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It’s all about you: finding community in a museum

Community, Herstory, History, Lesbian, Museums, Participatory Museum

There is no doubt in the mind of anyone affiliated with the Charlotte Museum Trust, that preserving lesbian heritage and culture is an important and powerful endeavour. The museum claims a slice of what Nestor Garcia Canclini referred to some time ago as a patrimony, it creates a symbolic turangawaewae for passing and evolving generations of lesbians, it celebrates communities while creating community.

During 2015 I had the opportunity to think about how we might best use this gendered, queer space, not just as a well-deserved commemoration of the lives of New Zealand lesbians who faced what was at times abhorrent treatment, but as a way of presenting the past fairly and inclusively. Also, because I am a supporter of Nina Simon’s ‘participatory museum’, it was important to me that my time at the Charlotte Museum present opportunities for community participation in exhibitions. And this is why I offered Invulved and Me Myselfie I as community exhibitions during 2015.

In Invulved I sought to supplement ubiquitous yet isolated stories about lesbian disenfranchisement within and from the military, with the clicking of knitting needles across a virtual community of lesbian and lesbian-friendly knitters. And this is the principle of a participatory museum – the idea that it’s not the museum’s job to teach, preach, or demonstrate to its public, but rather to facilitate the public’s creation of meaningful exhibitions and experiences themselves. It is, to be fair, suspiciously akin to performance art, and is also in many ways very similar to earlier approaches to women’s galleries, where the participatory museum as an ideal, acts as a catchment area for community expression and co-understanding. It aspires to be anti-hierarchical, where knowledge/art/meaning/history, is co-created within rather than by, a museum space.

My job then, was to design projects and exhibitions that would create meaning for lesbian culture and heritage by looking outwards, to you, as much as inwards, towards the collection. Admittedly I began upon this path cautiously, retaining a high degree of agency over what the final exhibition of knitted vulvae would look like – I arranged it into the shape of a fern and afterall, it was me who decided that we would commemorate women’s participation in World War One by knitting vulvapoppies in the first place. But each and every vulvapoppy we received was a part of each of you, and in knitting them you had become a community of lesbian knitters. That was a start. What I learned from that first show, was that not everyone knits: I had at my disposal a dedicated team of craftswomen rather than the lesbian community at large. The image heading this page is from an envelope that contained one of the vulva poppies sent to us in the post.

Which led me to the Charlotte Museum Trust’s selfography exhibition, Me, Myselfie, I. For this exhibition I asked for selfies. I also looked outwards in this exhibition, by allowing you to tell me where the edges of our community lay. I was asked the difficult yet timely question that amounts to, which kinds of lesbians are welcome to participate, to which I answered, anyone who feels that being lesbian is a significant or primary part of their sexual and/or gender identity. I let you tell me who ‘we’ are, by creating an exhibition whose edges were shaped by your own choices, not mine.

Looking outward as a way of creating communal identity and co-creating heritage and culture, creates an archive of the now for future generations. It is also, I believe, integral to ensuring that we do not streamline lesbian history, cleaning it of its stragglers, its misfits, its ethnic others, its outsiders. Which also means, that it is imperative that the stragglers, misfits, ethnic others and outsiders find participation desirable. Did Me, Myselfie, I succeed in doing this? We appeared to receive submissions from a pleasingly diverse range of lesbian demographics, old and young, butch and femme, Pacific, Maori, and Pakeha. But were any of my entrants the stragglers or misfits? That is, were they those who might wear the lesbian mantle loosely or alongside many identities, amongst many experiences? And I have to concede that I have no idea. Me Myselfie I wasn’t about life stories, it was about participation. You were allowed to keep your secrets.

Allowing for anonymous participation is one way that we can grow our community involvement in these kinds of shows – sure we now have a series of beautiful selfies in the museum’s collection, but there was an option on the entry form to choose to not have a photograph made public online, and an artist’s statement about the photograph was optional. While we know what some of you look like, we know nothing about how you got to be in our show. And for me, that anonymity within visibility was a powerful aspect of the exhibition.

