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Berlin Exhibition Calls Out Queer Exclusion and Police Violence in Sports

An expansive show across two Berlin venues carves a space for queerness.

Alyssa Buffenstein

Detail of the Berlin Briusers dressing room. Photo by Luis Alberto Rodriguez, courtesy of nGbK.

Sports are huge in Germany. When Germany’s men’s soccer team scored a goal in this summer’s EuroCup, the streets of Berlin erupted in inescapable cheering. Seemingly every bar, restaurant, and Spätkauf (the Berlin equivalent of a Bodega) brought a TV or projector outside for the neighborhood to watch, and when the team won a game, cheering became displays of fireworks. Worldwide, sports are an integral part of culture, but like any cultural force, they can have a darkside for those that don’t fit in. An exhibition in Berlin called contesting/contexting SPORT 2016 (ccSPORT) takes on gender discrimination, heteronormativity, and queer erasure in sports.

Through a large exhibition of art and documentary materials, ccSPORT questions the ways that sports can socialize people, put them into boxes, and form, or repress, their identities. ccSPORT takes a comprehensive, intersectional look at the cultures that sports create, deconstructing them in order to help create a more inclusive, and less violent future.

The Rio 2016 Anti-Souvenir Shop.  Photo by Luis Alberto Rodriguez, courtesy of nGbK.

The exhibition of nearly 60 artists is spread across two sites in Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighborhood: the neue Gesellschaft für bildende Kunst (nGbK) and Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien. At the former’s exhibition space is a more traditional exhibition of art inspired by sports, while the work on display at the latter takes a more documentary approach, filling rooms with information and photographs of Berlin-based queer sports clubs and teams, like Box Queers, a trans-centered boxing group or the Berlin Bruisers, “the first gay and inclusive rugby team in Germany.”

Berlin Bruisers Dressing Room Installation.  Photo by Luis Alberto Rodriguez, courtesy of nGbK.

The 2016 Men’s EuroCup is one event that justifies the timeliness of ccSport , but the other is the 2016 Rio Olympics. On display here is a Rio 2016 Anti-Souvenir Shop, called Monstruário 2016. Written in hilariously satirical marketing speak are slogans for toys like the Big Tractor and Little Skull, “ideal toys for kids who like sports!” The plush toys anthropomorphize an armored police car (known locally as “Big Skull”), which has been sent into favelas in Rio in anticipation of the Olympic games, and has contributed to the more than 2,500 deaths at the hands of police officers in preparation for the games. The tractor represents the forced evictions, demolitions, and stadium construction. The anti-souvenir shop sheds light on the little-spoken-of police violence, targeted at poor communities, that accompanies the celebrated global sporting event.

Installation view of Contesting/Contexting Sport. Photo by Luis Alberto Rodriguez, courtesy of nGbK.

At nGbK, a number of works deal with the different experiences that men and women, or young boys and girls, have with sports, and the different pressures they face. A series of photographs by the Düsseldorf-based Katja Stuke capture, in close-up, the faces of preteen-looking young women participating in Olympic games. Their faces express varied feelings of anticipation, disappointment, or focus, but the intensity shared between them is striking. Nearby, a video piece by Marisa Maza documents what it’s like to be a woman who takes testosterone for the purposes of going harder, better, faster, stronger.

Installation view of Contesting/Contexting Sport. Photo by Luis Alberto Rodriguez, courtesy of nGbK.

Drawing a lighthearted, yet powerful, parallel between the practices of sports and drag performance is artist David Crespo’s installation Third Half. A dressing room is installed on one side, above which hangs a football-shaped disco ball. A clothing rack is strewn with sweaty jerseys and cleats, but also with a pair of high-heeled shoes and a wig. In the same room, a video plays depicting members of the Berlin Bruisers, in their rugby uniforms, attempting to perform the choreography to Beyoncé’s "Love on Top." The Bruisers are presumably more proficient at rugby than they are at dancing in sync, but their failure to perform a perfect Beyoncé rendition exemplifies the different skill set needed for these different kinds of physical activities.

contesting/contexting SPORT 2016 is on view until August 28, 2016. Find out more, including how to RSVP to programming, on nGbK’s website.

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