Petworth (and a very queer statue)

I was lucky enough to visit Petworth this week on a training day. The West Sussex country house contains one of the most iconic art collections in the care of National Trust, and a Capability Brown landscaped deer park in the 700 odd acre grounds are home to the country’s largest herd of fallow deer. We only had time for a brief whistlestop tour, but I will definitely make time to go back to have a closer look, and also to explore the grounds more.

There was one particular statue in the collection that stood out for me. The Petworth twitter feed helpfully pointed me towards this record on the collections website.

This is Pan and Apollo (or Marsyas and Olympos or Pan and Daphnis). In other words, it’s potentially any of three combinations of mythical figures. I was struck by the tenderness, and lets face it, queerness of the statue. Let’s consider for a moment that the sculpture depicts Pan and Daphnis, Daphnis was a Sicilian shepherd whose mother was a nymph, and is often depicted as an eromenos, which means the younger man in a pederastic relationship- a convention which was both socially accepted, and recognised in Ancient Greece. Pan fell in love with Daphnis, and taught him to play the panpipes. These models of relationships can be problematic to use as parallels with contemporary understandings of sexual identities. There were no rules or laws about age when it came to sex in Ancient Greece, but there were about consent. Either way, it’s certainly one aspect of Greek/Roman culture that hasn’t directly informed our own ‘civilisation’. The curators of the British Museum’s Warren Cup exhibition in 2006 no doubt had to think very carefully about how the object, which more blatantly depicts sex between erastês and erômenos, was framed in contemporary conversations around sexuality.

Apart from being a really striking statue, it serves to remind us that you never have to look too hard for queer histories and narratives in historic houses, or at least for artworks, furniture and objects that lend themselves well to queer readings and interpretation.

I was also compelled to do a little sharpie doodle of the statue:

Tips for writing a PhD thesis

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about whether or not I regret undertaking a PhD. This is mainly because today is my deadline. My writing up year has finished. I haven’t though. I still have a lot of writing to do, and although I’ve done a lot of work over the past six weeks or so, the finish line doesn’t seem to be getting any closer. Thankfully I have very supportive supervisors, who are very much on my side, and have been really understanding with how much I’ve struggled to balance full time work and PhD writing, and with the mental health difficulties I’ve had over the past four years.

If you’d have asked me at the beginning of summer whether I regretted starting a PhD, I’d have definitely said yes. I was working the most stressful and poorly paid job I’ve ever had, and I’ve never felt so undervalued. I loved working with children, a lot of the adults less so.  If you ask me now about whether I regret starting a PhD, I’m less certain. I’ve landed in my dream job, that would have been impossible without the unpaid work I did while I was studying, the only time I’ve been able to consistently volunteer, because I was fortunate enough to be fully funded for three years.

Either way, I can’t wait for it to be over, it’s drained so much from me, and I can’t wait to be able to sit at home doing nothing without feeling guilty about not working, to be able to look forward to leaving work knowing that I can relax, I mostly can’t wait to start tackling the massive stack of books I haven’t read for the last four years.

I’ve also been thinking about how many pieces of advice I’ve ignored, or wish I had heard, and thought perhaps I can use this weird reflective moment to try and be of use to other people. So here are my top tips, specifically for writing the thesis. (I’ll give you a bonus tip about applying: THINK VERY CAREFULLY ABOUT WHETHER A PHD IS THE RIGHT THING FOR YOU- can you get to where you want to be without? if so, do that instead):