Dr Nadia Gush

LesbNation

Vanishing Lesbians? Dr Alison J Laurie considers the history and significance of lesbian spaces

Feminism, Herstory, Lesbian

Are lesbians vanishing?

Or has the way we understand visibility changed?

World wide, it seems that there are very few lesbian bars, clubs or public meeting places that survive. Even in Paris, there are now no lesbian bars. The few once lesbian bars that survive, are now for gay men. In the US, in city after city, lesbians report the loss of bars, clubs, and bookshops.

Here in New Zealand, there are now no lesbian clubs, and in many cities, no regular meeting places. In Auckland, the Charlotte Museum holds lesbian events, as does the Lilac Library in Wellington. There are occasional women’s dances, regular lesbian walks in Wellington, lesbian potlucks on the Kapiti Coast, and some other places. Some lesbian magazines continue to survive, in Auckland and Christchurch, and a few newsletters. The Wellington Lesbian Radio Programme continues, now for 31 years. The Lilac Library, Radio Programme, and some lesbian events, are financially supported by the Armstrong and Arthur Charitable Trust for Lesbians. The Women’s Bookshop remains, as do some women’s centres, but of course these are not specifically lesbian.

There are bars, meetings, and other gatherings, in the main centres for the Rainbow communities that include a range of people. And it does seem that in the big, wide, and ever-expanding alphabet soup of LGBTQI there is a less noticeable presence from lesbians. Public events like the Hero Parade remain dominated by gay men.

What has replaced the former physical meeting places for lesbians now seems to be the Internet, with a myriad of lesbian web sites, Facebook pages, Twitter connections etc. A virtual world, for discussion, dating, contacts. In this, younger lesbians are no different from others in their age group. And older lesbians are learning to do this too. Though many sites are also rainbow inclusive, and not only for lesbians.

We have always struggled for inclusion in mixed groups with gay men. In the 1960s, “kamp girls” as we called ourselves then, could not be members of kamp men’s clubs, like the Dorian Society in Wellington. New Zealand was a highly sex segregated society, especially following the return of two generations of men damaged in overseas wars, who established the RSAs, the custom of men only public bars, and much besides. Gay men and lesbians are products of the cultures in which we live, and gay men were no more used to socialising with women present than were heterosexual men. After the extension of licensing hours to 10pm in 1967, many hotels set up mixed bars, though public bars remained men only for some time.

Eventually lesbians responded to being excluded, by setting up our own clubs, the first being the KG Club in Auckland, and Club 41 in Wellington. Following the introduction of Gay Liberation, lesbians worked with gay men, to gain human rights and to change the criminal law against male homosexual acts. As these groups expanded, the sexism of many gay men meant that lesbians embraced the new ideas of lesbian feminism, also introduced from the US. Lesbians formed our own groups, soon joined by women coming out through Women’s Liberation, lesbians leaving gay liberation, and lesbians from the old kamp culture. For the heady years of the 1970s and 1980s, lesbians established clubs, magazines, lesbian centres, bookshops, organizations, summer camps, and held many events, including dances, conferences, and much more. All for lesbians only. Safe spaces, where lesbians could meet, talk, relax, and develop a lesbian culture. Lesbian separatism was one response to the male exclusivity and separatism of New Zealand society generally, and especially of the more conservative gay men.

New Zealand lesbian culture became inclusive of race, class and disability, and was politically active around anti-racism, peace and employment issues. Many lesbians worked in coalitions, and worked with gay men, leading up to homosexual law reform in 1986. During the law reform and human rights campaigns, it was difficult to have the word “lesbian” used by the media, or by gay men, many who thought “lesbian” could be subsumed under the term “gay”. We did achieve specific inclusion in the Human Rights Act 1993, arguing that “homosexual” was mostly understood as referring to men, and that “lesbian” needed to be specified to make it clear that women were also included, and that “bisexual” also needed to be specified.

