Angela Failler has recently published “Unsettling Homocolonial Frames of Remembrance: Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Interventions at the Museum” in Memory Studies, volume 16, issue 1. Read the full article here.
Abstract: This article considers a Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer protest at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights as a flashpoint that exposes problems with how memory-making institutions are incorporating lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer issues into their programming and/or collections. The protest brings into relief the museum’s investment in a homocolonial framing of remembrance for the way in which the telling of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer ‘progress’ is entangled with a settler colonial political economy wherein the tokenistic inclusion of some queers into the sexual citizenry happens alongside the dispossession, devaluing and criminalizing of others. I then undertake some preliminary ‘curatorial dreaming’ upon two other interventions–commentaries uploaded to a digital story bank by a Two-Spirit and an Indigenous queer museumgoer, and the short film Woman Dress by Plains Cree artist TJ Cuthand. Along with the protest, the commentaries and the film unsettle homocolonial frames of remembrance and provide critical openings towards decolonial queer memory work at the museum.
Being a part of the Museum Queeries cluster of the Thinking Through the Museum project has been an exciting and rewarding experience. Thinking Through the Museum has allowed me the opportunity to experience far-reaching discussions around contemporary issues within museums around the world. In Museum Queeries, as a Research Assistant for Drs. Angela Failler and Heather Milne, I was immersed in deeper readings of queer pasts, presents, and futurities. As the world grapples with the global Covid-19 pandemic, Thinking Through The Museum and Museum Queeries provided me with access to engaging conferences, research talks, and meetings through electronic platforms that sustained my academic morale. These events complemented and enhanced my journey through an MA in Cultural Studies at the University of Winnipeg.
One particular event of note that I attended through this Research Assistantship was on Building the Hamilton 2SLGBTQ+ Community Archive. Held October 19-21, 2021, this event consisted of two virtual roundtable critical discussions on how to archive queer material in Hamilton. Speakers on the tables included artists, curators, community members, and academics such as Syrus Marcus Ware, Pamila Matharu, Sheri Osden Nault, Rebecka Sheffield, Richard Douglas-Chin, Walka Geeshy Meegqun, Pauline Kajiura, and Cole Gately. The event taught me that creating an archive, in essence, creates a legacy for future generations to have access to history left out of main narratives. These archives also potentially provide material for museums to work with in memory production. Additionally, the importance that counter-archiving has in the process of creating archives that are publicly driven was discussed in detail. There was an abundance of storytelling within the discussions, which in their own way were a counter-archive in creation. Chatting amongst friends, colleagues, and community forms a counter-archival space that has living voices animating the information as memories. In this era of pandemic Zoom meetings, I think a positive result has been communication across countries and regions creating beautiful moments of counter-archiving such as this roundtable.
Another example of an event I was able to attend by way of my research assistantship was the Exhibitionism: Sexuality at the Museum Conference held from December 9-11, 2021. This was a 3-day online conference that spanned across countries and created opportunities for LGBTQ2IA+ people, people of colour, sex workers, kink collectives, women, and other groups to engage audiences in programming that explored a variety of topics related to human sexuality and display. The conference was organized by Melissa Blundell-Osorio, Director of Education at the Wilzig Erotic Museum, Rebecca Fasman, Curator at the Kinsey Institute in Indiana, and Hannes Hacke, Research Associate and Curator at the Research Centre for Cultural History of Sexuality at Humbolt University, with keynote speakers such as Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens. This conference brought together scholars and speakers from across the globe to discuss what to do with all the sexuality (or its repression) in museums, how to create sex museums, how to conquer taboo, and how to create safe pedagogical experiences about sex. It was also a large-scale networking adventure of like-minded scholars, thinkers, and activists to engage with each other’s research and work. The event allowed not only for discussions from various places around the world, but also for artistic expression and modes of presentation regarding sexuality in a museum setting; there were even a few on-camera performances. One of the most powerful of these was done by Robert Andy Coombs and Vicente Ugartechea, who used an art performance to weave the experience of disability, gender, desire, and kink into a powerful educational tool about people who live their queer lives at these intersections. I think the conference as a whole displayed the level of care and respect needed in Cultural Studies as it evolves in the future.