  • Every time you read an article, book or chapter, or hear an interesting conference paper or lecture, don’t just write a list of quotes, try and immediately formulate some writing in response to it, even if it’s just a summary of ideas. Basically just write write write from the start.
  • Agree regular deadlines for written work with your supervisors from the start. If they’re quite laid back, impress on them how important it is for you to have strict and regular deadlines to work to. 
  • Make friends with the university librarians and library assistants. I was lucky in this respect, as I worked in the library. They are your best PhD allies. 
  • Find a good way of managing your physical and digital work. Scrivener is great for organising documents, unfortunately I acquired it quite late in my PhD. Writing such a lengthy piece of work is an inherently fragmented process, try and keep your files and papers organised, even when your head isn’t. When reading/ editing I work better from paper, if you have loads of printouts of your own work at various stages of completion, make sure you date it or recycle it if it’s no longer needed. On the front of printed articles, it’s useful to write a one sentence summary, not about what the article is about, but about how it’s useful for you. 
  • Don’t try and reinvent the conventions of a thesis. Yeah the standard formula of PhD theses is tedious, and the temptation to try and make the process more interesting and creative is high, but only like three people are ever going to read it, so just tick the boxes and get it done, you can write your masterpiece later.
  • Speak at conferences, write articles/book chapters, but make sure anything you do can be reconfigured with minimal effort into your thesis- don’t make more work for yourself, likewise with any upgrading written work early on, try and use it as an opportunity to draft an introduction or a methodology chapter.
  • Teach if possible. Try and leave room in seminars/lectures for conversations. MA students are good at giving feedback without even realising it, plus they’re not too jaded by academia yet, like other PhD students.
  • If you find high theory dense, inaccessible, dull and unhelpful- don’t try and write it.
  • If you have a good relationship with your supervisors, always take their advice. They’re trying to help you get a PhD. 
  • If you have a good relationship with your supervisors, tell them when they’re wrong. (obviously contradicts previous point, but hear me out). Towards the end of your PhD (maybe even from the start), chances are you’re more of an expert in your specific field than your supervisors. It’s okay to say “actually, I’m not going to take your suggestion, I don’t think it’s important to focus on that”, “that’s not really the direction I want to take with this” etc.
  • Talk about your work with your friends, especially those also doing PhDs, as you can offer each other advice, and they’re more likely to humour you. Some of my biggest breakthroughs have been from conversations with friends from different disciplines over a pint.
and these are the most important ones:
  • If you are working full time, and writing your PhD full time, seek help from the doctoral school/administrators, it’s not feasible, and it’s not usual. don’t kill yourself trying to make it work.
  • Mental health always trumps PhD. Don’t cut yourself off from friends, don’t stop doing the things you enjoy out of guilt. You don’t need to devote every waking second to your PhD. Look after yourself.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously. Unless you’re becoming an actual real doctor, no one cares you’re doing a PhD except for you, and nor should they.
  • And finally, some advice for those who spend a lot of time with people doing their PhD: if they say “fine thanks” when you ask them how it’s going, it means “don’t ask me any more questions about it”, PhD students spend so much time thinking about and talking about their work- don’t feel you need to show any interest, they probably appreciate the break.
On the plus side, when this is all said and done I will have earned a gender neutral title at last.
 
Wish me luck, but don’t ask me how it’s going.

‘Sex Museums: The Politics and Performance of Display’ review

Hello all, just a quick post today- I’m currently at the bitter end of thesis writing, hence my inactivity on the blog.

Some great news though, I have got the job of Community Learning Manager at the National Trust’s Sutton House in Hackney, where I have volunteered since starting my PhD, and is the central site I look at in my thesis. I start in September, and I’m so excited to be part of such a great team in such a radical and important National Trust house!

I have written a review of Jennifer Tyburczy’s Sex Museums: The Politics and Performance of Display for the Histsex, H-Net Reviews site. You can read the review here, or there is a printable PDF version here. A really great book, and very timely for my thesis!

 

Speak Out! LGBTQ+ history exhibition & the 2016 LGBTQ ALMS conference

Hello! Apologies for such a lengthy gap between blog posts. I started working in a secondary school in Hackney in November, and I’m still writing up my thesis, which leaves little time for blogging, but I shall endeavour to do better!

Speak Out!

Speak Out London, LGBTQ+ history exhibition is now up and running at the London Metropolitan Archives. I am so pleased and proud to have been a part of such an excellent project. The exhibition is part of an LGBTQ+ oral history community project revealing stories of LGBTQ experience in London from 1395 to the present. It’s been a real labour of love for the LMA team, myself and a legion of volunteers. The next phase of the project is a website!

Here are a few pictures:

I’m particularly pleased with our wall of contested definitions, where visitors are invited (and encouraged) to graffiti it with their own additions, corrections and thoughts to the ever-evolving ways in which those in our wonderful community define, describe and identify.

