’. Your big break came when he commissioned you to illustrate Salome. When Wilde went down for being a sodomite, guilt by association resulted in losing your job and standing. Rumours about your personal life were numerous, including an incestuous relationship with your sister Mabel, who became pregnant then miscarried. With tuberculosis taking hold you converted to Roman Catholicism and moved to Menton with your mother. On your deathbed, she might have forged a letter trying to destroy your obscene legacy but your publisher thought better saving your work as you passed away under the hill. 

Aubrey Beardsley, Giclée print and text, 2019

Côte d'Azur Queers (installation view), Giclée prints and text, prints 50x50cm, 2019

 

Lucía Sánchez Saornil (1895-1970)

Cementerio de Valencia- Valencia, Spain

Raised by your poverty-stricken father you turned to the written form to express the frustration of your lived experiences. A male pen name let you secretly convey your desire for female companionship. Working as an underpaid telephone operator you took part in a union strike, which ignited your passion for social justice and led you to dedicate the rest of your life to social revolution. Joining the anarchist organisation Confederación Nacional del Trabajo as editor of their journal you wrote fervently about gender roles in Spain, rejecting motherhood and subserviency as the foundation of female identity. Disappointed by the chauvinistic attitudes of your fellow Republicans you co-founded Mujeres Libres (free women), to aid and empower working-class women to overthrow their oppressors. During the chaos of the civil war, you met your life long partner, America Barroso. As the Republic ended you fled to Paris together. With fascism spreading across Europe you returned to Spain despite your fear of retributions for your politics and lifestyle and lived out your days quietly with America.

Lucia Sánchez  Saornil, Giclée print and text, 2020

Iberian Queers (installation view), Giclée prints and text, prints 40x40cm, 2020

Iberian Queers (excerpt), video, excerpt 1:04, full length 10:16 , 2020

Gertrude Sandmann (1893 - 1981)

Alter St.-Matthäus-Kirchhof - Berlin, Germany

Born into a wealthy Jewish family of plantation owners in East Africa, you grew up in the heart of Berlin. Showing artistic talent from a young age, you liked to draw in charcoal and paint in watercolours with the female figure being your primary interest. You studied at the Association of Women Artists because no women were allowed to enrol at the Academy of Fine Art. Following your studies, you received private tutelage from Käthe Kollwitz who you would remain as a life-long friend and mentor. At the beginning of World War One, you were in a relationship with Lilly zu Klampen, an old friend from school. However, still being financially dependent on your parents, they pressured you into marriage to the physician, Hans Rosenberg, but that ended in divorce almost immediately. During the more tolerant time of the Weimar Republic, you lived as openly as one could. However, it was no utopia, still having to hide your sexuality from family and employers. The odious views on your sexuality held by your religious community made you renounce Judaism.

 

With the rise of Fascism, you moved to Switzerland, but after not being able to renew your residency visa, you had to return to Berlin in 1934. The following year the state banned you from practicing your profession due to the Nuremberg laws - you were unable to exhibit, sell work or even teach. Through an English art dealer, in the summer of 1939, you obtained a visa for England but decided not to go because you couldn't leave your sick mother alone. A month after World War Two started she died and travelling to England became impossible, leaving you trapped in Berlin with no way out. The Nazi state started the mass deportation of Jews in late 1941. When you received your deportation order, you decided to fake your death. You left a suicide note and your ration card in your abandoned apartment but made sure your artworks were kept safe in storage.

 

Your gentile partner Hedwig 'Johnny' Koslowki arranged for you to stay with friends of hers, staying in a tiny closet for a year and a half, living off the little food that could be spared. Later moving to and hiding in Hedwig's apartment until the end of the war. By the time you came out of hiding, you were left in a feeble state, both physically and mentally. You were one of only 1200 Jews to survive in Berlin during the war. After years of not being able to create art, you moved into a studio in the Schonenberg district and started to exhibit again. At age 81, together with other older lesbians including your friend Kitty Kuse (who had helped bring you food while you were in hiding), you founded the group L74, an activist organisation that helped create a space for elderly lesbians. The community was always at the heart of your existence; you would declare, 'Our power lies in the fact that we all help each other'.

Gertrude Sandmann, Giclée print and text, 2020

Berlin : Art & Activism (installation view), framed Giclée prints and text, prints 40x40cm, 2020

Berlin : Art & Activism (excerpt), video, excerpt 1:04, full length 4:40 , 2020