Transvestite Museum of Peru: Processes of Sexed Art, the Political Body, and the Transvestite Nation

Author: Giuseppe Campuzano
Introduction: Miguel A. Lopéz
Translation: Max Hernandez-Calvo

Giuseppe Campuzano’s Transvestite Machine

Miguel A. López

Giuseppe Campuzano wants to relate history all over again. He wants to unfold the bitchy version, the one with mascara running down its face. He wants to tell us all the stories that were taken from us. More than fifteen years ago, while he was dressing up in sequined costumes, feathered headdresses, and high heels, going from queer to queer, wig to wig, salon to salon, Giuseppe began to wonder about the lost ancestors of his joyful transvestite body. This question was also a performance, and a portable revolution about to explode. Out of his silver bag, Giuseppe took a series of writings, images, and objects that he had been accumulating since his childhood: this was the album of becoming-transvestite. This collection of recycled fictions—culled from the sewers of the heterosexual gaze’s regime of representation—was the beginning of an unstoppable vampire journey constituted by activism, theoretical writing, sexual practices, and cultural production. It was a vital journey on the road to subversion, with no predetermined plan or return ticket, and it would lead him to gather a collection of queer images and create the incredible archive, warehouse, and arsenal of disobedient bodies that he calls Museo Travesti de Peru—the Transvestite Museum of Peru (TMP).

Before founding TMP in 2003–04, Giuseppe had, since the late 1980s, already been intensely exploring the political possibilities of his transgender body, defying sexual normativity at parties, discos, street fairs, protests, and art galleries. The project stems from a reaction to the lack of recognizable representations in official Peruvian history, with its abysmal gaps in race, gender, and class. The space to imagine new and unique forms of intervention was also a consequence of the critical distance he took at the end of the nineties in the face of the mass media promotion of the image of a domesticate transvestite during the times of the dictatorship, as well as the journey he made to visit his father’s town in the Andes, where he lost himself to the collective peasant dances and celebrations. His commitment to confronting the persecution of his own outlawed transgender community, and his obsession with the development of vernacular codes and historical characters, crystallized rapidly into a series of questions about the politics of the representation of his/their/our weird body/bodies.

It was precisely his personal questioning of the role of the transvestite in the media and in official history that brought Giuseppe to initiate this visual, historical, and philosophical archeology of his origins. “I see transvestism as a ritual, like a priest performing a liturgy or a shaman of the native cultures.”[1] Understood as an analogy for the mask—the false, the copy, the camouflage—transvestism started to be a useful analytical concept capable of visibilizing and philosophizing the processes of colonization, resistance, hybridization, and mestizaje. It was transvestism that was capable of understanding the link between “the androgynous rituals and the transvestite dancers as cultural mediators; the hair from sacred indigenous and colonial offerings and the livelihoods of the modern transvestite hairdresser; the feathers of the Inka Manco Capac of the man-woman caste and those of the colonial androgynous archangel, or the figure of the contemporary transvestite showgirl.”[2] Yet, transvestism is also understood as a series of daily rituals, similar to the relation between a body with HIV and the apparatus of medical technologies. Ingesting this cocktail—apart from being a vital necessity—is also a way of occupying the political history of medication: to ingest pills is seen by Giuseppe as an aesthetic experience as well as a ritualistic act where the body takes control of its own therapy with the objective of modifying the destination of the illness.[3]

Exploring the artistic and political legacy of the philosopher, drag queen, and activist Giuseppe Campuzano means entering into a debate about the politics of representation and memory of the transvestite body. His performances, interventions, and writings fracture the space that privileges heterosexual subjectivity and redistributes the power it has always wielded to construct hegemonic histories. His work also disturbs the Western modern-colonial perspective of sexuality and the epistemologies of the north: he displaces the discussion about the relations between the state and the body’s disciplining during the European modernity of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by shifting the focus towards the historical period of colonization, racialization, and primitive accumulation of the sixteenth century. He introduces into the debate a nascent and underlying legal framework of colonial governing officials who were already, by 1566, trying to manage and organize gender as a binary system that would exclude and prohibit transvestism in America. Standing before the figure of the white, Western transvestite that Anglo-Saxon Queer Theory has reclaimed, are the traces and features of the cuir from the South [4] whose impurities TMP excavates for all to see: the androgynous, the divine, its relationship with ancestral dances and rituals associated with harvest, or the proliferation of apocryphal saints and Andean traditions. Throughout his work, Campuzano places the body in transit at the center of his enunciations—a false and prosthetic body “whose nature is nothing but uncertainty.”[5] There is no longer a recognizable subject, only processes of mutation and de-identification where bodies become others. There is nothing more certain than these fakes, frauds, and displacements—a fabulous reality emerging from artifice.

Miguel A. López is a writer, artist, and researcher. He is an active member of the Southern Conceptualisms Network/Red Conceptualismos del Sur (RCS) since it was founded in 2007. He has published in periodicals such asAfterall, ramona, Manifesta Journal, Tercer Texto, The Exhibitionist, Art in America, among others. He has recently co-curated (with RCS) “Losing the Human Form. A seismic image of the 1980s in Latin America” at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid (Oct. 2012 – March 2013), an exhibition about the transformation of the understanding and engagment with Latin American politics in the 1980s. Among his recent publications are: ¿Y qué si la democracia ocurre? (2012, co-edited with Eliana Ottaa) a book on visuality, politics, and democracy; a comprehensive catalogue on Peruvian conceptual artist Teresa Burga (2011, with Emilio Tarazona); and a queer issue of Argentine ramona magazine (2010, co-edited with Fernando Davis).

Notes

[1] Tatiana Fuentes, “Entrevista a Giuseppe Campuzano,” in Archivo Virtual de Artes (Escénicas, 2008), https://artesescenicas.uclm.es/index.php?sec=texto&id=134, accessed October 28, 2015.

[2] “Giuseppe Campuzano y el Museo Travesti. Entrevista con Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes,” in Hemispheric Institute E-misférica 6.2 Cultura + Derechos + Instituciones (2009).

[3] This is what Giuseppe Campuzano proposed in a text that accompanies his photographic essay Dos veces al día (Twice a Day, 2005), which won second place in Imágenes of Life (Images of Life), a photo competition related to the reality of people living with HIV/AIDS.

[4] The terms cuir/kuir are a sign of the commitment to a mestiza perspective with regards to the sexual-dissident struggles: transfronterizo (transborder) and promiscuous positionings invoked from the South to confront the epistemologies of the North, its modern/colonial systems of gender and sexuality, and the hegemony of the white Western subject.

[5] Giuseppe Campuzano, “Un Museo Travesti. Concepto, Contexto y Proceso”(2008), in Saturday Night Thriller y otros escritos, 1998–2013, ed.Miguel A. López (Lima: Estruendomudo, 2013), 66–73.