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.

Twilight People: Stories of faith and gender beyond the binary – volunteer opportunity!

Last week, the steering committee for Twilight People: Stories of faith and gender beyond the binary met for the first time. I was delighted to be invited to be part of this amazing project as exhibition co-curator and steering committee member by Surat-Shaan, who is the project leader following the really successful Rainbow Jews project.

This is a groundbreaking new oral history project, recording and showcasing for the first time in the UK the stories and experiences of transgender and gender variant people of faith. Throughout the project there will be loads of volunteering opportunities including archive researchers, transcribers, sound/video editors, video/photographers, admin support, exhibition curators, youth forum members, media/social media volunteers and many other roles.

The first roles we need to fill are the Oral History Interviewers.

Oral history is about recording people’s memories using the medium of sound and video. This can be used as a tool for understanding the recent past, and enables people who have been hidden from history to be heard and the communities they represent.

Interviewer Role Description

To carry out oral history interviews with trans* people of faith, using a topic guide (i.e.. a list of prepared questions) which will be created as part of the course. Each interview will last approximately 1.5 hours. This may also involve travelling to various parts of the UK to interview participants, but all expenses will be covered, and travelling outside of London is completely negotiable.

Person Specification

In order to carry out the oral history interviewer role, you’ll need: an interest in LGBT history; literacy skills; organisational skills; to demonstrate an interest in equality/diversity and religion/spirituality; to be able (with training) to use recording equipment; to be able to travel in order to interview.

Time Commitment

In order to be able to take part in the project, you must be available for training, which will be on 19 April 2015, daytime, (tbc) Central London. Volunteering period: a minimum of 6 months. The amount of hours you wish to volunteer are negotiable, from a minimum of 5 days commitment.

Limited places available

For further information or to apply email project manager Surat-Shaan Knan via s.knan@liberaljudaism.org or call Liberal Judaism main line: 020 7580 1663 (office hours)

The Twilight People website will be launched imminently, and in the meantime, please ‘like’ the project on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @TwilightPeople2

Please share this call for volunteers widely, you can email me at scurran@ioe.ac.uk if you want the PDF of the flyer and the full role details.

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.

Collecting the contemporary

Just a quick post to mention this upcoming publication, Collecting the contemporary: recording the present for the future, by MuseumsEtc, which features a chapter by my entitled ‘Let’s Talk About Sexuality: Capturing, Collecting and Disseminating LGBTQ Oral His- and Her-stories’, in which I ruminate the challenges specific to the gathering and displaying of queer oral histories in museum spaces. The book is edited by Owain Rhys and Zelda Baveystock.

Collecting the contemporary aims to address (amongst others) these questions:

  • How best should we engage with contemporary collecting? 
  • Should we collect to fill gaps in the existing collection? 
  • How best to record modern urban life? 
  • How might we best engage with minority communities? 
  • Should we aim to link past and present?

There is a special pre-publication offer of 15% discount if you order it now, so request your librarians to buy it!

Rainbow Jews exhibition

Just a very quick post today as I’m putting the last minute touches on the questions for tonight’s Challenging Histories: what place do LGBTQ identities have in museums and historic houses? event. (DO COME!)

I’ve mentioned the Rainbow Jews project on this blog before, and the project leader Surat Knan was one of the voice contributors for the ‘Master-Mistress’ exhibition, and finally all of the hard work has paid off and the exhibition is up and running at LSE until 28th February. I braved the 80mph winds yesterday to pay it a visit.

Rainbow Jews is a unique oral history and archive project, exploring the intersection of Jewish and LGBT identities. The exhibition includes snippets (both audio and text based) from some of the interviews, videos and objects that celebrate LGBT Jewish identities. I highly recommend a visit, it’s a truly historic move to capture these narratives where so many before have been lost and unrecorded.

You can find out more here.

There’s an article about the launch event here.

Some upcoming events

Just plugging a few events.

The first is the ‘Museum Futures in an Age of Austerity’ conference taking place at the Institute of Education from 14-16 June.

I will be giving my paper on Saturday 15th, it’s called:

Fetishising memory: The Holocaust memorial site as gay-cruising ground and the importance of pilgrimage as an affirmative queer experience

The programme is not quite finalised, but keep an eye on the conference webpage over the next few days, you can also buy your ticket for the event there too.

The second is on 27th June 5.30 – 7pm: Room 728, again at the IOE. It is the LGBTQ themed part of the Feminisms, Gender and Sexuality Seminar Series for this term, and I’m delighted to have been asked to present some of my research:

Let’s talk about sexuality: capturing, collecting and disseminating LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) oral his and her-stories

(followed by informal drinks in the Student Union Bar)

About the Feminisms, Gender and Sexuality Seminar Series:

Jenny Parkes, Emily Henderson, Charley Nussey, Claudia Lapping, Annette Braun

This group is designed for research students and staff to explore their work around feminisms, gender and sexuality. We meet informally about three times a term, twice during lunchtimes and once during the evening; at each session a speaker is invited to reflect upon their ideas as they develop, and to use the discussion space for the exploration of their own questions. Session topics located within diverse disciplines are encouraged. At least one seminar each term addresses LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer) research. The session to be held in the evening will be followed by drinks in the bar.

To book a place at the seminar, contact Annette Braun at a.braun@ioe.ac.uk.

Also, one final point, my MA dissertation is now available for reference use in the IOE library. The dissertations from 2000 onwards are all up on level 5 and arranged alphabetically by author’s surname.

Deceptive photography

Persimmon 2011 (http://www.andreameislin.com/artists/tal-shochat/)

Today I went to South Kensington to head to the Wildlife Photography exhibition at the Natural History Museum, but the queue was snaking around the building, so I headed to the V&A. It was a happy second choice as I saw the brilliant Light from the Middle East exhibition. It features 90 photographic works from and about the Middle East. It was divided into three sections; recording, reframing and resisting and explored how the medium of photography can be used to distort, deceive and subvert. This was of particular interest to me, as I’m currently writing about LGBT oral histories, and much of the earlier criticism of oral histories was about its unreliability as a social-historical source. While I accept a lot of the criticisms about oral histories (romanticised, mis-remembered, exaggerated etc.). I also think these  are some of the strengths of oral histories, as the unconscious fantasy and memory have a great deal of value when researching social history. So, it was great to see an exhibition acknowledging that photography too can be an unreliable source and can be manipulated to tell the story the photographer wants to tell, much like oral history narrators can define their own pasts by omitting, emphasising and outright inventing.

For me, the works that best (and most simply) demonstrated this, were perhaps the most understated. A trio of beautiful photographs (Persimmon, Grapefruit and Pomegranate) by Tal Shochat of Israel were arresting, minimal and lovely to look at. These were not simply photographs of trees though, Shochat had laboriously tracked down – in her view- the most perfect example of each that she could find, she waited until the trees bore fruit and were at the peak of their maturity. She then dusted the branches, leaves and fruits and isolated the trees in front of a black cloth backdrop and artificially lit them. These trees would never exist like this in nature without human intervention. Shochat makes the familiar unfamiliar and creates unreal renditions of natural things. There are loads of examples of photography that acknowledges the potential of the art form for dishonesty and artificiality, many of which you can see here. It’s definitely worth a visit (not to mention FREE) and runs until April.