Queer The Pier at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery will run until February 2022

BY LISA HINKINS

Emphasising the L in LGBTQI, one of the first stories in Queer The Pier to engage with is the historical lesbian of the moment: Anne Lister. Imagine the excitement when we discovered that Lister and her lover Mariana Lawton had stayed in the then Regency seaside town for three days in 1826!

The exhibition at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery has been a community volunteer curated-led project. Moving to the centre of the exhibition space a custom hand-built automaton brings to life the hidden swimming feat of Harriet Elphinstone-Dick.

Turning the handle, you can recreate the stormy conditions of her record-setting swim of September 1875. Defying Victorian gender norms, she swam seven miles in rough water from Shoreham Harbour to the West Pier in a record time of two hours, 43 minutes. Later that year Harriet and her partner Alice Moon sailed to Australia, where they opened the first women only gymnasium.

Lisa Hinkins. Image by Rosie Powell.

Decolonisation of objects in museums is imperative to inclusion. I am very proud of the LGBTQI Roma, Gypsy and Traveller workshop collaboration to re-interpret the Museum’s problematic Victorian Gipsy Fortune Telling Machine. It perpetuated a stereotype of Roma culture through the stylisation of the machine’s human figure and the misspelling of Gipsy with and ‘i’, not a ‘y’. Reaching out to a continually persecuted community, participants were welcomed into a safe space within the museum to produce drawn and written responses to the machine.

Acclaimed international Roma artist Delaine Le Bas created beautiful contemporary fortune cards with positive messages (£1 in the slot, a card is yours). I edited the accompanying free takeaway Zine that addresses stereotypes. Gypsiness is a term to describe the phenomenon of dissociation where over time, Gypsy identity becomes abstracted and separated from the people themselves. Through images and literature, the dominant culture dictates the representation of a marginal group, in this case Gypsies. Stereotypes of Gypsy women have been perpetuated by figures such as Vita Sackville-West, who invented Romany ancestry for herself on her Spanish side of her family to explain her bohemian behaviour. Academic Dr Lucie Fremlova’s post doctorial collaboration with LGBTQI Roma Artists has produced powerful images that break down and challenge the dominant representation of queer Roma people. Photographs that were created during a one-week workshop in Brighton have been printed in the Zine. 

We are grateful to James Gardiner (a gay man) who discovered a collection of memorabilia in a house sale in Worthing that traces a lesbian couple. Items of Tommie and Betty’s lives, both of whom served in WWII are on display in the exhibition. Without James intervention, a wealth of photo albums, war medals, cameras and other personal paraphernalia may have been lost for ever.  

Lesbian herstory is fragile, often hidden or disposed of. This exhibition reaches out to uncover and remember. 

Please find us on social media for our latest updates! Instagram: @queerthepierbtn, Facebook: @queerthepier, or check the website for more information here. Queer The Pier will run from 17 October until February 2022.

Writer Lisa Hinkins, is an MA Curating Collections and Heritage Student, Museum Gallery Explainer and Artist.

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