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: 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.

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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.

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‘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 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