Volunteering at the Feminist Library

By volunteer Lorna Harrington
As well as being involved with the UCA archives I also volunteer at the Feminist Library in London, so what better way to finish women’s history month than to explore the resource in further depth.
The library houses over 7,000 books including fiction, non-fiction and poetry and 1,500 periodicals. What makes it so special, is its unique classification system which reflects the feminist ethos of the library, with its’ non-hierarchical categorisation.
I first discovered the library as a student at UCA while researching feminism as part of my dissertation focusing on fashion and its relationship with women. I never actually had the time to visit, but now as a volunteer I am finally able to spend some time getting to know the collection.
In terms of acquisitions of interest to art and design students, the periodicals room has a total of twenty four art journals including Feminist Art News, Women’s Art Journal and Make. It also contains copies of Spare Rib, the women’s liberation magazine which ran from 1972 to 1993 which has since been digitalised and is now available online through the British Library website.
Zines are also a key part of its collection with publications covering themes such as race, sexuality and gender. A zine or fan zine is a self-published piece of work about a specific topic often those that are not usually covered by the main stream media.
For designers, it is interesting to see the various unique styles of zines and gain inspiration for layouts and graphic presentation. In an increasingly digital world, zines still reflect their analogue routes through their use of collage, photocopying and hand written text.
They also holds many events during the year related to the arts be it zine festivals, art exhibitions or feminist film screenings. As well as this they attend events such as Feminism in London and Women of the World at the Southbank Centre.

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

Tessa Boffin archive catalogue online

The archive of Tessa Boffin, photographer who worked in the 1980s, has now been catalogued.  She specialised in sex, sexual fantasy,Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender issues, and looked at the portayal of AIDS, including AIDS in the media. Her archive also sheds light into the technical side of photography

It can be accessed online on Archives Hub at http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb3094boff.

Of note include her technical books on photography, her project books where Boffin analyses the media on topics such as AIDS, feminism, homosexuality, cross-dressing, for inspiration for photography ideas, her project work on ‘The Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune: AIDS and the Body Politic’, and her project ‘The Sailor and the Showgirl’, which explores cross-dressing, gender, and safe sex.

The biographical information of her life is as follows:

Tessa Boffin was born 24 December 1960. She was a lesbian photographer, writer, editor, and performance artist. Her work was at the front-line of international queer culture and politics. She initially studied photography in the mid 1980s at the Polytechnic of Central London, under the tutorship of Simon Watney. She undertook an MA in Critical Theory at the University of Sussex in 1987-1988.

Her teaching was as a part time photography lecturer at Adult Education, London from 1986 to 1987, worked at Oxford Polytechnic,1987 and 1989, worked at West Surrey College of Art and Design from 1988, Polytechnic of Central London, 1990, Kent institute of Art and Design from 1990.

She edited Ecstatic Antibodies in 1990 with Sunil Gupta, and co-curated the exhibition, which contributed to understanding of the role images played in the AIDS crisis, and in 1991 edited Stolen Glances: Lesbians Take Photographs, with Jean Fraser, which is contemporary lesbian photography. She was the first British lesbian doing political work around AIDS as early as 1985.

She died on 27th October 1993, while working as a lecturer at the Kent Institute for Art and Design

Tessa Boffin was a remarkable woman, and her archive sheds an evocative light of the portrayal of LGBT issues in the 1980s.

Rebekah Taylor, Archivist & Special Collections Officer