Stereotype and Stigma: 1991 Conference Challenging Stereotypes

3For LGBT Month February 2016 I will be blogging about key LGBT aspects from our collections, particularly focusing on stereotypes and perception of LGBT communities in the 80s/90s by the mainstream.

This post focuses on a conference in 1991 – Stereotype and Stigma – held at the University of Kent in Canterbury, and organized by iris and the Centre of Modern Cultural Studies UKC-  this was a day forum exploring issues ‘concerning censorship, social control, national identity and sexuality in art and popular culture’. Speakers included:

  • Elizabeth Cowie, Professor at the University of Kent, looking at desire for the real in photography, and looking at difference and other, exploring areas such as disability, sexuality, migration
  • Steve Mayes, looking at censorship and control in the British Media
  • Lola Young (West Polytechnic, lecturer in Film Studies), looking at race and mental illness, and how this is linked in the film The Telephone with Whoopi Goldberg
  • Andy Medhurst (Cultural Gender Studies, Sussex University), looking at masculinity
  • Tessa Boffin (Photography, Kent Institute of Art and Design), on Lesbians Take Photographs, linked to her co-edited book and exhibition Stolen Glances: Lesbians Take Photographs, looking at representations of lesbians in photographs
  • Anna Fox (Photography,  now at University for the Creative Arts) looking how stereotyping was impetus behind her work, and how documentary photography could have greater political strength

What is particularly interesting regarding the conference is the way that as stereotypes is explored with various traditionally  marginalized groups, it recognizes that one aspect cannot be taken in isolation – for example an experience of a black lesbian may differ from a white lesbian.

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Documentation about this conference comes from the Tessa Boffin archive – photographer specializing in sex and sexuality and LGBT studies in the 1980s/1990s. Our archives consist of a range of formats, and we hold the VHS documenting the full conference. As this conference is linked to Stolen Glances -Lesbians Take Photographs, the book and exhibition co-edited by Tessa Boffin and Jean Fraser, you can view press clippings regarding the conference, images that appear, and visitors comments regarding the exhibition linking to Boffin’s talk.

View the catalogue here and contact us to see the collection

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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.

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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.’

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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

Well behaved women seldom make history…

March is Women’s History Month and UCA’s archives & Special collections are shining a spotlight on female contribution, and female struggles towards and within the arts.

Looking at the themes of ‘well behaved women seldom make history’ and ‘for most of history anonymous was a woman’ we will be tweeting our images through #UCAWHM (University for the Creative Arts, Women’s History Month). Also look out for #photography #womenshealth #womensfashion among others. Access our twitter @uca_ae

We will also be undertaking a talk and hands on session with our archives – ‘men act, women appear’. Book for this event here

Also take  a look out for our pop up event in Farnham Library of Great Women in History!

We will be putting the spot lights on our institutional archives dating from 1889, tracing numbers of female students attending, ‘female’ courses, biographies of female students and teachers. How did females fare within art education from 19th century onwards? Who were the key female pioneers of UCA? What about the ‘nameless’ women, or anon?

'i'm pitting myself against the men and i'll win' - Gail Wilson, only photography student in the year

‘i’m pitting myself against the men and i’ll win’ – Gail Wilson, only photography student in the year

Our collections also will look at key females, such as photographer Jo Spence, who did photography work from the 1970s related to her own breast cancer, Tessa Boffin, who did LGBT photography work from the 1980s, also looking at gender identity, masculinity, femininity, perceptions of rape. We see who she is inspired by. We also take a look at her links with organisations such as Feminists against censorship.

The Working Press, books by and about working class artists, questions what it means to be working class, and questions what it may mean to be a working class female.

Our animation archives highlight portrayal of women in animation, including portrayal of female politicians, such as Margaret Thatcher, in Margaret Thatcher, Where am I Now?, 1999 and our royal family, such as Queen Victoria in Great, the Lives and Times of Isambaard Brunel, 1975

Email archives@ucreative.ac.uk to access us, and be inspired by our extraordinary women!

Rebekah Taylor,

Archivist & Special Collections Officer