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Museum, Musex, Mutext, Mutant: Giuseppe Campuzano’s Transvestite Machine

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Alejandro Gómez de Tuddo, La Virgen de las Guacas (Retrato de Giuseppe Campuzano como Virgen Dolorosa), 2007. Impresión cromogénica, 70 x 194 cm. Colección del artista, Roma

Alejandro Gómez de Tuddo, La Virgen de las Guacas (Retrato de Giuseppe Campuzano como Virgen Dolorosa), 2007. Impresión cromogénica, 70 x 194 cm. Colección del artista, Roma

Giuseppe Campuzano (with makeup by Germain Machuca), Photographs for Identity Document (Fotografías para documento de identidad), 2011

Giuseppe Campuzano (with makeup by Germain Machuca), Photographs for Identity Document (Fotografías para documento de identidad), 2011. Print. Photo: Claudia Alva

Giuseppe Campuzano with Germain Machuca, The Two Fridas—Lifelines (Las Dos Fridas—Línea de Vida), 2013

Giuseppe Campuzano with Germain Machuca, The Two Fridas—Lifelines (Las Dos Fridas—Línea de Vida), 2013. Color photographs and performance. Photo: Claudia Alva

Giuseppe Campuzano, Transvestite Museum of Peru (Museo Travesti del Perú), 2004

Giuseppe Campuzano, Transvestite Museum of Peru (Museo Travesti del Perú), 2004. Intervention, Parque de la Exposición, Lima. Photo: Claudia Alva

In memory of Giucamp (1969–2013)

Transvestite: Aberrant, effeminate, abnormal, stray, degenerate, common criminal, highly dangerous criminal, criminal dressed as a woman, shameless, sexual deviant, dressed up, drag queen, anti-social, entity of HIV transmission, scandalous, fake woman, gay, stray gay, gay with a miniskirt, thug, tea-leaf, man dressed as a woman, man in feminine clothing, homosexual, stray homosexual, homosexual dressed as a woman, un-desirable, strange individual, immoral, inverted, gossip, social evil, crazy, crazy street hag, unlawful, scumbag, illegitimate, queer, faggot, fag, erotic minority, pedophile, passive pederast, person of questionable conduct, personality, character, antisocial character, lowlife character, pervert, weird, weirdo, ambiguous being, marginalized being, snitch, third gender, transgender, transformer, transvestite, vulnerable (still under construction)1 . . .

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.

If the first instance of Campuzano’s transvestitism in the nineties had been about parodying the dominant norms of gender and sexuality in public space, the second instance, beginning in the new millennium, would be a cosmetic surgery of the historical systems of meaning whose dominant heterosexual logic has always excluded a whole series of bodies. Giuseppe’s strategy was intuitive: in order to fracture the centrality of certain knowledges and read the fiction that was sold to us as history, he had to cannibalize one of modernity’s most effective apparatuses of political discipline—“one of the most sophisticated Western promises of truth.”2 Between performance and research, the Transvestite Museum of Peru was conceived of as a means of inserting the disruptive narratives of transgender—capable of undoing the hidden foundational myths of the nation-state—into public debate.

TMP’s small interventions in the street and institutional space led to growing tensions between the grand symbols of nationalist heroism and those heroisms of minority communities who have to constantly confront the prevailing system of representation in order to survive. From this moment on, all of his characters—the post-porn virgins, the women with beards, the androgynous indigenous, the whores on broken high heels, HIV positive trans-andeans, alien bodies, bulimic witches, drama queens, heterosubversives and a number of nomadic sexual identities—became guerrilla drag queens capable of sodomizing the monolithic account of sexuality.

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.”3 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.”4 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.5

TMP’s wider understanding of transvestism—loaded with black humor—allowed for the development of a large number of literary and visual fictions and the invention of transgender and migrant subjects within these narratives. For Campuzano, it was always these undomesticated stray whores—and never the queer boss—who were capable of bringing down the imposed power structures. With TMP, Giuseppe Campuzano unfolds the desires of the tapada limeñas (veiled women of Lima)6, the transvestite opera singers of the Chinese community in 1870, and the images of the black queers rendered in watercolor by the artists of the colonial scientific expeditions. TMP is also an archive of texts that includes narrations of transgender corpses, traces of prostitutes’ injected silicone, records of undone masculinity, studies about the human rights of bodies that are constantly defying what a human body looks like, and litanies extracted from the press.7 In all of these examples, his characters categorically deny taking on the role of victim, something that is commonplace in the way the heteronormative regime publicly presents disobedient subjectivities. Guilt-free and in make-up, these bodies regurgitate injury to the point of converting it into a space that can be occupied by pure pleasure—abuse gives way to “the perverse pleasure ( . . . ) of those who know and desire each other as monsters of dissimilarity.”8

