We talk with Verena, the creator of the Transnational Queer Underground
#TheGalleryProject is a transnational repository of queer art open to everyone. Collages, comics, paintings, photographs, performances and installations –among other formats– participate in such an open project that seeks to question Western ethnocentrism within the arts. #TheGalleryProject is part of TQU –Transnational Queer Underground–, whose main aim is to rewrite the narrations of history dominated by white men. We interview TQU's creator, Verena.

First of all, I read that you were doing research on queer music when you came up with the idea for the Transnational Queer Underground. Besides Johnston's IPU, what where your influences and aims when starting this project?
One story that influenced me was how Toronto-based zine J.D.s came together. Bruce LaBruce (now mostly known for his films) and G.B. Jones (an artist, filmmaker and musician) were frustrated with being the only queers in a male dominated punk scene as well as being the only punks in a very mainstream oriented gay scene in the 1990s. They started a zine called J.D.s which included a mixtape of music called queercore, sent it to a bunch of people around the world, and soon enough everybody thought queercore was actually a thing and queer punk scenes began to emerge all around Northern America and Europe. Hearing that encouraged me to never dream too small and made me realize that it’s up to me (and you) to make the change that we want to see in the world.

When I moved to Berlin 7 years ago, I was really surprised by the fact that the majority of white queers here simply seemed to show no interest in other struggles. The thing I was missing most in queer leftist spaces in Europe, and in Germany especially, was a strong connection to activists or even knowledge about the situation of LGBTIQ people in other parts of the world. As soon as I learned to read and write in English I started writing with pen pals in Indonesia, Australia, Haiti, Hong Kong (to only name a few countries) because I felt alienated by my own surroundings and wanted to learn about the other ways of living out there. I ended up meeting lots of other people with similar struggles and ideas, only in a different setting. When I was old enough to travel on my own, I'd always try to meet up with other queer people wherever I went to find out about their experiences and unique situation. Since we already had some common grounds - usually questioning the ways our own societies treated us and what we could do to change that - it was always very easy to make new friends. 

With TQU I want to provide an alternative space - not limited to a specific location - where people can find firsthand information on what's going on in other parts of the world. I contacted a lot of people through Couchsurfing and asked them to put together a list of queer places in their area that would be hard to find if you’re not a local. People also started sending links to local bands, artists, etc. and over time I've collected a lot of resources from different places, big and small. What I really like about this is that the information comes directly from the people who live in each place and that it allows each person to show their own reality. It is not one person writing a story about somebody else's life. We’re always looking for people to contribute more original information to the page, so if you playing in a band you want more people to know about, or you have a friend who’s a filmmaker and want to write about them, or anything else at all, please get in touch!

Did you find support and allies within the queer networks and organisations? And within the artistic communities of Berlin and elsewhere?
I am lucky enough to call some very lovely, interesting, and creative people here in Berlin my friends. Without them and their support I don’t think this project would exist at all. English is not my first language, so I always need help proofreading texts and submissions (thank you!). But most importantly I hope they agree when I say that we help out with and support each other's projects equally. Most of us have jobs for money and we do the things that we think are really important on the side. So we tend to make sure that they’re fun, too.

To be honest, when I started #TheGalleryProject last summer, I initially didn't advertise in Berlin at all in the beginning, because I didn't want it to be too Berlin-centric. So I sent the call out to selected magazines, NGOs and other sources, doing a lot of research to reach people in every country of the world. In the end we got submissions from 46 people and more than 25 countries, which I think was quite a good start. The feedback I got from the artists and from the people I contacted to spread the call was also really positive. We will exhibit #TheGalleryProject in different places around Europe this year, and since it's a D.I.Y. project with no real funding so far, it relies on the support of the community and individuals who think it is important to make things happen even when there is no money involved. If you want to support us you can find a link to do so on our website.  

The diversity of formats is astonishing and inviting for a wide variety of artists. Do the submissions favour any particular format or formats? Do you think the choice of a format affects the capacity to rewrite history from the perspective of queer people?
No. I don’t think so. I think we all have our own individual talents and capacities and need to find the form of expression that works best for our intention. It’s also a question of time and resources. When you struggle to survive, it’s hard to find time to make art. We have to acknowledge that this world can be very exhausting and overwhelming and that the struggles people have with society and with themselves are real. We also have to realize that art and the art market is something that needs questioning since it prefers Western traditions over other forms of expression. With TQU and #TheGalleryProject, one of my main aims was to create a platform where everyone feels like they can express themselves exactly how they want and no one form takes preference.  

What would you tell our Spanish or Spanish speaking readers who may have doubts about submitting their artwork?
First of all, I speak Spanish, not as well as I did a few years ago, but feel free to write to me in Spanish. I also want to emphasize that for some of the people participating in #TheGalleryProject, it was the first time that they had ever published something. I'd really like to encourage people to be more public about and proud of what they are creating. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be an artist, take a look around the website and see what other people are working on or read their stories, and hopefully you will get inspired to create something yourself. I believe we need more stories and that we should move away from trying to find one queer voice. Accepting and encouraging our diversity is the only way that we can stand strong and shine bright.

More information about #TheGalleryProject in TQU's website.
The interview is also available in Spanish in our website.