BY Carlos Kong in Opinion | 16 JAN 23

The Nomadic Museum Championing Queer Art Practices in Romania

Launched to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality, Triumf Amiria is the country’s first institution dedicated to LGBTQ+ culture

BY Carlos Kong in Opinion | 16 JAN 23

In 2021, a new institution – the enigmatically titled Triumf Amiria: Muzeul Culturii Queer [?] – was inaugurated as the first museum of queer culture in Romania. Lacking a physical exhibition space, the museum initially launched as a manifesto collectively authored by its three curators (Ioana Gonțea, Dragoș Olea and Vlad Viski) before evolving into an ongoing series of artistic programmes on queer topics hosted at various cultural institutions throughout the country. Conceived by the Bucharest- and Brussels-based art collective Apparatus 22 – of which Olea is a member along with Maria Farcaș and Erika Olea – the name Triumf Amiria boldly declares the museum’s queer histories to be ‘a myriad of triumphs’ (amiria is a Romanian adaptation of the Ancient Greek myrias or myriad), while the question mark serves to continuously challenge its institutional status from within.

Trium Amiria curators:  Ioana Gonțea, Vlad Viski and Dragoș Olea (from left to right). Courtesy: Trium Amiria; Photograph: Mihai Neagu.jpg

Triumf Amiria was launched to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in Romania in 2001. In 1968, the country’s then president, Nicolae Ceaușescu, introduced Article 200 into Romania’s penal code, which criminalized all same-sex relationships. Despite the fall of communism, the article remained intact, with the 1990s witnessing a renewed homophobic vehemence. LGBTQ+ issues were hysterically decried by the political right and the Orthodox Church as a western capitalist import and a supposed ideological threat to Romanian values. Since 2001, however, queer art projects have progressively developed in countercultural pockets of the Romanian art world, albeit largely without the support of public institutions or commercial interests. Serving as allies to communities marginalized by the state and society, artists have joined queer activists to fight for rights, visibility and the dismantling of conservative norms.

‘YOU FEEL ~ AND DRIFT ~ AND SING (1-245)’, exhibition view with works by Veda Popovici and Mircea Nicolae, 2021, Combinatul Fondului Plastic, Bucharest. Courtesy: the artists and Combinatul Fondului Plastic, Bucharest

Comprising exhibitions, readings, performances and educational workshops that survey the past 20 years of queer art in Romania, Triumf Amiria puts into practice the utopian ideals compiled in its manifesto, which imagines a renewed engagement with Romania’s queer histories. Organized by the curatorial duo Kilobase Bucharest (Dragoș Olea and Sandra Demetrescu), Triumf Amiria’s shows in Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca and Timișoara have collated works by multiple generations of artists, ranging from those who worked under state socialism, such as Cornel Brudașcu and Vasile Mureșan, to contemporary queer artists including Irina Bujor, Mihai Mihalcea and Veda Popovici. The largest exhibition to date, ‘YOU FEEL ~ AND DRIFT ~ AND SING (1-245)’ at the Combinatul Fondului Plastic in Bucharest in 2021, exemplified the project’s speculative queer museology and, featuring 245 artworks by 38 artists and collectives, highlighted the diversity of queer approaches in contemporary Romanian art. Adopting an experimental system of display, the curators installed artworks on sheets of reflective metal arranged into barricade-like structures to evoke queer political struggles.

‘YOU FEEL ~ AND DRIFT ~ AND SING (1-245)’, exhibition view, 2021, Combinatul Fondului Plastic, Bucharest. Courtesy: the artists and Combinatul Fondului Plastic, Bucharest

The show’s exuberant aesthetics, combined with the sheer number of participating artists, acted as a triumphant proclamation of the irrefutable presence of queer life in Romania and a robust response to reactionary mobilizations of recent years. These have included the 2018 referendum, spearheaded by the Coalition for the Family, that sought to define marriage as explicitly between a man and woman, which failed due to insufficient voter turnout, and a similarly unsuccessful attempt to ban the teaching of gender-identity studies in 2020. Currently, there is also a proposed bill that, following the illiberal drift of Hungary and Russia, would ban so-called ‘gay propaganda’ in schools and public life. This instrumentalization of sexuality and gender is indicative of local and global reactionary political trajectories, and underscores the urgency of artistic initiatives like Triumf Amiria that archive and retell queer histories at risk of erasure.

Apparatus 22, ‘Of Pleasure: The Learnings and Strange Fortunes of Atletica Ideal’, 2022–23, exhibition view, Suprainfinit Gallery, Bucharest. 

In response to this ongoing threat, queer artists in Romania are also creating works that envision radical futures beyond heteronormativity. In their exhibition ‘Of Pleasure: The Learnings and Strange Fortunes of Atletica Ideal’, currently on view at Suprainfinit Gallery in Bucharest, Apparatus 22 offer what Dragoș Olea described to me as a ‘kinky science fiction’. For the exhibition’s fictional world, the collective invented an AI character named Atletica Ideal: a genderless machine who is unable to feel love, and thus turns to art as a source of sexual pleasure. On view are two ‘sex tapes’, absurdist music videos produced by Apparatus 22 that narrate Atletica’s quest for erotic and artistic knowledge. The show’s campy, DIY aesthetic is underscored by a shimmering curtain composed of countless strips of magnetic VHS tape that runs through the exhibition space, its fragile-yet-seductive structure evoking the ephemerality of sensual pleasure. A neon text piece illuminates the curtain, spelling out the phrase: ‘My crusade for love reached the end of the worlds.’ From Triumf Amiria’s artistic archives of queer resistance to the sci-fi vision that Apparatus 22 invites us to inhabit, such crusades for love – struggles for liveable queer futures – are reverberating throughout Romania and beyond.

Apparatus 22’s ‘Of Pleasure: The Learnings and Strange Fortunes of Atletica Ideal’ is on view at Suprainfinit Gallery, Bucharest, until 28 January

Main image: Paul Dunca/Paula Dunker,‘Coregrafii Nocturne (detail), 2021, installation view. Courtesy: the artists and Combinatul Fondului Plastic, Bucharest

Carlos Kong is a writer and art historian living in Berlin. He is currently a PhD candidate in Art History at Princeton University and in Film Studies at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz.