HAM Helsinki Art Museum participates in recent debates about gender and its discontents with the exhibition Genderfuck 1900. The exhibition opens astonishing perspectives on the issue by turning attention to forgotten history. Showcased are roughly 300 postcards, studio photos and snapshots that date back more than a hundred years.

The people represented in the photos and postcards cross-dress and play with gender and sexual roles, challenging assumptions about masculinity and femininity. The conventional norms of the early 20th century are called into question. Imagine that: queer was already very much alive over a hundred years ago!

The exhibition inspires us to consider what forms of self-expression, performative pleasure and identity politics were associated with the popular pictorial media of the early 20th century. At the same time, the richness of the imagery challenges the chauvinistic idea that current gender concerns are merely “minority issues” of today.

The exhibition is curated by Adjunct Professor Harri Kalha, who has been compiling the materials used in the exhibition and the non-fiction book that the exhibition is based on for 10 years. Mental bridges to the present are built by works from different decades, chosen from HAM’s collections.

Private studio photo, Italy, ca. 1920 / © Private Collection