“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.