LGBTQ+ ALMS conference 2016 ‘Without Borders’

Another project I’m involved with is the 2016 LGBTQ+ Archives, Libraries, Museums and Special Collections (ALMS) conference, hosted by Bishopsgate, University of Westminster and LMA.

I would never have thought, when me and Jan Pimblett (from the LMA) were drinking jagermeister in the oldest lesbian bar in Amsterdam during the 2012 ALMS conference that we would be working together on its follow up in London. The programme is phenomenal, and can be found here. And over the next few weeks in the build up, the website will be continuing to grow with tasters, teasers and tidbits! Keep up to date here. Hope to see many of you there! You can buy tickets here.

“It had to be both” Twilight People at Islington Museum

Twilight People: stories of gender and faith beyond the binary is now up and running at Islington Museum.

Curating narratives of people with marginalised identities presents a series of challenges, especially when those people have intersecting marginalised identities. Alongside those challenges come great opportunities for transformative and radical curating; for subliminal activism that can educate, enlighten and wave the flag for pride, and for social justice. In Twilight People two worlds meet in a peaceful and powerful crescendo, that challenges and undoes the notion that trans and gender nonconforming identities are inherently at odds with faith, and that indeed gender identities can be affirmed, discovered and renewed through religion, and that religious identities too can be reinvented, strengthened and celebrated through gender diversity. Twilight seemingly represents an in-between place, but this exhibition aims to show that a trans journey is not necessarily about a start point and a finish point, a before and after, but rather that the transformative moment of Twilight can indeed be the destination itself.

Curators have a great responsibility. In highlighting the fluid and non-binary natures of faith and gender identities, it is essential to allow the subjects of the exhibition to have their voices at the forefront of the exhibition. Oral history allows this, and museums and archives are increasingly realising that aside from being interesting and engaging sources of his-and-herstory, that oral histories serve a political purpose in filling in the gaps in historical records that so often exclude diverse voices. The theme of Twilight People is Body and Ritual. My own expectations of the stories we collected, and the beautiful portraits, were that they would highlight the trans body, and the ritual of faith, but they also uncover bodies of faith and rituals of gender. The subjects of the exhibition are not merely subjects, through their generous participation and sharing, they are stakeholders of an important landmark in queer exhibitions, co-curators, activists and educators.

Here are some photographs from the exhibition:

And here are some from the installation:

Marie and James from Roundhouse Radio worked in collaboration with young volunteers and SOAS radio to create a beautiful sound piece from the oral histories which will hopefully be available online soon. Here is James modelling the headgear from the public launch:

A huge thanks to everyone who worked on the project, but especially to the pioneering Surat-Shaan Knan, who is breaking ground with every project he embarks upon (also, highly recommend Through a Queer Lens at the Jewish Museum which he and Ajamu collaborated on). I had the pleasure of listening to Surat-Shaan’s oral history in full and feel privileged to have heard it, one of my favourite moments is when he is discussing the intersection between his Jewishness and his gender identity, and he says “it couldn’t be one or the other, it had to be both”, which I thought beautifully captured the exhibition for me (and inspired the title to this blog post!). Massive thanks also to Charlotte Kingston, the lead curator, from whom I’ve learnt so much, both about curating, and about how to be an amazing ally. Huge love to both!

The exhibition runs until the 5th of March, I hope you are as moved, enlightened and excited by these stories and images as I have been.

‘Without Borders’ LGBTQ Archives, Libraries, Museums and Special Collections conference

Hello all, just a reminder that the deadline for proposals for the LGBTQ Archives, Libraries, Museums and Special Collections conference 2016 is looming ever closer, they are due by Friday 8th January 2016, details below, including how to submit. I’m also delighted to share the official logo for the conference, designed by the fabulously talented Alex Creep, who you might remember designed the beautiful poster for my ‘126’ exhibition!

WITHOUT BORDERS…

Archives, Libraries, Museums and Special Collections (ALMS) 2016, an International LGBTQ+ Conference hosted by the City of London through London Metropolitan Archives in partnership with Bishopsgate Institute and University of Westminster. 

Dates: 22 – 24 June 2016 Location: London

Background 

ALMS is an international conference focussed on the work by public, private, academic, and grassroots organisations which are collecting, capture and preserving archives of LGBTQ+ experiences, to ensure our histories continue to be documented and shared. The conference began in Minnesota in 2006 when the Tretter Collection and Quatrefoil Library co-hosted the first LGBT ALMS Conference. The last conference took place in Amsterdam in 2012 and saw archivists, activists, librarians, museums professionals and academics from around the world coming together to share success stories and discuss challenges involved in recording LGBTQ+ lives.

CALL FOR PAPERS 2016 

To reflect our emerging global community, the 2016 conference is titled ‘Without Borders’. Papers are invited from across the heritage, cultural, academic and grassroots communities. Our aim is to generate a dialogue within the co-dependent fields of LGBTQ+ historical research and collecting, and share experiences, ideas and best practice through a programme of presentations and short talks that explore margins, borders, barriers and intersections, past and present. Topics may include, but are not limited to:

Barriers –in accessing LGBTQ+ content within existing collections, and in collecting material from LGBTQ+ communities
Intersections – collecting, cataloguing or researching subjects which share multiple / contrasting identities
Margins – researching elusive or liminal subjects; learning, research or projects taking place outside formal institutions
Connections – uniting individuals or communities across boundaries through heritage or research
Border police – navigating the formal standards of the heritage sector, including official terms and language or constructions of identity

We invite 200 word abstracts offering informal 10-minute presentations that share work-in-progress or provide an introduction to new projects or research that address these themes.

We also invite 300 word abstracts for 20-minute papers or presentations exploring the themes in more detail.

We particularly welcome contributions from BME / QPOC (Black Minority Ethnic / Queer People of Colour) and Transgender communities, as well as from those living outside the UK and USA.

The ALMS conference 2016 is being delivered on a not-for-profit basis by London Metropolitan Archives and Bishopsgate Institute in order to encourage dialogue and share knowledge in LGBTQ+ histories and cultures. The conference is not being funded as part of a wider project and the organisers are unable to cover speakers’ costs except in cases where keynote or invited speakers are prevented from attendance for financial reasons. A limited number of bursaries for attendees will be made available at the beginning of 2016. 

Abstract deadline: Friday 8 January 2016
Abstracts to: jan.pimblett@cityoflondon.gov.uk
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LGBTQALMS Twitter: @LGBTQALMS #alms2016

Speak up! Speak out!

I’m very pleased to share the programme for the 13th Annual LGBTQ History and Archives conference at the London Metropolitan Archives. This year we’ll be hearing about the Speak Out! oral history project (about which I may have some very exciting news soon) and the Pride of Place project. There will also be an excerpt from All the nice girls.

The conference is a steal at just £10, and promises to be even better than last year’s! Hope to see many of you there. You can book here.

LGBTQ Archives, Libraries, Museums and Special Collections 2016: Without Borders

Sorry for the long gap in blog posts, I’ve been very busy working on my thesis, and much more exciting things, including this!

You might remember a much earlier post on this blog from just before I started my PhD, when I mentioned the LGBTI ALMS (Archives, Libraries, Museums and Special Collections) conference in Amsterdam. It was an incredible conference, and I’m so pleased to be a small part of its follow up in summer 2016. I am part of the steering committee, and the conference is hosted by London Metropolitan Archives and the Bishopsgate Institute, and a third institution which is to be announced shortly!

The call for papers is as follows:

Deadline for proposals is 8 January 2016:

WITHOUT BORDERS…
Archives, Libraries, Museums and Special Collections (ALMS) 2016
an International LGBTQ+ Conference hosted by the City of London through London Metropolitan Archives in partnership with Bishopsgate Institute.

Dates: 22 – 24 June 2016
Location: London

Background

ALMS is an international conference focussed on the work by public, private, academic, and grassroots organisations which are collecting, capture and preserving archives of LGBTQ+ experiences, to ensure our histories continue to be documented and shared. The conference began in Minnesota in 2006 when the Tretter Collection and Quatrefoil Library co-hosted the first LGBT ALMS Conference. The last conference took place in Amsterdam in 2012 and saw archivists, activists, librarians, museums professionals and academics from around the world coming together to share success stories and discuss challenges involved in recording LGBTQ+ lives.

