As you might know, if you’ve read my post on blogging and life from back in May, I’ve struggled with finishing posts for this blog of mine since its inception. That however doesn’t mean I didn’t try to write any… The entry below is from february 2019, I found it among my unfinished posts and decided to go through it and finish editing it as its contents felt as relevant now as then. Possibly even more relevant now than then seeing as the collection mentioned in the post is without a publicly available home after the exhibition at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery closed on January 5th 2020.
Just over a week ago dress historian, curator, academic and queer cultural producer E-J Scott visited the University of Leicester to give a talk at the School of Museum Studies about his important project the Museum of Transology. The talk, titled ‘Museums and the Transgender Tipping Point,’ can be found here. Scott created the project originally in response to realising that the stories of transgender individuals were not being collected or prioritised in museums. Throughout 2017 items collected on the transgender experience went from being a “hidden” collection in E-J Scot’s care to exhibitions marking 50 years since the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 and the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality. The collection was shown at the London College of Fashion and subsequently at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery [where I was fortunate enought to get to see it in March 2019]. A hugely important story was beginning to be told and represented… But, as Scott could attest to in the talk it was not all rosy. The collection currently has no long term home, and it would appear that many of the great projects that took place in 2017 marking the aniverssary have vanished since. In 2018 Scott wrote a piece for the British Museum Association about the situation, a short but very poignant text that I believe all museum professionals would benefit from reading!
Hearing E-J Scott talk about the challenges, the seeming forgetfulness in museums, and how that impact those who do not see themselves reflected in the museum narrative was so enlightening and refreshing! Having been raised by a feminist art historian who has drilled into me just how importance the actions and language we use are in shaping how society perceives something and in particular these elements’ importance in museum work, E-J Scott’s work really resonate with me. The quote below is from the article I mentioned above, I include it here because it sums up this point so beautifully.
Museums create meaning. The social impact of invisibility in the museum is the fostering of unknowing and othering, breeding misunderstanding, disdain and fear. By comparison, the Museum of Transology shows that the social agency of museums can be used to foster social cohesion.Scott, E-J. Where can trans people call home in history?.
Museums are a nation’s collective memory, if the stories are not collected, available for research and displayed there, then how can we expect audiences to hold an understanding of the presence of the individuals, their stories and lived experiences?
This is social history – not to be simplistically denigrated as ideological identity politics – and belongs on permanent display in the museum.Scott, E-J. Where can trans people call home in history?.
Touring vs permanent home
Hearing E-J Scott’s talk about the importance of a home for the collection made me think of the significance of museums representing individual cultural or social groups, e.g. the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Museum of the American Indian. Institutions engaging actively with collecting and representing the groups individual and larger societal history. Actively rather than passively, acknowledging and supporting the existence of these cultures and their rights. If any of this interests you, I highly recommend giving a listen to Lonnie Bunch’s (director and founder of the National Museum of African American History and Culture [and currently Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution]) presentation for the 2018 Annual Lecture for the Centre for Critical Heritage Studies at University College London, in it he talks about the creation of the museum, and the importance of representation.
Thinking all this through has made me wonder whether it might be prudent to create a Museum of Gender? A place that could collect all the important stories of gender in one place. A place that could not only display the stories, but also signal the value of engaging with gender. A place where one could come to see oneself in a gendered context, no matter ones orientation. A place of contemplation and expansion of ones horisons, but also a place that could contextualise the struggles of gender in different parts of society, the country and the world. I’m grateful to E-J Scot for creating such an amazing project, and for shining such a bright light on the areas of museum work that could do with some revising. And thankful that the School of Museum Studies are willing and active in engaging in the desemination of such important discussions. If you’d like to learning more about the Museum of Transology check out the Google Arts & Culture online exhibition here, and if you would like to keep up with what they are doing now you can find them on facebook here.
Portrait photograph by Sharon Kilgannon at Alonglines Photography. All other photographs in the post are by Katy Davies, London College of Fashion.
Scott, E-J. “Where can trans people call home in history?” Museum Association Museums Journal, 01 October 2018, https://www.museumsassociation.org/museums-journal/comment/01102018-where-can-trans-call-home-in-history.