Lastly, I want to mention the opportunity Museum Queeries provided for me to attend the Canadian Museum for Human Rights here in Winnipeg. I visited the museum with a question in mind about how queerness and disability might be displayed and articulated within spaces of public memory. Monumental structures of display such as the CMHR project outwardly narratives of progress and accomplishments of the State, but looking for intersectionalities such as queerness and disability within them reveal gaps in the narrative structure. Often museums and institutions work hard to check as many boxes as possible without realizing these boxes can overlap each other in multitudes of different ways. One of my primary directives when attending the museum was to explore the widely touted progressive accessibility features implemented within it. I did find that the museum offered a well-thought-out experience for a blind person such as myself. It is not often that I have attended a Canadian museum or institution and found that all the didactic information is accessible through not only braille but also raised numerical codes to access via smart devices or audio descriptions of what is being looked at. This reminded me that though we may go on research endeavours to critique, we can be surprised by the positive accomplishments within structures.
These are just a few experiences that being a part of the Museum Queeries research cluster has allowed me to take part in. Being in discussions and dialogue with Drs. Failler and Milne, as well as the many great Research Assistants and team members in the project, has given me much to take forward as I finish my MA at the University of Winnipeg and into the future. I have learned that immersing oneself within as many conversations as possible, and exploring institutions inside and out, is a productive pathway through the interdisciplinary fields of Cultural Studies.
The Museum Queeries research team and The University of Winnipeg welcomes Wiradjuri researcher Dr. Sandy O’Sullivan*, (Batchelor Institute, Northern Territory of Australia), as the keynote lecturer for the Museum Queeries: Intersectional Interventions into Museum Cultures and Practices workshop, which runs from June 2-4, 2017.
Dr. O’Sullivan’s keynote lecture, titled Resistance, Fear, Assuagement: Queerness in the Embodied/Disembodied Representations of First Nations’ Peoples in Museums, is on Friday, June 2, 2017, at 4:00 pm in Eckhardt-Gramatté (EG) Hall at UWinnipeg. This lecture is free and open to the public. It will be followed by a public reception from 6:00 – 7:00 pm in the EG Hall Foyer.
O’Sullivan’s lecture, will discuss research she has undertaken for the last six years supported by the Australian Government. This study, which explores the representation and engagement of First Nations’ Peoples in the national museum space, led O’Sullivan to visit over 470 museums across Australia, the United States, and Great Britain.
O’Sullivan explains that, informed by a history of mistrust between Aboriginal Peoples and museums practices, the research began through discussion with Aboriginal Elders. One Elder urged a reversal of the intense scrutiny that museums have placed on Community, by suggesting that these institutions be required to articulate what works? in representing First Nations’ Peoples across the museum space. At another meeting, an Elder talked about the importance of an expansive and diverse representation where their lives are not reduced to difference or the exotic.
“While the focus was initially on some of the negative concerns around representation, the idea of finding what works brought a range of positive responses from museums,” said O’Sullivan. “What works? drew out complex and demonstrations of how contemporary museum spaces were challenging their own ideas of First Nations’ identity. Sort of. It was 382 museums into the research that I first realized that sex, gender, or sexuality were rarely displayed or discussed in relation to the presentation of First Nations’ Peoples. This realization — connected to an intriguing object many thousands of years old — led to a re–interrogation of the data, and a rethinking of how I could have possibly overlooked the very queer elephant in the room of Indigenous representation.”
*Wiradjuri (Aboriginal Australian) researcher, O’Sullivan, is the Director of the Centre for Collaborative First Nations’ Research at Batchelor Institute in the Northern Territory of Australia. O’Sullivan has a PhD in Fine Art and Performance and has been an academic across performance, design, museum studies, gender studies, and First Nations’ perspectives for more than two decades. She is an enduring National Learning and Teaching Fellow, is appointed to the publishing board of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and has recently completed an internationally-focused Australian Research Council program examining the representation and engagement of First Peoples across 450 museums and keeping places in Australia, the US and Great Britain.