CALL FOR PAPERS 2016

To reflect our emerging global community, the 2016 conference is titled ‘Without Borders’. Papers are invited from across the heritage, cultural, academic and grassroots communities. Our aim is to generate a dialogue within the co-dependent fields of LGBTQ+ historical research and collecting, and share experiences, ideas and best practice through a programme of presentations and short talks that explore margins, borders, barriers and intersections, past and present. Topics may include, but are not limited to:

• Barriers –in accessing LGBTQ+ content within existing collections, and in collecting material from LGBTQ+ communities
• Intersections – collecting, cataloguing or researching subjects which share multiple / contrasting identities
• Margins – researching elusive or liminal subjects; learning, research or projects taking place outside formal institutions
• Connections – uniting individuals or communities across boundaries through heritage or research
• Border police – navigating the formal standards of the heritage sector, including official terms and language or constructions of identity

We invite 200 word abstracts offering informal 10-minute presentations that share work-in-progress or provide an introduction to new projects or research that address these themes.

We also invite 300 word abstracts for 20-minute papers or presentations exploring the themes in more detail.

We particularly welcome contributions from BME / QPOC (Black Minority Ethnic / Queer People of Colour) and Transgender communities, as well as from those living outside the UK and USA.

The ALMS conference 2016 is being delivered on a not-for-profit basis by London Metropolitan Archives and Bishopsgate Institute in order to encourage dialogue and share knowledge in LGBTQ+ histories and cultures. The conference is not being funded as part of a wider project and the organisers are unable to cover speakers’ costs except in cases where keynote or invited speakers are prevented from attendance for financial reasons. A limited number of bursaries for attendees will be made available at the beginning of 2016.

Abstract deadline: Friday 8 January 2016
Abstracts to: jan.pimblett@cityoflondon.gov.uk

A website will shortly be launched, but in the mean time you can keep an eye out for announcements at the Facebook page and on twitter @LGBTQALMS

Mapping London’s LGBTQ heritage

I’m really excited to be involved with this project here.

The pilot phase, which initially just focuses on London, is currently under way, and it involves a map of London with user-generated pins highlighting spaces of LGBTQ heritage. The project will be rolled out to cover the whole of the UK, and anyone can take part!

I thought I’d talk you through the (very simple) process with one of my own contributions.

First of all, go to this page here and scroll down to the map at the bottom.

Click on the ‘+’ sign at the top right hand corner to add a new pin.

A new text box will pop up, and will ask you to choose a place name and a location. The place name will appear on the list to the right hand side of the map, so make sure it also includes a little taste of what the post is about if you want more people to look at it! You can either search for a location or choose it by clicking on the map.

As this is a crowd-sourced project, you’re not expected to be a historian to take part, so if you don’t know the exact place, put it as close as possible to where you think the spot is (obviously, I don’t know where in Green Park Bankes was caught with his trousers down, so I think in this case, anywhere in the park will do). Likewise, if you’re not entirely sure about exact dates, just make this clear in the text, and try and give an estimation if you can.

Also, your entries don’t need to be historical, they can be more contemporary, and can be your own interpretation of a site. If there’s already a pin on the place you wanted to mention, don’t worry, put another one there!

You then get to choose from a category. Unfortunately at this stage you can only choose one, so use your discretion about which one suits the most. I chose ‘Crime and the Law’ for this entry because I thought it was the most appropriate for the story I’m telling. Think about who might be searching for this story, and which elements will appeal the most.

You can also upload a photograph, which I’ve chosen not to do here.

When you click ‘Submit’ this screen appears:

It is important to copy or make a note of the URL, since the site does not require users to log in or make an account, this is the only way you can edit your entry. Once you’ve done that, click close and then close the text box, or reset if you wish to add another entry.

The moderator will then be informed about your contribution, they do not fact check or alter your text unless there is something offensive in there.

Once it is approved, it will appear on the list alongside the map:

and here is my entry!

So go here to drop a pin: http://lgbtlondon.wix.com/lgbtlondon and share the link with anyone who might be interested in taking part in this ground breaking Historic England project!

