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"What is Queer?" Artistic Director, Zvonimir Dobrovic Challenges Definitions at the Queer New York International Arts Festival

"What is Queer?" Artistic Director, Zvonimir Dobrovic Challenges Definitions at the Queer New York International Arts Festival
Garnet Henderson/Follow @garnethenderson on Twitter

By Garnet Henderson/Follow @garnethenderson on Twitter
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Published on September 17, 2015
John Moletress; Photo: Generacion Ascere

Queer New York International Arts Festival

September 16 - 26, 2015

For full lineup and ticket information:


Queer New York International Arts Festival (QNYIA) artistic director Zvonimir Dobrovic is interested in challenging norms, and that includes creating a broader definition of the term “queer.”

"We try to include different kinds of ways that people can be excluded or marginalized that are specific to their surroundings. In Eastern Europe, the norm is very strict and very narrow, so it's easy to fall out. In Croatia even single mothers are queer. And in Brazil, for example, queer is often connected to race. A black body is very sexualized and objectified, and also connected to poverty or lower education.  There are many different ways for people to be excluded, and it doesn't always have to be through sexuality and gender, it can be through education, social status, or race," said Dobrovic.

Two women, dressed in brown camouflage and wrapped in foliage sit atop a rock
Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens; Photo: Manuel Vasson

QNYIA, which runs from September 16 through 26, is now in its fourth year. This year’s festival features performances from a diverse group of international and U.S. artists, whose works explore a range of issues related to identity and marginalization.

Abrons Art Center serves as the festival’s home, but performances will also be held in Central Park, at Dixon Place, and at the Merton D. Simpson Gallery. Dobrovic, who is also the artistic director of the Queer Zagreb and Perspectives festivals in Croatia, curated the lineup. QNYIA grew out of Dobrovic’s work on the Queer Zagreb festival, which was established in 2003.

Ayana Evans wears a hot pink dress as she suds up her skin with a sponge
Social Health Performance Club (pictured: Ayana Evans); Photo: Geraldo Mercado

While this year's program features a substantial roster of international artists, it also includes more U.S. artists than in previous years. "We didn't want to just land like we came from Mars with all these international artists..." said Dobrovic. "We wanted the festival to also feel local." In this spirit, QNYIA presents an evening of performances by artists from the New York-based group Social Health Performance Club, in which they examine what it means to frame performance work as queer. Other American festival artists include the San Francisco-based Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens, who coined the term SexEcology to describe their concept of Earth as a lover rather than a mother. They open the festival with a walking tour of Central Park and will also show their film "Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Eco-sexual Love Story".

Ivo Dimchev sits in a chair miming putting on lipstick, wearing a crocheted dress
Ivo Dimchev

Dobrovic is particularly looking forward to presenting a performance by Bulgarian artist Ivo Dimchev, a returning QNYIA favorite. "He's a really wonderful performer. Somebody who has, in my opinion, one of the best stage presences and senses of timing," said Dobrovic. QNYIA's lineup also includes work by Mmakgosi Kgabi of South Africa and Mehdi-Georges Lahlou of Morocco, making this the first year QNYIA has presented African artists. Dobrovic sees this year as a pilot program and hopes to eventually establish a long-term exchange or residency program with African artists.

Mmakgosi Kgabi holds up a mustard colored couch with a look of consternation
Mmakgosi Kgabi; Photo: Thomas Aurin

QNYIA will also present the world premiere of Disclosures, a work by Croatian artist Bruno Isakovic. The piece analyzes nakedness and its relationship to identity and social norms. The work grew out of the creative process for Isakovic's previous work, Denuded, and draws heavily on performers' personal experiences with nudity.

For Dobrovic, bringing all these artists together in New York has special significance. "New York is the city that invented queer, or did so much for the queer scene everywhere," he said. "But there is also this localized scene here. It is a learning process for everyone to try to understand what it means to be outside any kind of norm and how these norms are formed in different societies and different cultures, and how they can burden any contemporary life."


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