As we have moved into more recent times, “lesbian” is always included in the alphabet soup. But more often as a letter, than as a reality. For example, there is little attention given to lesbian health issues, such as the high incidence among lesbians of breast cancer. Or of the importance of pay equity to lesbians, who remain disadvantaged, as are all women in New Zealand, by the pay differentials between male and female wages, compounded by the additional factors of race, class, age and disability. Same-sex marriage has brought some relief to lesbian mothers and co-parents, but the issues of maternity leave, breast-feeding in the workplace, child-care, and leave to care for sick children have not been resolved. Men in the alphabet soup show little interest in these issues.

Among rainbow youth, “Lesbian” may be regarded by some as an old-fashioned, unpopular, unattractive identity, despite all the Ellens and Hollywood stars coming out. Famous people have always been allowed to be different, and it may not change things that much on the ground, in schools, workplaces, families, and all the many places where lesbians fear discrimination and exclusion. It remains difficult to live as lesbian, in a society where women who refuse to be sexually available to men threaten the gendered structures of patriarchy. However, there are increasing numbers of young women who do live as lesbians, marry, have children, and socialize only within their family groups. Perhaps they no longer have any need for lesbian spaces, events, or cultures.

So – are lesbian spaces vanishing from the physical world, into the safer spaces of the virtual world? Can lesbians retain visibility within the alphabet soup, or do we need to move away and rebuild more lesbian spaces like the Charlotte Museum and the Lilac Library? And to what extent should we welcome others from the alphabet soup into our lesbian spaces? Would these others take them over, dominate, so that these places could become rainbow areas, mainly reflecting the interests of men. As girls and women, we are taught to put the interests of men first, to make them feel comfortable, and look after them. And not to make them angry, for fear of the consequences. It’s hard to break this socialisation. And those who have been socialised as boys and men, can speak with such authority and confidence, that it seems natural to defer to them, and to put their interests first. A Rainbow Museum might be financially sound, if men supported it, but would it still display adequate lesbian material among large new Rainbow collections? And, the Charlotte Museum advertises in a blog post, that a “lesbian-feminist transwoman may be the most radical of us all”. If they were many, and a critical mass, what kind of “lesbian” culture and history would be reflected? Alix Dobkin sang, “every woman can be a lesbian”. Today, perhaps “everybody can be a lesbian”. Otherwise, there are Rainbow events overseas and in New Zealand, with an ever-increasing alphabet soup of genders and sexualities, dominated by gay men, queer men, flamboyant and keen to prioritise their own visibility and their own issues.

These are all questions to consider for the future. Will lesbians vanish? Become more visible? Move in completely new and unimagined directions?

Dr Alison J. Laurie, 2015.

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“Am I changing into something of a monster or am I just claiming back my rights?”

Feminism, Herstory, Lesbian

Could violence be liberating? Not a commonly posed question concerning women’s relationship to the serious issue of domestic and related violence in New Zealand – and for good reason. Police are currently called to an average of 200 domestic violence situations a day, and that figure is estimated at a fifth of the total incidents of domestic violence in New Zealand. That’s at least one call out every seven minutes. But in the late 1970s in Wellington, lesbian feminists reflected upon this very question, reflecting on their own use of violence, wondering: “Am I changing into something of a monster or am I just claiming back my rights?”

Articles on this theme published in the lesbian feminist magazine Circle document a range of attitudes towards violence, both violence between lesbians, and violence between lesbians and heterosexual men. What is clear is that ‘fisticuffs’ were prevalent in late 1970s lesbian life, so much so that women began to reflect upon the politics of throwing a punch. From a 2015 perspective where relationship violence as it impacts on lesbians and others within the Rainbow spectrum is only starting to garner thorough attention, I was surprised to find this politics of aggression being critically presented in 1979.