New York

Hello all, sorry for the radio silence, been a bit busy. I thought I’d share some brief thoughts about my visit to New York, which was amazing (but feels like a million years ago now…)

A few bits of news before I do:

  • I did an interview for the Queer East London Project, which you can read here.
  • ‘Twilight People: stories of faith and gender beyond the binary’ is looking for trans and gender variant people of faith to share their stories, see here for more details of how to get involved, it’s a groundbreaking project that I feel really privileged to be a part of.
  • An updated version of my book chapter about LGBTQ oral histories (including PICTURES!) appears in the new MuseumsEtc book ‘On Sexuality‘, it’s a really great book that collects together essays about making LGBTQ narratives visible in museums, it’s also more reasonably priced than the last one!
  • I’m part of a really great steering committee for the next LGBTQ+ Archives, Libraries, Museums and Special Collections conference. The last took place in 2012 in Amsterdam, and was incredible, I wrote about it at the time here. The committee includes archive professionals, artists, academics and activists from Bishopsgate Institute, London Metropolitan Archives, Kingston University, the Institute of Education (that’s me), Tower Hamlets Local History Library, rukus! Federation, the Parliamentary Archives, Tate Britain and University College London. I’ll keep you posted once the official blog is up and running, but in the meantime, like the Facebook page here.
  • I’ve been recruited as an ‘expert advisor’ for a new project by Leeds Beckett University and Historic England, which is crowdsourcing pins on a map highlighting LGBTQ history. The trial version is available here. Feel free to add your own pins, although for the trail the map includes only London.

That’s enough of that. On to New York.

Museum Association of New York: Museums in Action Conference “Museums Mean Business”
April 12th , Corning Museum of Glass

Myself and Lauren Windham presented a workshop together on the first day of this conference. Initially, it was to be a three person panel, but Ellie Lewis-Nunes was unfortunately unable to make it (I’m hiking with her to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support, you can donate here!), so while it was bitter sweet, the talk was still a great success. Our workshop was called ‘Addressing the balance’ and we spoke about challenges arising when addressing specific community groups in historic buildings in London, and how this can extend to the regular visitor. I spoke about my work with Sutton House, and Lauren spoke about her time at Bruce Castle, and a project she ran with children and their non-English speaking parents. We had some really great questions, and people seemed really engaged with the subject.

We had a quick chance to poke around the new wing of the museum, and we were blown away. I must admit my expectations of glass museums are based on the one in my hometown of Sunderland, which may be great now, but when I visited it a very long time ago, it was a little dry. This new wing was spectacular, a huge array of really challenging contemporary glasswork in a beautiful naturally lit space, it really was breathtaking.

Bjork at MOMA

I am a huge Bjork fan, like worryingly huge. I have her words tattooed on my flesh (as well as the swan from Vespertine) and I’ve seen her live 6 times now (7 in July!), she truly is my idol and this exhibition felt like a pilgrimage for me. Four of her instruments, which I’d previously seen live on her Biophilia tour, were dotted around the museum atrium and removed from their natural context, it became even more clear what beautiful works of art they are, especially the pendulum harp.

The first part of the exhibition was an immersive screening of the MOMA commissioned video for Black Lake, which is the centrepiece of her new album Vulnicura. At ten minutes long, Black Lake is sparse and heartbreaking, probably Bjork’s most personal and vulnerable song to date. The video is understated, it features her walking around barefoot in the inside of a volcano, and only in the final minute or so does she surface to the moonlike mossy Iceland surface. The video is projected on two walls that are often in sync, but often show different things, and the small space they were played in was made to recreate the inside of a volcano, with crater-like protrusions lining the wall. The room had nearly 50 speakers, and we saw the film twice (I cried both times haha), the first time, everyone was sitting on the floor, which I thought was weird, and the second time, people stood and moved around the space. There’s a particular moment in the film during a long 30 second drawn out note from the strings, where Bjork, on her knees, pounds violently at her chest as if she is trying to restart her heart. I glanced around and it was really moving to see so many glistening eyes reflected from the glow of the screen. For me, if you can’t see an artist live, surely this is the ideal way to experience music, it was a staggering achievement.

The next part was the Bjork cinema, a room filled with red velvet cushions to lay on where they play all of Bjork’s music videos in chronological order. We spent about 40 minutes in there, I have seen all of those videos countless times, but it was a whole new experience to see them in this setting.

