Rainbow Jews: help to save a legacy

Just wanted to share a fundraising initiative from a really great project.

I’ve mentioned the Rainbow Jews project before, but for those of you who are not familiar, this project is pioneering, in that it records and showcases Jewish lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) history from the 1950s to today. For the first time ever in British history, it captures the voices and experiences of Jewish LGBT people in the UK through oral histories and archive creation.

Like so many great queer heritage initiatives, it is volunteer-led, and the financial support from the Lottery Heritage Fund grant has now finished. Led by Surat Knan, the Rainbow Jews have done great things, they have launched an exhibition which is now set to travel the country, they have collected oral histories from a much overlooked community that otherwise would have been lost, and they have, with the support of the London Metropolitan Archives, began to gather material for an archive collection.

There is still so much to do though. Donations will work towards achieving the following:

  • covering staff costs for a part-time project manager, who will coordinate the volunteers, and continue to promote our key activities, such as: 
  • getting this wonderful exhibition around the country to further share these amazing stories and experiences, (already confirmed Leicester, Birmingham and Liverpool/Homotopia as from 31 August 2014; with more possibilities e.g. Belfast). 
  • creating over 5 events such as launch receptions, film screenings and talks while touring. 
  • disseminating education resources, and co-facilitating sessions at school, youth groups etc.
  • recording and processing of over 10 new oral histories, especially of Jewish LGBT pioneers in remoter UK regions. 
  • collecting more memorabilia and fostering our archive collection at LMA

The page to donate (and to find out more about the fundraising project) is here. Let’s all ensure that this great heritage project doesn’t join the long line of brilliant grassroots queer initiatives that have faded away due to a lack of funding.

Notes on ‘Notes on Neo-Camp’

Last night I attended a panel discussion called ‘Notes on Camp’ at the ICA, which aimed to ‘interrogate the term camp and consider its relevance to contemporary art’. Oddly enough, it seemed that the focus of the discussion was actually the term neo-camp – a rather muddy term coined by curator of ‘Notes on Neo-Camp’, Chris Sharp. It was this confusion over the attempt to revise, reclaim or reimagine the already heavily contested term camp that caused a lot of discomfort for me.

The panel was chaired by the brilliant Gavin Butt, whose work I find really challenging and interesting. The panellists were: Chris Sharp, who, following a rather exhausting article about so called neo-camp, curated the exhibition ‘Notes on Neo-Camp’; Daniel Sinsel, whose artworks were included in the exhibition; and Ellen Feiss, who had reviewed the exhibition.

In homage to Sontag’s Notes on Camp (and through laziness) I’ll put my thoughts about the event in note form.

1. Gavin Butt’s interpretation of camp was the only one that echoed my own, he said that camp was an answer to “straight seriousness”, for when sincerity was not enough. He highlighted three key changes that have occurred post-Sontag’s seminal essay; when written, pop culture as we now know it was in its infancy, now sincere speech is not taken at face value in the age of political spin, ideologies are no longer so readily believed or unchallenged; he referred to “come dine with me” syndrome- i.e.: the way that “trashy consumerist taste” now dominates in ways that it didn’t in the early to mid 1960s; and finally, LGBT political and legal developments- meaning that (arguably) LGBT people no longer need to find a place in society solely through irony and aestheticism.

2. Both Chris and Dan’s interpretation of ‘neo-camp’ was to do with the covert, the unspoken, the euphemism and the suggestive gesture; some sort of coded language. They both seemed to identify camp as solely the territory of the gay male- which I find quite a difficult thing to get on board with. Ellen criticised the exhibition as being under-theorised in the context of camp, and Sontag’s essay- which all three seemed to be quite dismissive of, and Chris in particular seemed to suggest was not relevant anymore.

3. While I agreed with a lot of Ellen’s critique of the term ‘neo-camp’, the examples she gave to endorse her own reading of camp were equally troubling, there were a lot of erect penises and imagery of queer activism. The heavy focus on (homo)erotica I found quite unusual, it’s not camp. Likewise, the political elements of camp (which Sontag refutes by suggesting that camp is apolitical – presumably in the sense that its aim is never to be political, regardless of whether the outcome is or not) for me, are only a small part of what camp is, and the focus on queerness (read “white gay men”) was completely misguided. Women, queer or otherwise, were barely a footnote in this discussion.

4. Ellen highlighted an image of an object (if memory serves it was a ladder) that was rendered functionless because of the way it was arranged – she identified this as camp. This is one of many examples where queer (or queered) art works were misdiagnosed as camp (or neo-camp).

5. There was a lot of talk about us living in a “post-marriage” queer time. And a post queers in the military time. Chris identified neo-camp as being post-closet, but it seems to be that neo-camp is indeed post-camp, in other words, a product of assimilation. Assimilation that I feel is thoroughly un-queer and the realm of a tediously homonormative approach to LGBT politics.

6. Dan and Chris both suggested that, the very fact that ICA was having this discussion showed that camp has become institutionalised, I think this talk proved quite the opposite- that camp has been tamed, sanitised and diluted into a completely different, less exciting (/comprehensible) beast, for the purpose of academia and visual art.

7. The strongest comment, for me, came from a woman in the audience, who said that ‘camp is female’. This comment aside, there was no mention of the role women have played in the story of camp. (I recommend Pamela Robertson’s Guilty Pleasures: feminist camp from Mae West to Madonna as a good counter to this).

8. While a very interesting discussion, the fact that Chris Sharp’s exhibition (and thus, by proxy, Daniel Sinsel’s work) had been framed as ‘neo-camp’, made it difficult to engage wholly with any aspect of it, as a great deal of their images seemed to me, the very antithesis of camp. Thankfully, Gavin Butt in his closing remarks, admitted that many of the images shown throughout the talk had prompted the reaction ‘I don’t think that’s camp at all’ from himself.

9. Without having seen the exhibition, it’s unfair to be dismissive of it, but based on this discussion, Neo-Camp seems to me to be straight, highbrow, abstract and thoroughly un-camp. I’m not sure I can even imagine what a “new” camp might look like, or even if this body of work could be called post-camp- it seems to me that ‘anti-camp’ is a more appropriate term.

10. As my friend Judith, who I attended the talk with, said; perhaps once you start theorising camp, you kill it. However, I’m sure that won’t stop us trying…

‘Unspeakable’ LMA LGBTQ History and Archives Conference

Saturday was the London Metropolitan’s annual LGBTQ History and Archives conference, and, dare I say, I think it was even better than the 10th anniversary conference in February.

I’m not going to report on the whole day, as I have a mountain of work to do before the end of the year (my upgrade interview from mphil to phd takes place tomorrow- eeshk), but I’ll highlight some of the speakers I found particularly engaging.

  • Veronica McKenzie presented part of her film Under Your Nose which looks at the intersections between race and sexuality, and focuses particularly on the involvement of black lesbians in the 70s and 80s and the establishment of the Black Lesbian Group and the Black Feminist Network. You can view a clip from the film here.
  • Catherine O’Donnell and Harriet Richardson from the People’s History Museum in Manchester, I’ve mentioned the PHM on here in the past. You can find more about the Pride in Progress? project on the blog. I look forward to being involved in the project in February.
  • Surat Knan from Rainbow Jews was, as always, extremely engaging, and introduced us to Esther who shared her very moving story about being ostracised from an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Stamford Hill. You can hear from her here. It was particularly moving to hear an oral history, which I’m sure all of us there were familiar with, in person, the workshop session allowed Esther to go into more detail, and I applaud her bravery for sharing her story with us.
  • Dr Clare Barlow from the National Portrait Gallery spoke about the dilema of choosing appropriate pronouns in the text panels for the recent acquisition of a portrait of Chevalier D’Eon, who endured a very public change of gender in the 18th century. Ultimately, I think they made the wrong decision (they went for ‘he’), but the talk was an extremely engaging one and highlighted the complexities of framing non gender conforming people in the context of an art gallery.
  • The day ended with Stella Duffy and our fabulous chair for the day Louise Chambers discussing some of the issues raised throughout the conference, and a brilliant performance by the Pink Singers.

Here’s to the next one!

Tackling Homophobic Bullying and Language: LGBT History Month at the IOE

Since I last blogged about the LGBTQ & Friends Network at the Institute of Education, we have made great leaps! We have regular meetings and have a presence on the IOE staff and student intranet (which we hope will eventually be moved to the outward facing website) and have begun arranging events as part of LGBT History Month in February. We will have a cake stall in the foyer of the Institute on the 5th and 6th of Feb, to raise awareness, there will be some displays relating to LGBT History Month in the Library and Archives, and we are extremely pleased to be hosting a talk by Shaun Dellenty:

email: LGBTQ@ioe.ac.uk
twitter: @IOELGBTQ  

Brave New World?

Hello all, and happy new queer!

Just a quick plug for this event at the London Metropolitan Archives on February 16th, this is the tenth anniversary of the LGBT History, Archives and Culture Conference and boasts a great wealth of speakers. It’s happening at the Guildhall Art Gallery, see the programme beneath. Click on the images to enlarge, I hope to see you there!

LGBT History Month pre-launch at Bletchley Park

Yesterday I joined Jan Pimblett and others from the London Metropolitan Archives at the LGBT History Month pre-launch event at Bletchley Park. We peopled a stall during the day, and then attended the evening programme of events.

Speakers for the evening included Nigel Tart, who spoke about using LGBT themes in Maths lessons, Elly Barnes (No.1 on the IoS Pink List 2011!) who gave an empowering talk about making schools LGBT friendly and Kirsty Horrocks, a prison officer and member of GALIPS (Gays and Lesbians in the Prison Service), Norwich Pride Choir provided some beautiful entertainment, (including interpretations of coming out stories written in 140 characters!) and ended with a stirring speech by the nephew of Alan Turing, Sir John Dermot Turing.

It was a great day, and aside from the enjoyment and community that LGBT History Month provides, a key theme was that primarily, thanks to LGBT History Month, and Schools Out and some of the fantastic pioneers and activists that were present, young lives are being saved.

Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill

There are two potential strands of LGBT interest that could be developed at Strawberry Hill, taking advantage of the lightness and the weight that this audience group can be approached with.

The LGBT and queer heritage of the house is intangible; the challenge is to bring this heritage to the surface. The National Trust, for example, is slowly beginning to embrace more daring ventures to include this audience group, with recent developments at Nyman’s House, where an artist and curator was invited to perform interventions to uncover the story of a gay former resident, and the ‘Soho Stories’ smartphone app, which is a guided audio tour around the popular LGBT-friendly streets of Soho, London.

The first strand is around the idea of social justice. Richard Sandell and others have looked with some depth at the potential museums, galleries and country houses have in reaching out to marginalised or “difficult-to-reach” groups. The Museums Association are currently looking at the idea of the ‘just’ museum, considering social justice at the very core of all institutions do. They are also looking ahead to ‘the museum in 2020’ and at how museum professionals can strive to reach the goal of being inclusive by that time.

There is great value in Strawberry Hill House as place, or as a safe space. In my MA dissertation I looked at how women’s collections in archives can be used for outreach and education and found, through looking at other institutions, particularly at the Women’s Art Library at Goldsmiths, that the library is valued as a space for women, with many groups using it as a base for discussion, workshops and debate. Strawberry Hill could become such a space for LGBT groups. It could be the venue for conferences looking at Horace Walpole’s sexuality (on which George Haggerty, Timothy Mowl and others have written about), queer identity in the 18th century, the queer gothic and queer aesthetic. It could also play home to LGBT books clubs, discussion groups and study days looking at, for example, the potentially homoerotic content of Walpole’s correspondence. Strawberry Hill could celebrate LGBT Pride over summer, sending a strong message that this is an audience group worthy of acknowledging and worthy of celebrating.

While we cannot assume to know of Walpole’s sexuality, his life and his home unpack and undo notions of heteronormativity and resist normative sexual values, this discussion is one that is worth exploring further.