For one Circle writer, lesbian feminist violence was a means of empowerment. Echoing the ethos of self-defence, she claimed that fighting was just another thing that women needed to learn. But this was not the politics of knowing how to keep safe when approached on a side-street, so much as a politics of fighting like the boys. This writer describes instances where she initiated fights with men on the street, noting that she would be more likely to pick a fight when she “didn’t like the look of him and knew he wouldn’t retaliate. That’s a lot of when I do things – working out if they look as if they’ll hit me back (none of them really has yet).” She then reflected, “There’s a lot of shit about “we’re going to find a better way of doing things”, “we’re just like them” but for me that’s bullshit. Some middle class woman saying to me “I cut them down with words” or “I stay away from them”, well I’m no better with words than those men are and I’ve no car to get around in anyway else and they’re my streets too.”

Lesbian-Feminist Circle, 'Lesbian's Ignite', 1079, p.18For another Circle correspondent the violence in the Wellington lesbian scene was the symptom of lesbian oppression and resulting fear and frustration. However she also noted, “What is disturbing though is that the violence that should be directed outside is so often diverted into the lesbian community and finds expression against other lesbians in the same form as male brutality and cruelty.” Lesbians threw punches at bars, but they also threw punches at home, while some stayed away from lesbian and feminist meetings for fear of the backlash if they threw a punch in a public forum.

Google for ‘feminism +violence’ and you’ll get a plethora of hits concerning feminist campaigns against domestic and sexual violence. None will argue for the feminism of physical hits. Google ‘lesbian +violence’ and you’ll find a similar array of sites against physical and sexual violence, and a few links to porn sites to boot. Which leaves me to wonder, does the feminist politics of lesbian violence remain?  Were we monsters or freedom-fighters?

The Charlotte Museum Trust holds copies of Circle within its research library.

Qulit made from 48 T-shirts from the 70s to early 90s for the Outlines Conference 2003. Collection of the Charlotte Museum Trust

Why not a lesbian museum? Miriam Saphira reflects

Herstory, History, Lesbian, Museums

In 2001 a small archives group was set up in Auckland to try to encourage people to write their stories and send them to LAGANZ (Lesbian and Gay Archives of New Zealand). In February 2003 I took a T-shirt quilt and the badge collection to the Outlines conference, and thought they would be great at LAGANZ, but they could not collect objects so back in Auckland the group  thought, ‘What about all those lesbian art works that relatives will never understand or know what to do with? – Why not a lesbian Museum?’.

Quilt made from 48 T-shirts from the 70s to early 90s for the Outlines Conference 2003, by Miriam Saphira

Lesbian history has been lost. Lesbian culture was always hidden and available only to a few lesbian academics. With a history of discrimination, violence, and hospital incarceration there is little trust in the straight world knowing about lesbian culture or viewing it. In the 1920’s there were several group of lesbians who mixed socially in New Zealand e.g Tuesday Club in New Plymouth. Apart from a few hearsay references and photos we have very little information about their lives.  After the backlash from World War Two in the late forties and fifties,  lesbianism became classified as a mental disorder. It was not until the seventies that there was a renaissance of lesbian culture. This material was becoming lost.

I did a feasibility study – not knowing anything about museum standards or what was involved, and I set up the Charlotte Museum Trust with Nicola Jackson, Christine Hammerton, and Paula Wallis. We put some money in and began fund raising. In 2007 the Charlotte Museum held a Poster show in conjunction with Marco Trust under the title REMEMBER THIS ONE. The exhibition was held throughout the Hero festival and was very well attended with over 800 people viewing it. We got registered with the Charities Commission in May 2007. As founder of the Museum and as Secretary of the Trust, I would not have put my hand up if I had known it would involve writing 86 policies to become a real Museum with Museum Standards…

But hey, we did it!

One of the failures of modern society is to provide safety for our young people. Lesbians still have a higher than average rate of suicide. The stories of several lesbians who have been incarcerated in mental hospitals and subjected to invasive treatment in attempt to change their sexuality needs to be in the public domain.