The final part was the timed-ticket section called ‘Songlines’, in which a fictional story about a woman moving through the albums of Bjork is whispered in your ears alongside snippets of her songs. It was a really creative and unusual way of telling the story of Bjork’s music, and of the strongly defined characters she creates for each of her albums. In each room, which corresponded to an album, were costumes and props from videos and live performances and Bjork’s notebooks.

The exhibition completely lived up to my expectations, and the Black Lake screening in particular completely surpassed it. I’m not sure I’ll ever love an exhibition as much as I loved this one, it truly felt like a religious experience.


(here’s me gazing lovingly at the bell dress from the Who Is It? video)

9/11 Memorial Museum

Lauren left to go back to Washington, it was really great to catch up with her after so long (she and I studied on our MA together), she is one of my heritage idols and a continued source of inspiration to me. I had a day on my own before my housemate arrived to stay for a week, so I went to see the 9/11 Memorial Museum. I was expecting it to be problematic to be honest, I imagined it would be extremely patriotic and Islamophobic, but I was very pleasantly surprised at how tasteful and moving it was, it was purely a commemoration of those lost in the attacks, and the interpretation combined stark monuments, rich and compassionate storytelling, and some really visually powerful moments (especially the missing posters that were projected onto one of the walls and gradually faded in and out). The fountains themselves were really beautiful too.

Two really interesting points (from a museum studies student perspective…); firstly, there was a recording studio for visitors to record their memories and thoughts about the day, these were then projected onto a long screen and was really beautifully done. Secondly, I’ve never experienced such a raw and solemn audience before, I’m a terrible eavesdropper in museums, as I think it’s a good lazy research tool, but in this museum the conversations were much more personal than usual, everyone remembers where they were that day, and everyone was very visibly moved and at times uncomfortable. The museum even had tissue dispensers at parts of the main exhibition, it was quite unlike anything I’d seen before.

Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art

One of the smaller treats we had was the Leslie Lohman, which is a really nice space devoted to LGBTQ art and artists. The mission statement reads: ‘The Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art is the first dedicated LGBTQ art museum in the world with a mission to exhibit and preserve LGBTQ art, and foster the artists who create it The Leslie-Lohman Museum embraces the rich creative history of the LGBTQ art community by educating, informing, inspiring, entertaining, and challenging all who enter its doors. The Museum is operated by the Leslie Lohman Gay Art Foundation, Inc., a non-profit founded in 1987 by Charles W. Leslie and Fritz Lohman who have supported LGBTQ artists for over 30 years.’

 

The exhibition we saw was called ‘Irreverent: a celebration of censorship’. The museum hosts up to 8 exhibitions a year, which is pretty remarkable for a non-profit venture, it was also one of the very few free museums we visited, which seems like a rare treat in New York, where entry to most museums is in excess of $15. I really wish there was an equivalent to this in London.

Brooklyn Museum

I think my favourite museum overall was the Brooklyn Museum. Lauren had recommended I go and see the Kehinde Wiley exhibition there, and the museum was already on my housemate’s to do list. It is one of the best art exhibitions I have seen in ages. Wiley paints huge portraits of people of colour in classic heroic poses, with rich and florid patterned backgrounds. They really are incredible, and the exhibition also featured work on stained glass and sculpture. We also saw the Jean-Michel Basquiat ‘Unknown Notebooks exhibition’ and looked around the permanent collections. It was great to see a museum genuinely privileging its local artists, and especially exciting to see people of colour represented on such a scale in such a huge museum.

These are just a few of the things we saw, we also saw a small exhibition of Keith Haring’s work, the American Folk Art Museum, the Museum of Morbid Curiosity (which was a HUGE disappointment), the Museum of Sex, the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens (which a lovely couple kindly gave us their tickets for so we didn’t have to pay!), a super cute little museum at Coney Island, and Lauren and I had a little tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

If you get the chance to go to New York, definitely do! It was incredible and I hope I get the opportunity to go back one day, I feel like we only scratched the surface!

Here’s a little bonus picture of me admiring some of the art at the American Folk Art Museum: