Tessa Boffin Research: ACT-UP – AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power

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

ACT-UP originated in America in 1987, the community built from people suffering from HIV and AIDS, also people who were related to people that had been killed by the disease, and even people unrelated to the disease but supportive of the movement.

Our first encounter with ACT-UP was from a letter Tessa Boffin had received from ACT-UP Manchester, handwritten and signed by ‘Andy’, with leaflets of information and some articles of their movements, what stood out for us was the P.S at the end of the letter, reading; ‘This letter is the truth, it is not a rather pathetic attempt at telling a load of fibs!!’ What one of the articles stated was that the group ACT-UP Manchester ‘did not exist when the exhibition was at York’, in America the group were at their peak, protesting various causes for their campaign in our opinion this exhibition and the struggles to show it made the group want to spread globally.

1

The main reason ACT-UP got  involved with the exhibition was not because it had anything to do with politics but due to the fact that it wanted to raise peoples awareness of HIV and AIDS, ACT-UP state that ‘we are not that concerned with it (Section 28*). We are not a Lesbian and Gay organization, we are concerned with AIDS and HIV’. This reason was one of the main things that sparked the protests as people just thought the exhibition was sexualised toward the Lesbian and Gay community.

Another thing to add would be that ACT-UP Manchester included with the letter was their own ‘Action News’ in which they discuss their interview with Mr. Royston Footer**. This was when members of ACT-UP convinced him that they were reporters and to get to him to get an explanation of why he had cancelled the exhibition in Salford City’s Viewpoint Gallery, when asked why he Footer said “I decide what is appropriate for a local authority gallery”. When the ‘journalists’ would not let this go Footer realised that he was being recorded and he made an attempt to snatch the recorder from one of the activists and dragged him across the desk “if you print any of this I’ll…” ACT-UP used this for demonstration of the aggression thrown upon them when trying to display calmly.

After this interview the tape was given to Scene Out, which then allowed for the story to make it to Manchester Evening News, when this was seen Councilor Thomas, deputy chair of Saldford Council Arts and Leisure committee, declared that he was unaware the exhibition had been cancelled and then arranged to see Mr. Footer to discuss the situation.

IMG_4742

All in all, one thing that we noticed about ACT-UP was that the group didn’t want the protesting to go out of hand and get into situations that became political; their demonstrations seemed to rock up a fuss everywhere.

 If anybody is wanting to read up about a more in depth history of ACT-UP, we suggest you watching the film that was made; United in Anger: A History of ACT UP the film gives insight into some of the reasons people joined the community and showed the demonstrations they held. Here is a link to watch the film on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MrAzU79PBVM

* Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988: The amendment stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.

** Mr Royston Footer was part of Salford City’s Council.

Thank you for reading our post.

Josie Evans and Frances Jackson – Second Year Photography

Advertisements

Tessa Boffin Research- Council Accused of Censorship

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

Photocopy of a newspaper clipping on the exhibition Ecstatic Antibodies. Discussing the ideas behind the exhibition and the artwork. The article describes a few various reasons as to why the Viewpoint Gallery initially cancelled the exhibition, some of the thoughts towards the exhibition were actually that it was seen as pornographic due to various poses in some of the imagery, whether this was an understatement of the ideas behind the imagery or it could simply be a  light minded opinion of the art, it would still not be a reason for the exhibition to be cancelled.

IMG_4754

Denise Birkenshaw, Salford Council’s principle art officer (at the time), held an initial meeting with two gallery programmers, Jane Brake and Paul Brownridge, in reference as to whether the show should continue or not, their overall decision was cancellation, what was interesting about this factor was how the matter was not actually discussed with anybody else on the Council’s committee and it was basically and overall opinion of Birkenshaw herself, however some other articles discussed the fact that Royston Footer from the council committee cancelled the event. It was said that ‘Birkenshaw’s decision was influenced after discovering that when the exhibition was in York’s Impressions Gallery, one of the pictures was removed to an adults only area after the police request. Other than this there were no incidents.’

IMG_4768

A quote from the article said that ‘…a council spokesman gave the official reason that the show was “not suitable for a public gallery where young children might be”.’ this shows the conflict that the exhibition had with the council’s ideas of right and wrong. The idea that the imagery was not suitable to be shown in a ‘family gallery’ was slightly outrageous in the sense that the idea of Ecstatic Antibodies was to not horrify people, but to bring peoples attention to the matter and help the crisis, suggesting that maybe the younger generation should be able to view such things in the intentions of learning about such diseases and safer sex.