Information of lesbian culture is now available for the first time to the public, especially to young people who might be questioning their sexual orientation or wanting to understand a friend’s orientation. The many songs and poems the museum hopes to preserve are part of the stories of women from many different walks of life and education. The Charlotte Museum Trust collects and preserves artifacts of lesbian culture such as labrys, music, theatre, film, literature, art and other memorabilia from early lesbian life in New Zealand / Aotearoa. Currently we have a collection of 800 lesbian cultural artifacts: Labrys (in bone, glass and silver), domestic ware, lesbian ceramics, 2100 lesbian books and many of the early magazines from both New Zealand and overseas.

Straight people who have visited the museum are astonished by the early women who had female companions and the women orientated works we have on display, while lesbians visiting us talk about a sense of pride.

Dr Miriam Saphira

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Self Love

Contemporary Art, Lesbian, New Zealand art, photography, Selfies

I am not sure I even remember my first selfie. It was definitely taken on a 35mm semi-automatic film camera, and definitely using a timer. It probably involved precarious balancing – both of the camera, and of me. I was probably 19. While I may have taken self-portraits at most twice a year, millions of people now take multiple self-portraits daily. As a genre, selfography bloomed in the 2010s. It found a home in social media, travelling from MySpace, to Facebook and beyond. But it’s not the internet that makes today’s selfies different from the self-portraits I took as a young woman; its little things like face recognition, auto-focus, and the ability to reliably take photos at close range.

Charlotte Museum Trust poster girl

Charlotte Museum Trust poster girl

The bathroom or public toilet has become a ubiquitous setting for selfographers worldwide. Well lit, often private, with a nice big mirror. Why weren’t we all taking photos in bathrooms when I was in my teens? Because most of us couldn’t afford the macro lenses that allowed you to take a photo in such a small space, and even if you could, you never knew what the camera had focussed on while you were smiling hopefully into its big black eye. Digital cameras and their user-friendly technology have created a new genre in photography that plays to the advantages of auto-focus, auto-exposure, face recognition, and close range. Selfies quickly became a visual style, where subjects often photographed themselves looking upwards at the camera creating a flattering distortion of the face. Then came the duckfaces.

With informal, popular standards for selfie taking, comes the possibility for selfie subversion and selfie play. For at least my first year as a facebook user, I rebelled. I tried to look bad in selfies to break the monotony of smiling eyes and strategically blown out complexions. I used tomato sauce and chicken feathers to create a Halloween selfie for my profile picture that was also a tribute to Anne Noble’s photography. And I don’t even celebrate Halloween.

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Tribute to Anne Noble, 2009

In 2013 the National #Selfie Portrait Gallery, at the Moving Image Contemporary Art Fair in London, became one of the first exhibitions to take selfies seriously. Two years later the Charlotte Museum Trust is doing the same with our ‘Me Myselfie I’ exhibition, due to open at the Charlotte Gallery on 16 August.

As many in our community know all too well, lesbians don’t always get the opportunity to define themselves for the world: to put their real selfies forward. Lesbians have been medicalized, stigmatised, pathologised, categorised, and misunderstood for years. In 1886 Richard von Krafft-Ebing published Sexual Psychopathy: A Clinical-Forensic Study where he identified lesbianism as pathology. For Kraft-Ebing, sexual inversion (the reversal of gender roles) was the result of poor breeding and poverty. A little later in 1897 Havelock Ellis published Sexual Inversion. Ellis associated lesbianism with sadism and bestiality as sexual deviations. For Sigmund Freud, who began writing at about the same time, all humans were born bisexual, where proper healthy psychological development resulted in heterosexuality, not homosexuality. When teenagers Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme conspired to kill Parker’s mother in New Zealand in 1954, their apparently lesbian relationship was used as evidence of a medical illness during the trial. Internationally, this postwar period saw women who loved women medicalised as promiscuous, predatory, and psychopathic. Many of us live and have lived under this shadow.

