Tag Archives: University of Winnipeg

Museum Queeries: RA Notes from the Field

By Thomas Boeckner

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (Photo credit: Thomas Boeckner)

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.

Visit to Two-Spirit Archives

Albert McLeod speaks to a group of visitors at the Two-Spirit Archives. Photo credit: Lauren Bosc

On January 24, 2020, members of Museum Queeries research team visited the Two-Spirit Archives, housed at the University of Winnipeg. This visit included a roundtable discussion led by Albert McLeod (Co-Director, Two-Spirited People of Manitoba), the main donor of the fonds/material of the collection. Click here to read timely “SnapThought” responses to exhibitions, galleries, and museum spaces from our research assistants and research team!

MQ UWinnipeg Students Create Queering the Museum Audio Guides

University of Winnipeg students developed Queering the Museum Audio Guides*, responding to content highlighted on a “Pride Tour” offered by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. The Guides are intended to critically engage listeners/museumgoers and raise the bar of expectation around how museums and other sites that contribute to public discourse on historical and contemporary issues represent queer issues and lives.

The 7 audio guides, available here, were created with the invaluable support of sound artist Julia Dyck who led workshops on audio guide script writing and production. Julia also digitally mastered the final guides.

For further description of the Queering the Museum Audio Guide assignment, click here.

A Meditation on the Museum: Kinship and Ambivalence in the CMHR

Rebecca Belmore’s “Trace” at the CMHR (photo credit: TJ Shannacappo)

By TJ Shannacappo*

During the summer of 2017, I attended a workshop, Museum Queeries: Intersectional Interventions into Museum Cultures and Practices (MQ), located at the University of Winnipeg and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR). MQ describes itself as an emerging research project, one that seeks to encompass the insights of artists, curators, academics, and other community members within Turtle Island and beyond. Most notably, MQ centres the creative and intellectual interventions of 2S+LGBTQ peoples; specifically, MQ values alternative thought into and against nationalist and heteronormative visions of museology and museum practices.

As a MQ research assistant, I found myself in an uncomfortable position. Leading up to the workshop, I had affectively and quietly boycotted my own entrance into the CMHR for two main reasons: first, for the museum’s exploitation of Shoal Lake’s most precious resource, water, and next, for the museum’s dis-mention of certain genocides in favour of protecting forward-looking narratives. While curations of progression are often well-intended, they contribute to the silencing of discussions around current and recent injustices, or at the very least, assist in glossing over harmful institutional practices. And beyond these two reasons, I simply could not genuinely imagine myself in the museum, both physically and materially. Ultimately, I entered the museum out of interest for the work of Indigenous curators, and to look for spaces of unexpected dissent.

The day before and then hours prior to MQ’s field trip to attend an LGBT-themed tour of the CMHR, we, the participants, were gifted keynote lectures by Dr. Sandy O’Sullivan (Wiradjuri) and Ryan Rice (Mohawk). Both lectures focused on the trouble with Indigenous representation in museums, both historically, and in the present. Both Dr. O’Sullivan and Ryan Rice did not discount the significance of museums, but it was noted that museology has often figured indigeneity as trapped within history, existing without agency, and stagnating as artifact. Often, within museums, indigeneity is displayed as under-situated, removed from spiritual context, and displaced from homeland. As Ryan Rice asked in opening, “Where do [we] put it?” This is one question I have wondered myself: where do Indigenous stories or representations belong? Where can we belong?

On a personal level, throughout the span of the workshop, I became hyper-aware of my identity as an urban Anishinaabe-kwe. I felt a lot of anxiety. How could I not? The imported alabaster ramps within the museum stood stark against my tan skin, and before walking up that ramp to take in the exhibits, I was granted complimentary access to the CMHR based on my status as an 1876 Indian. I was troubled for breaking my previously long-standing decision to not enter the museum and because I had to show my horrible picture in exchange for a ticket. In all seriousness, although I am Indigenous, I am still complicit in wrongly benefiting from a fellow Ojibwe nation’s resources, even when I’m in my apartment by the river; attending the museum only made that complicity more apparent and inescapable. But surprising things are often touching and grounding in moments of ambivalence.

Kinship as Reproach 

I like to think I am not a soft person, or even a hard person, but I do live like a moody cat in solitude, a trait which is not often associated with being Nish (MQ participant’s Dayna Danger [Saulteaux-Métis-Polish] and Jeneen Frei Njootli [Vuntut Gwitchin] coaxed me out of my quietness with needles and black matte beads during our workshop). Being Anishinaabe-kwe often calls for a certain amount of openness, care, and love, even in reproach. One guiding principle I brought with me into the CMHR was Aanjigone, or an ethic of non-interference. As described by Leanne Simpson (Michi Saagig Nishinaabeg) Aanjigone belongs to an Anishinaabe worldview, and it encourages us to be mindful of our criticisms, and to be guided by action, rather than empty talk. It is a relational concept and it is tied to promoting kinship. Aanjigone is not always attainable, but I was able to recognize it and practice it over the course of the workshop, and of course, at the CMHR.