The majority of articles and opinions have actually been based on a single image, Tessa Boffin’s Angelic Rebels: Lesbians and Safer Sex, which shows two women embracing (fully clothed) with sex toys and various other objects on the floor, the article that we looked at taken from The British Journal of Photography actually captioned the image “Oral sex? Tessa Boffin thinks not”, suggesting that their views were that the image was sexually explicit. Tessa ‘told The British Journal of Photography: ‘A lot of the work as been badly misread… two women dressed as angels who end up embracing: they (Birkenshaw) said my work was about lesbians having oral sex… It’s about lesbians and safer sex’.’ The fact of the matter is that there was no communication, for something that was meant to speak out to the public about heath and disease it became about sex and the right to show the human body and their relationships.

Thank you for reading our post.

Josie Evans and Frances Jackson – Second Year Photography

Tessa Boffin Research: Lesbian erotica on show: By women, for women

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

This next blog we are talking about small article in the ‘The Pink Paper’ about the show Lesbian Erotica and how a show has finally been made for women to express themselves. The photograph the article used, is the most used Tessa Boffin image when talking about sexuality, and the comments that are made in the article are in support of this exhibition, for example: ‘For too long the portrayal of lesbian erotica has been by men, for men, from past to present’.

The majority of imagery used to display women are sexualized, however is this opinion of the artist or whether the viewer took that opinion. The Angelic Rebels: Lesbians and Safer Sex displays multiple ideas behind HIV and AIDS, also the ideas of teaching people about safer sex. It is true to state that most artistic work that has been produced about women have been by men, this demonstrates the ideas that male fantasies fuels their imagination for creating art, this is not a bad thing, however the article displays the joy that finally there was an exhibition containing work of women that was created by women, in a sense allowing ‘…women to give their side of the story’.

Tessa Boffin, being a lesbian herself, was able to express her own opinions on her sexuality through her art, ‘…female homosexuality has been almost exclusively a matter of male titillation’ this quote from the article expressing the fact that imagery of lesbians were normally seen as for the pleasure of men, from Tessa’s perspective she moved this idea to the expression of her own experiences and also in the idea of helping others to understand.

IMG_4757

Pornographic styled imagery is mostly aimed towards the male audiences, we are not suggesting in any way that the imagery in Ecstatic Antibodies was pornographic, but that the ideas towards sexualisation of women are mostly aimed for men. For a slightly crude example, there are not many porn sites that are aimed at women in this day and age, so the fact that this exhibition was created for the soul purpose for women caused for slight celebration in the ability for women to express themselves without being seen as sexual. The idea that women are viewed as sexual objects but are not meant to enjoy the sexual world is borderline brutish, ‘…Representing and repossessing their own sexuality’ that was the aim of the exhibition and is now the main focal point in society today, this has not changed.

comic

‘We’re Taking Lesbian Sexuality Back from the Male Gaze* and the Result Is Awesome’

“This comic says it all about men co-opting lesbian sexuality for their own pleasure – and how we can take it back. Finally, the kind of queer media we’ve been wishing for!”

The reason we chose to refer to this comic, relating to the article By Women for Women as it helps our argument on the fact that the male gaze is constantly around the sexualisation of women. This comic strip shows the mindset of lesbians when growing up and when in relationships, they are still affected by the men in and around their lives, their preferences in media (films, TV programs and music) created by men and aimed at men, they are not targeted at a female audience making it harder for lesbian women growing up in a world were sex is aimed at men. The comic is humorous, however at the same time it really pushes the feelings that become overpowering in some women’s lives, the ideas that everything they say and do is for a sexual cause, but of course the ending reveals that even though she felt this way she overcame it and told everyone that it is none of their business what she does in her private life, this linking to Tessa Boffin’s cause to express her opinions on HIV and AIDS, as it shows how peoples opinions of the subject that is being fought for sometimes downs out your want to continue, but Tessa did not stop until she was heard, like the women in the comic.

*“The NY, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (1975). It is used to describe when the audience is put into the perspective of a (heterosexual) man. Female characters are sexualized, and the camera may zero in on female body parts considered sexual. This takes after the psychoanalytical term brought into popular usage by Jacques Lacan.

Thank you for reading our post.

Josie Evans and Frances Jackson – Second Year Photography

Original comic: http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/04/lesbian-sexuality-male-gaze/

Tessa Boffin Research – Public opinion based on one image from Ecstatic Antibodies

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.”

IMG_4796While 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.

IMG_4794

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