no bra, no problems
The trailblazing queer performer had made a space for herself and others in the arts community.
This article originally appeared in The Radical Issue, no. 351, Spring 2018.
Susanne Oberbeck has performed wearing nothing more than a pair of lycra shorts and a glued on mustache for 15 years. In 2018, this might not be an unusual sight. In 2003, when she started out, it really was. “I was always on the fringe of different scenes, and didn’t fit into any of them,” she emails from New York. Outside the gay scene, there weren’t many openly queer, ambiguous artists, but with musicians like Arca and Mykki Blanco making moves into the cultural mainstream, this is changing.
“Being androgynous gives you a resilience because you’re used to feeling out of place, and you have a mission that isn’t dependent on trends.” A photographic and fashion muse, Suanne took her name from a headline in The Sun — “Rachel Stevens wears no bra“ — and found that trying to make a space for herself and others like her spoke to a creative audience. “You always hope that you can be seen as someone with a valid point of view rather than a weirdo,” she says. “I am not entirely optimistic about the power of art at this point, but I think ideas can be very effective, even if a result is not immediately noticeable.”
While society has applied a fairly limited, but ever growing, spectrum of sexual norms, it has also applied it to popular music. It is here where Susanne steps in with No Bra. Growing up in Germany, visits to her local squatted music venue, that regularly booked US hardcore punk bands, left a mark on Susanne. “I saw a lot of aggressive topless guys and that really impressed me.” Whether or not the knack of absorbing the etiquette that surrounds social convention and questioning it comes from her outsider-ness, Susanne’s compulsion to talk about sex combines sexual liberation with romantic ideas and a touch of comedy. “Poetry and music are supposed to speak the truth. When artists put their finger on things that are considered to be uncomfortable, or that haven’t been articulated properly, they are the most powerful.”
No Bra performs at Secret Project Robot in Brooklyn on Friday 16 March.
Photography Christian Cassiel