As briefly alluded to in my introduction, museums often uphold an idealized version of the lands they exist on and of their narratives, failures, and achievements. They are often conservative or celebratory institutions and do not readily display raw stories or difficult truths in the present tense. In an uncontrolled situation, if I were to seek a genuine representation of myself, I would not think to look to at or inside a museum. Indigenous representations—beautiful, ethical, and compassionate—can be difficult to find within museum space. Instead, more holistic materiality might more often exist quietly in the form of museum practitioners working critically, or in the unheard, engaged conversations between engaged visitors.

In the context of the LGBT-focused tour at the CMHR, semblances of “alternative sexualities” and gender variances were most notably, and grandiosely limited to a wedding cake comprised of photos capturing people married soon after the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2005. Other exhibits, admittedly, held harder-to-find stories of queerness that might have otherwise been passed over in an unguided tour. And although not the focus of this blog piece, even months later, I still think of the visceral impact a smaller exhibit discussing gay prosecution under Nazi Germany had on me.

While the mentioned wedding cake is not a bad thing within itself, it does represent an idealized version of what queerness should look and behave like: guided by heterosexual norms, but between two people of the same-sex. Taking the Cake does not easily allow for the addition of more diverse sexualities, or a narrative that does not promote a historically heterosexual institution, and it does not speak to the spirituality that is tied to some Indigenous queer identities, primarily, 2-Spirit identity. Instead, the first place I knowingly encountered 2-Spirit identity within the museum (not including some MQ participants) was in an enclosed speakers’ corner where people spoke, on video, about their experiences of being queer and Indigenous.

Being in the CMHR was sometimes a disorienting experience. During our walk-through I thought of the rivers nearby, the livelihood of Ancestors excavated by the museum, and of my desire to buy earrings from the gift shop. Rebecca Belmore’s (Anishinaabekwe) Trace grounded me as MQ moved up towards the top of the museum. Trace allowed me to consider the practice behind creating a large ceramic blanket made of clay from the Red River Valley. It is as an evocative art piece made in collaboration with Indigenous peoples and the larger Winnipeg community. Trace, as I understand it, is a monument of Aanjigone—while it does not explicitly confront visitors about genocide, colonialism, or nationalism, it does largely center Indigenous presence, resilience, and visions for contemporary museology.

I wondered to myself: how many 2-Spirit and queer Indigenous peoples might have contributed to this project? In contrast to the message I gathered from Taking the Cake (i.e., that queers are celebration-worthy when they are formally recognized by the settler state, as in this case, through the legal conferral of same-sex marriage), perhaps Trace makes room to witness a more inclusive or radical idea of queer identity; one that is innate and natural to decolonial forms of kinship. And while Taking the Cake is similar to Trace in that it is a large collaborative piece—by way of the donated photographs of married couples that make up the “tiers” of the cake—it comes across as sterile and easily digestible.

Following my visit, I wondered to myself if queer Indigenous identities—2-spirit or otherwise—would ever be or want to exist in a large presence at the CMHR. I was later reminded by a workshop facilitator that there is a desire for queer Indigenous representation within the museum and to consider the thoughts of the person who envisioned, from within the speakers’ corner, resurgent space dedicated to our sexualities. While my initial questioning was not meant to be dismissive, I believe it was rooted in admiration for the colourful and expansive creations of 2-Spirit and queer Indigenous resurgence existing in other forms and in other venues. I continue to work with and through my ambivalence.

At the time of MQ’s workshop, an Indigenous focused issue of Canadian Art was released—Kinship featured Dayna Danger’s “Adrienne 2017” as its cover art, and was introduced/edited by Lindsay Nixon (Cree-Métis-Saulteux). Kinship was excitedly passed around our seminar room the day after our museum tour, and since its release, I’ve left one copy in my living room and a second copy in my office. In contrast to what I viewed and inferred inside the CMHR, Dayna Danger’s cover art—and the works of many of the contributors found inside— centred the body, eroticism, and queerness unabashedly. Kinship answered Ryan Rice’s question, it its own way, one of the places where “we” can belong.


*TJ Shannacappo is an urban Anishinaabe-kwe from Winnipeg, MB. She holds a BA from the University of British Columbia (Women’s and Gender Studies and First Nations Studies) and currently works as an editor at an organization dedicated to promoting Indigenous education. In the near future, TJ intends to pursue a Master of Education in School and Applied Child Psychology, and she is passionate about the intersections between mental heath, self-representation, and access to meaningful cultural production. Practicing a decolonial and feminist methodological approach, she primarily engages her theoretical interests with creative interventions by Indigenous peoples, women, and LGBTQ/2-Spirit communities.

Presentation at UWinnipeg Pride Lecture Series

On May 29, 2017, Dr. Heather Milne and Research Assistant Hailey Primrose spoke to a group of approximately 25 people about the upcoming Museum Queeries workshop. The two discussed the overall project, the theme of curatorial dreaming that will frame the workshop, and the overarching questions that the project and the workshop intend to respond to.

This presentation was a part of the University of Winnipeg’s Pride Film and Lecture Series.