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 18th and 19th centuries by shifting the focus towards the historical period of colonization, racialization, and primitive accumulation of the 16th 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 so enthusiastically reclaimed, are the traces and features of the cuir from the South 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.”9 There is no longer a recognizable subject, only processes of mutation and de-identification where bodies become others. There is nothing more certain that these fakes, frauds, and displacements—a fabulous reality emerging from artifice.

Campuzano’s work allows for the visualization of digressive maps of subjectivity and the development of strategies to contravene heteronormative processes that ultimately construct exclusionary systems of meanings. His queer archive of stories, memories, chronicles, and montages is a crucial collection of counter-fictions that can be used to continue surviving and resisting naturalized forms of domination and pathologization. TMP is committed to equipping us with the narratives we desperately need in order to construct a worthwhile image of the future. “To dress up the transvestite as a museum is to give it weapons to fight”10 Giuseppe used to say. This modest chronicle serves to liberate his toxic pink weaponry and to penetrate once again the bowels of his infinite, unstoppable, and inextinguishable transvestite machine.

  1. Giuseppe Campuzano, Museo Travesti del Perú (Lima: Institute of Development Studies, 2008).
  2. Giuseppe Campuzano, “De Engendro Fabuloso a Performatividad Creadora,” conference paper read at the XIV International Meeting of Writers on Literature and Monstrosity, Mexican History Museum of Monterrey, September 28–October 3, 2009.
  3. Tatiana Fuentes, “Entrevista a Giuseppe Campuzano,” Archivo Virtual de Artes Escénicas, 2008,, accessed November 2, 2013.
  4. “Giuseppe Campuzano y el Museo Travesti. Entrevista con Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes,” Hemispheric Institute E-misférica 6.2 Cultura + Derechos + Instituciones, 2009.
  5. 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.
  6. See: Giuseppe Campuzano, “Veiled Genealogy for a Transfuture” in The Future Lasts Forever, Carlos Motta and Runo Lagomarsino, ed.s (Gävle: Gävle Konstcentrum, 2011), pp. 29–37. A legacy of the Moors, or Muslims, who fled persecution in Spain, the tapadas limeñas were especially common among the Spanish elite when they first arrived in Peru after the Spanish colonization of the Americas beginning in 1492. At the end of the 16th century, the Congress of the Indias saw a potential danger in the veiled women for the colonial empire because the sexual identity of the bodies beneath the veil couldn’t be controlled. This reference acts as a precursor for some feminist, queer, and trans resistance movements.
  7. His texts can be found in Giuseppe Campuzano, Saturday Night Thriller y Otros Escritos, 1998–2013, Miguel A. López, ed. (Lima: Estruendomudo, 2013).
  8. Giuseppe Campuzano, “De Engendro Fabuloso a Performatividad Creadora,” ibid.
  9. Giuseppe Campuzano, “Un Museo Travesti. Concepto, Contexto y Proceso,” lecture delivered in Espacio La Culpable, Lima, July 2008.
  10. Daniel Link, “Historia americana”, Página 12, Buenos Aires, July 23, 2010.

The Museo Travesti de Peru (Transvestite Museum of Peru) had a specific, partisan mission. What other museums, “official” or otherwise, have been targeted at political or social ends?

  • MichaelJWilson

    Another museum focused on exploring the culture of an “erotic minority” through the display, study, and celebration of related art is New York’s Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art. Having begun collecting and showing art in their SoHo loft in the late sixties, co-founders Charles Leslie and Fritz Lohman worked toward establishing a foundation, and were eventually granted a provisional charter of museum status in 2011. Located in SoHo, the institution aims to–in the words of its mission statement–“exhibit and preserve art that speaks directly to the many aspects of the LGBTQ experience, and foster the artists who create it,” and remains the only organization of its kind in the world.