The second strand is a lighter one, and would explore the kitsch and the camp that is abundant at Strawberry Hill House. Kensington Palace has begun to embrace a more kitsch line of interpretation to complement its kitsch aesthetic, evident in the recent Enchanted Palace exhibition. The theatrical and performative nature of the décor would lend itself to hosting gay youth groups and gay drama performances, as well as short running exhibitions examining the gay themes that currently reside only subliminally in the house. The empty and unfurnished rooms could be interpreted by queer contemporary artists, and the bold and unusual lighting created by the gothic windows and stained glass mean that it would require little to transform the rooms into breathtaking gallery spaces. There is also scope for a queer artist in residence, to help facilitate LGBT community groups (and others) to explore these themes for themselves. Similarly, these themes and ideas could be exploited with fashion and design students, who could look at masculinities, men and fashion and interior design.

The financial implications of welcoming and embracing an LGBT audience go way beyond the entry charge that new LGBT visitors would bring with them. If an LGBT audience sees that their narratives are valued by Strawberry Hill, the number of Civil Partnerships that the House currently caters for could increase considerably.

For those concerned with the idea that these proposals include the “outing” of Horace Walpole, this is not the case. It is instead a matter of interrogating undercurrent themes and using them to inform a new kind of conversation. Queering a space can be a retrospective form of interpreting that opens up innovative discourses and a reassessment of how inclusive Strawberry House can become.

The pictures were taken by me (with the help of the Instagram app).

“not meeting the needs of the space” or censorship?

Just a very quick post today, it’s my last day of working at the IOE Library, my PhD starts officially next week – it’s all very exciting!

I thought I would just flag up this article on the Huffington Post Gay Voices site (which is well worth following, it’s great for LGBT news- specifically in the US).

Jeff Larson’s ‘Men In Living Rooms’ Photography Exhibition Pulled From LGBT Stonewall Museum

I suppose I should also prefix this with a “NSFW” (not safe for work) though I don’t think it’s in any way inappropriate. It’s a particularly interesting article in light of what I said about the Hunterian Museum in my last blog post.

I’ll post some thoughts about this when I have more time.

Free LGBT films at the British Museum

This saturday (22nd September), there will be four FREE showings of LGBT films at the British Museum.

11.00–12.30 Queen of the gypsies: a Portrait of Carmen Amaya
Biopic of the great flamenco dancer Carmen Amaya.
81 mins, 2004, Cert E

13.15–14.40 Shinjuku Boys
Set in a Tokyo nightclub where the hosts are women who live as men.
Followed by a Q&A with director Kim Longinotto
53 mins, 1996, Cert E

14.45–16.25 Call me Kuchu
The story of activist David Kato’s fight against Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill
87 mins, 2012, Cert E

16.30–18.00 The Angelic Conversation
Judi Dench recites the Shakespeare sonnets that were written to a man, as two men explore their own desires.
78 mins, 1985, Cert E

They are all free, but booking is recommended. For more information and to book go here.

The Pansy Project

Just a quickie today. I’m forever banging on about the Pansy Project to whoever will listen, as I think it’s one of the most subtle and innovative ways of recording an otherwise difficult to capture intangible part of our queer heritage. I mentioned the project during my GEM breakout session, which I will be blogging about shortly.

Paul Harfleet is an artist who plants pansies at the sites of homophobic abuse. Using his own experiences of homophobia in Manchester, Harfleet has managed to create something beautiful out of something very ugly. He photographs the pansies and names them after the abuse that was used. “Titles like “Let’s kill the Bati-Man!” and “Fucking Faggot!” reveal a frequent reality of gay experience which often goes unreported to authorities and by the media. This simple action operates as a gesture of quiet resistance, some pansies flourish and others wilt in urban hedgerows.”

For me this is a brave and peaceful form of activism, with a really beautiful output. You can find out more about the project here. You can also follow Paul on twitter here.

The first image is “Die Queer! Die Queer! Die Queer! Die Queer! Wyatt Close, Birmingham, For Ben Whitehouse, the second is “Queer Fucker!” Tottenham Court Road, London, both used here by kind permission of the artist.