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¡PROTAGONISTAS!: Resistance, Feminisms, Revolution

Interview with Margarita Tsomou, the discourse curator of HAU and member of the curatorial collective of the festival.

  • Jun 16 2023
  • Dalia Maini
    is a writer, editor and urban mermaid.

Feminist movements from Iran, Kurdistan, North Africa, and Latin America, unlike the predominant liberal, Western feminist projects, do not reduce their demands to a mere equal percentage of women* in a current toxic way of life, but fight patriarchy and colonialism at their roots. These movements reframe the feminist project as a driver of political transformation and structural change. Now, in an artistic and discursive way, HAU Hebbel am Ufer is taking up these approaches by organizing the festival ¡PROTAGONISTAS!: both through an international gathering to connect prominent feminists and diasporic communities, and through performances, dance, film, and concerts. Dalia Maini met Margarita Tsomou, one of the organizers of the festival, to present its agenda and the forms of feminism that it invites to participate.

Ciao Margarita, it is a pleasure to meet you in this context. Can you tell us more about how the project came about and the urgency of organizing a festival as ¡PROTAGONISTAS! in Berlin now?

The reasons are multiple, but two points of urgency emerge more than others. The first is the political attitude we are suggesting. Feminism in the last decades has been very successful as a cultural concept and has become an institutionalized practice of mainstreaming diversity. Now women are politicians and CEOs of big companies. There is a kind of neoliberal diversity feminism that pretends to have fulfilled what we are fighting for, but it actually hasn’t. For example, working conditions for care workers and the legislation for femicides and gendered violence in Germany are still a catastrophe. Or the fact that reproductive labor is still primarily private and there are no efforts to socialize it. Then there are the ongoing wars, the border regimes, the neoliberalization of social welfare or ecocide—all this is structurally and historically connected to patriarchal domination. Hence why we think it’s about time to formulate a feminism that goes beyond issues for “women*.” We think it’s even more important to distance ourselves from liberal Western or right-wing feminism, and that’s why the festival is called Beyond Equality—even if it’s provocative, because equality is actually a good thing. But we say we don’t do egalitarian feminism anymore because we don’t want to have an equal share of the toxic pie that colonial, racist, and patriarchal capitalism is offering to us. We are suggesting feminism as a political project, as a transformative project to change structures. That’s the first point. Secondly, we have so many diasporic communities in Berlin with no access to big stages: their voices are not yet really amplified. We tried to bring all these disparate voices together in the fertile cultural ground of Berlin. 

The intention behind the festival is to go beyond the commodification of feminism and revive a more solidary sense of urgency and perspectives, but I can imagine that reaching this depth required a rigorous understanding of each movement. Can you unfold the topics that will be touched on during the festival? 

It is important to say that the festival is the result of a collective process. A group of scholars, organizers, cultural workers, and feminists—Firoozeh Farvardin, Barbara Marcel, Camila Nobrega, Bahar Oghalai, Bafta Sarbo, and Elif Sarican—convened to bring together feminists and collectives from all over Europe and beyond and give them a space to develop this transformative feminism with us. I could not have done it alone as a white feminist, and this already reveals the fracture between different forms of feminism. So, the method was to assemble and see, also as an experiment of collectivity by people from different contexts, what kinds of subjects actually arise as important. So we raised issues on war or ecocide. While the men go to fight and be the heroes, what do feminists have to care for? Do they actually hold up the whole infrastructure in the background? Or ecocide: the people that we invite live in territories that are endangered by extractivist megaprojects, which mostly come from big Western companies. They also live in geographies that are very much endangered by climate change. For them, ecology is not just another issue to put in because now there is more awareness of it. It’s not about being aware. They have to organize food, water, and living conditions in their communities. They have a political way of dealing with this matter, in order to sustain life. In these conditions, women, queers, and FLINTA are more at risk and need to invent new political structures for organizing and practicing democracy beyond nation-states. We can also learn from them how to deal with authoritarian regimes, as we continue to witness the rise of the far right in Europe.



Can you name some of the individuals and collectives who will participate and draw connections between their common practices and desires?

The feminisms that we bring—Iranian, Kurdish, and Latina feminisms—don’t want to be part of a toxic capitalist, colonial scheme. There are people like Dilar Dirik, for instance, who is a leading voice of the Kurdish women’s movement. For these women, one of the central points of going beyond patriarchy is creating democratic participatory structures in the everyday. But they say that this cannot be done without reorganizing our relation to ecology on a daily basis. To deal with planetary care is also very central in the work of the Guatemalan feminist Lorena Cabnal, who has initiated Feminismo Comunitario, along with others, to defend the land and women’s bodies from extractivist gendered violence. Territories and female bodies are the free resources of capitalism, to nourish the dynamic of accumulation. Or you have someone like Véronica Gago, who is working against gendered violence and its relation to debt, and we bring her together with someone like Christina Clemm, a lawyer on gender violence in Germany, and Parvin Ardalan, a famous Iranian feminist who will also speak about repression in authoritarian regimes. And then Maria Galindo from Bolivia will expand on queer issues, together with Zethu Matebeni from South Africa, or Rub(én) Solís Mecalco, a nonbinary indigenous scholar from the Maya community. They will talk about other ways of thinking about queerness beyond Western paradigms, to disrupt the idea that queerness comes about as a European or US prerogative. We also have Casa Kua, which is a nonbinary, BIPoC, trans and queer collective. And then we have, for example, on a similar topic, the TranStyX: Tunisian Queer Art. There are so many traditions of queerness that don’t even relate to this term, and they come together to open a debate on what queerness is, beyond white representations and traditions.

One of the foundational principles of feminism is situatedness, so the feminist struggle has also become a compass for broader struggles and more diverse epistemologies. How will the festival preserve these peculiarities?

I think it’s important to point out that the term “feminism” and the European and Western concept of feminism are not given. Not everyone identifies with the term. People in Latin America and the Kurdish, for instance, won’t call themselves feminists; they would talk about muhlerismo or call themselves the Women’s Liberation Movement, because for them it’s about liberation from modern capitalist society. I think that in Europe, feminism is instrumentalized by the right more and more. We see right-wing feminists who exclude trans, nonbinary, and queer people. Meanwhile, authoritarian and anti-migrant politics are justified as a means of keeping white women safe, the idea being that such border politics will keep out the non-enlightened others. 

But we know that women’s struggles are interlinked and specific, and this will be visible also in the variety of discursive and practical formats through which they will be presented. We will have many formats that will be specific to the participants’ practices. We have panels with massive audiences, but also a “world cafe” format, where people can find each other in small groups for more intimate discussions. We will have an assembly where the whole stage will be full of chairs and we will have ten mics all over; people will be able to have the floor, without a division between audience and speaker. And, of course, we’ll have many workshops as well. The festival aims to go beyond representation, to be an invitation to work and think together, to exchange experiences from Abya Yala to Kurdistan—to form internationalist feminist connections, beyond the nationalist geographies of the colonial heritage.

The festival is bringing people together to collaborate on different ways of reorganizing reality, artists, and activists. How will these practices broaden the horizon of politics and sociality to lead everyone outside the structure of patriarchal relations?

For our curatorial team, the question of art and culture as a vehicle is very important. We don’t make a separation between the political and the cultural spheres—both of them are ingrained in everyday life—because these feminist approaches also practice prefigurative politics and culture is a vehicle for creating the worlds we are demanding. A lot of the people we invited are both cultural workers and activists. Maria Galindo, an anarcho-feminist from Bolivia, is an example: she’s a performer in public space, where she has a huge political impact, but is also active in “Mujeres Creando,” a house for feminized, trans, and indigenous people. Then we have spokespeople for different forms of feminized labor, like sex workers who work in very precarious conditions due to migration and illegalization and use performance as a tool against criminalization and for visibility. Or LasTesis, who intervene in the street with queer and feminized bodies, moving in masses—their performances are an act of emancipation occupying the space, which is hostile to feminized people, so to act with them is already confronting patriarchy. Then we have Maternal Fantasies, who elaborate more on the artistic cultural scheme of motherhood as labor that is feminized. The political, in feminism, has always been about living another life, about revolutionizing the culture of the everyday. 


Margarita Tsomou is a Greek-German dramaturgist, curator, performance artist, dancer, and activist.


The festival ¡PROTAGONISTAS! will take place from June 21–July 2 / HAU1, HAU2, HAU3, HAU4, Outdoor.



    Illustration by Sadhna Prasad.



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