In a world where others have always had the job of defining us, the Charlotte Museum Trust believes the selfie is an awesome medium for reclaiming ownership of what it means to be a lesbian.

And selfies are also a whole lot of fun. Let’s not forget the fun.

And thus The Charlotte Museum Trust wants your selfies! As an added incentive we are also offering a tidy little competition. Our judge Jac Lynch will select two selfies to be professionally printed and mounted by Imagelab, to be sent to the winners at the close of the show.

Selfographer and CMT judge Jac Lynch avoiding the paparazzi

Selfographer and CMT judge Jac Lynch avoiding the paparazzi

Entries for both the exhibition and the competition close 29 July. Email us at charlottemuseum@gmail.com for an entry form, but do be quick!

Open to New Zealand residents only. Terms and Conditions apply.

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Jumping on board the flag wagon: union jacks and rainbow stripes

flag, union jack

Flags are an excellent way of identifying things from a distance – Raleigh Choppers parked at the end of a suburban street – for example. Flags are especially excellent ways of identifying things that can change ownership – like castles, parliaments, borders – anything of strategic significance during times of warfare, times when you need a rough and ready way of letting people in the distance know who is now inside the building (so back off), or on the other side of the border (or we will shoot you). White flags of surrender are also useful. But these days, what flags seem to be really good at, is attracting controversy.

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‘Colours of NZ’, Designed by: gaygamesblog from Auckland, submitted as a new flag design by Lisa McFarland.

For reasons unknown and unfathomable to a large percentage of the New Zealand population, we as New Zealanders are currently being asked to design a new national flag. The current flag was first used on New Zealand ships in 1869 and became New Zealand’s official national flag in 1902, and there are great reasons for keeping it as it is. It’s an honest depiction of our past, for one thing. But does it really represent contemporary New Zealand? Or is there a better way of depicting our bicultural past – or of symbolising our multicultural present? While these issues are gaining traction, the most controversy a flag has brought to New Zealand was probably in 1845, when Hone Heke cut down a flagpole displaying the British flag – and it wasn’t because he didn’t like the design.

Oddly in synch with New Zealand politics, the USA is also debating flag appropriateness, but for somewhat different reasons. When Dylann Roof recently killed nine at the African American Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, he did so in an attempt to reignite the American Civil War. He did so to honour the ‘confederate’ flag, a flag flown across America, and a flag which is a relic from the American Civil War. As Sidney Blumenthal describes it, the confederate flag is an “ensign of a slaveholders’ republic, revived a century later as the symbol of massive resistance to civil rights, [which] became an iconic code for the Republicans’ Southern strategy.’ That is, the ‘confederate’ flag is associated with racial oppression, and as such Americans are currently arguing for its removal from public buildings.

In response to the push to have the confederate flag removed, Bryan Fischer, of the American Family Association, recently declared ‘if we come to the point where we say any flag that represents bigotry, any flag that represents hatred, any flag that represents slavery or oppression needs to be removed, then I want to suggest to you that the next flag to go ought to be the rainbow flag of the Gay Reich.’

The rainbow flag has, of course, become a widespread symbol of pride for LGBTIQ communities. The Charlotte Museum Trust has a rainbow flag within its collection. But who knew – or remembers – that “hot pink stood for sexuality, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for the sun, green for nature, turquoise blue for art, indigo for harmony and violet for spirit.” Rather than being uniquely ‘gay’, or collectively queer, the rainbow flag was designed to symbolise the kinds of things that any 1970s free-spirit would aspire to embracing. The flag was designed by Gilbert Baker in the late 1970s to replace the pink triangle popularly used at the time. The pink triangle, much like the confederate flag (and Bryan Fischer’s remarks), has its origins in oppression and hatred, where the pink triangle was the symbol used by Nazi Germany to stigmatize homosexual men. While the pink triangle had been reclaimed by gay communities as a symbol of identity, the rainbow became the official symbol of gay activism after San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk’s assassination in 1978.

