UCA Archives are pleased to have hosted volunteers from Photography at UCA. Josie and Fran talk about their research on the Tessa Boffin Archive
They are looking at publicity material and reviews surrounding the AIDS exhibition Ecstatic Antibodies
Public opinion based on one image from the overall exhibition
We are Josie and Fran and we have been working on the Tessa Boffin archive, listing and looking at the things that she had collected in connection to Ecstatic Antibodies: Resisting the AIDS Mythology. The book and exhibition launched with it represent and powerful exploration of both images and text of the AIDS crisis. The contributors disrupt the politically laden mythology of HIV and AIDS, and affirm the persistence of love and desire in the face of death.
Tessa Boffin, a photographer was the first British lesbian artist to produce photography work in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Together, she and Sunil Gupta curated the travelling exhibition Ecstatic Antibodies: Resisting the AIDS Mythology, and edited the accompanying book. Her Angelic Rebels: Lesbians and Safer Sex (1989), remains one of the most important photographic artworks to address AIDS from a lesbian perspective. Boffin was active in promoting the importance of lesbian photography, and in bringing it to a largely ignorant audience, she was able to mould it into a subtle language with which to articulate specific aspects of the lesbian experience generally erased in mainstream culture.
‘‘Homosexuality is an evasion/flight of difference.”
While looking into different items we came across what we thought was an article written about the exhibition, after reading it in further detail we realised that it was a letter that someone had written in to The British Journal of Photography. The following writings express some of the quotes we found interesting, ‘…bizarre sexual fantasies will merely reinforce the (supposed) popular misconceptions of the nature of AIDS’. We feel like this may have been kept to show the public’s view and the views that they themselves (Tessa Boffin and Sunil Gupta) thought that they would come across during this exhibition, seeing as most of the clippings that we have sorted through detail the fight that they had trying to get the show seen. In this letter his comments seem to portray an uneducated and unnecessary attitude towards the work of Ecstatic Antibodies; ‘Exhibitions of pretentious ‘artistic’ fooleries may have good publicity value, but will contribute nothing to the understanding of the disease.’ – seeing as most people that didn’t know the whole side and the purpose of the exhibition this was their main opinion, it was about sex and not about the story of the aftermath from various artists.
‘The militant sexual activists (of whatever predilection) may conduct business as usual under the banner of ‘safer sex’; there is no particular reason why the good people of Salford should be belabored with their theatricalities under the thin pretext of ‘AIDs awareness’, and no amount of exhortation to safer sex will necessarily result in saner sex.’ Martin describes the exhibition executives as ‘militant sexual activists’ which allows us to suspect that his opinion of the actual exhibition being put up is a way of protesting for sexuality, rather than the awareness of HIV and AIDS. A few other articles we read suggested similar ideas, that maybe the show did not display the right amounts of awareness for the HIV, AIDS and safer sex, however the majority of viewers did not go and see the show. The majority of the articles and pieces of writings we have looked at actually suggest the split of opinions, however the majority of positive views come from the gay and lesbian community, people suffering with HIV and AIDS or women, although this is just a brief first overlook it is something that stands to mind about the opinion of people who don’t fit these genres.
After reading, it had become clear that Martin J Dobson knew about activity’s that had been going on with Salford Council and by the sound of what he had written into the magazine he was in agreement that it should not be shown, or at least been one of the many that they thought would complain about the nature of the exhibition. All this negativity was based off of one image, his response to this was this ‘My apologies to any contributors whose integrity I may have mistakenly impugned, obviously it is difficult to judge a complete exhibition from a single picture’. From this we believed that his apology was sincere – however it displays that he himself believes that his opinion was a judgment made too irrationally.
Thank you for reading our post.
Josie Evans and Frances Jackson – Second Year Photography