LGBTQ+ History and contemporary lives in Warwickshire
Hia, I’m Kitt. I’m an artist, curator and researcher based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. This is the fourth of an occasional series of blogs during 2021-2022 through which I’ll share info about the participatory art project, This, our hive of voices, commissioned by Warwickshire County Record Office (WCRO) as part of Arts & Heritage’s Meeting Point Programme. Over the last few weeks we’ve been baking biscuits as part of the project!
In the previous couple of blogs I wrote about participatory/socially engaged/community art – some of the histories of the social art movement and some examples of projects and approaches created by artists and communities working in these ways.
In this blog I’m going to introduce “Proud Youth” the local community group I’m working alongside and chat about some of the artwork we are making as part of the project.
Since September, I’ve been working alongside Proud Youth group who are based in Leamington Spa. The group, supported by Warwickshire Pride, is around thirty LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Plus) young people, aged 12-18.
Since April, I’ve been working with Warwickshire County Record Office staff, with support from Phd researcher, James Davidson, to find LGBTQ+ history in the archives. As many regular visitors to the Our Warwickshire website will know, WCRO contains over 3 miles of archives and collections dating back to the 12th century. However, there is currently little LGBTQ+ history in the collection, and what is available is often about the persecution and marginalisation of our community. Proud Youth really want the project to be part of changing this for future generations, so we have been thinking about lively, fun, engaging ways of telling stories about LGTBQ+ history and contemporary life in Warwickshire.
Recipes and biscuits
As part of their research Proud Voices has been looking at Mary Wise’s Recipe Book. Mary Tilson (married name Wise) lived in Warwickshire in the 18th century. She recorded recipes for food, medicines and cosmetics.
These recipes are not related to LGBTQ+ history (as far as we know) but do show how some hidden/lesser known histories (in this case domestic histories and the lives of women) can be found in the archives. By using the recipes to make food that can be eaten now, it is possible to engage creatively in ways of bringing this history to life, making it exciting and tangible. So, we decided to make biscuits (edible and non-edible!) and recipes which represent and communicate some local LGBTQ+ stories.
We thought about the documents, recipes, images, instructions, suggestions we would love to add to the archive now. We feel these could help future generations to engage creatively with our lives as members of the LGBTQ+ community living / studying / working in Warwickshire in the early 21st century.
We’ve researched local LGBTQ+ history, for example:
- 16th century bisexual playwright William Shakespeare.
- 18th century gender non-conforming solider Hannah Snell.
- Leamington Spa based 1970s-80 radical book shop “The Other Branch”.
- Contemporary queer, black artist melissandre varin who is currently developing B.O.O.K (Building Our Own Knowledge) archive for Coventry Biennial 2021.
We looked at work by other artists who use/subvert recipes/instructions as part of their work like:
So far, we have created:
Bi Biscuits (cookies representing local pan/bisexual people including Shakespeare)
“The Burger of Expectation” (a recipe for the perfect girlfriend)
“Recipe of ACE Discovery” (a timeline, represented in ounces as opposed to years, of one persons’ 19 year journey to finding their asexual community and identity)
We hope that, as part of the “This, Our Hive Of Voices” project, our recipes can be taken into the archive and provide a different lens through which future researchers can learn about our lives as LGBTQ+ people.