While our government insists we reassess our national flag here in New Zealand, I wonder if we might reassess our LGBTIQ flag in New Zealand too. Like any exercise in rebranding, the shift to a rainbow flag in 1978 obscured one thing in favour of another – it shifted our gaze from the pink triangle of bigoted hatred, to a rainbow of joyful resistance. Changing the flag of course, didn’t actually make bigoted hatred go away.

Moreover, since the rainbow flag became widespread, variants appeared for bisexuality, pansexuality, and asexuality, among others. Lesbians have also used interlocked female symbols on their flags instead of rainbows. The Charlotte Museum Trust has one of these, too.

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Asexual pride flag

bi pride

Bisexual pride flag

However the full rainbow flag remains the symbol most synonymous with LGBTIQ pride across New Zealand. Any regional festival proves as much. But should it? Does a rainbow of joyful resistance still work in 2015?

And more importantly, does a flag originating with 1970s American gay activism, best symbolise LGBTIQ pride in New Zealand in the 2010s? Is it time we jumped on board the flag wagon and reassessed our own symbols? Or should we keep the rainbow… just so people like Bryan Fischer can see when the Gay Reich have stormed the castle.

The Charlotte Museum Trust welcomes information about flags used in New Zealand as part of lesbian activism over the years, if you have photos, even better! Contact us at charlottemuseum@gmail.com if you have information to share, and don’t forget to follow us on our facebook page.

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A little something we like to call volunteering

Cataloguing, Mosaic art

Who keeps the cogs turning, the balls rolling, and the gears oiled when it comes to the Charlotte Museum Trust? In this blog we let you in on a little secret… it’s out volunteers. Ever wondered who our volunteers are and what they do? Then read on. Here is an abridged interview with Tash, the woman behind Charlotte’s facebook page, library, and our future Mosaic workshop. Tash became involved with the Charlotte Museum Trust shortly after the Museum relocated to its current premises at 8A Bentinck Street, in fact, she arrived while they were still unpacking…

How did you become involved with the Charlotte Museum Trust?

Tash: I went to a Heroes Out West event, and Miriam [Saphira] was on the door, and so when I was leaving I actually asked her if there was any lesbian events around Auckland that she knew of, and she told me about – I think it was the newsletter she told me about – and then she talked about the Museum, and how this was here, and she gave me a card. Two weeks later I rang up and asked when it was open and what was happening, and she told me the times, and so I came in, and she showed me around the bottom room, started at the Sappho cabinet and just worked her way around, telling me the herstory and stuff, and then we were having a cup of tea and she said she was needing to put some stuff up in the garage, and I said ‘do you need a hand’, so yeah, I was helping her that day and then the next week I came back and then just kept coming back

So had you not been here long when you..?

Tash: In Auckland? No, no I had been here maybe two months? Two or three months, yeah so not long.

So she caught you really early?

Tash: Yeah I guess so, yes, yeah she did

How long ago was that?

Tash: Two years, or something… so I would come in when Miriam was here and then I would help her with stuff, and then I ended up in the library. With the library I am still sussing it out as I go.

So when you started, the books were all in boxes?

Tash: They were in boxes, and so we had to put them from A to Z [on the shelves] … and I hadn’t done that before, and it took ages, it just took me so long…. It was a real mission to learn that one. And then there were bits of paper lying around, and I would have no idea what to do with bits of paper… and then it was magazines, you know, looking through boxes of magazines and sorting out American magazines, and the different kinds – because when you sort out the boxes of magazines you have to put them in order from the most recent, and that’s really time consuming, and there are missing copies, and they could be in another box….

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The Charlotte Museum Trust’s research library contains five floor-to-ceiling bookshelves of lesbian fiction and nonfiction, and a smaller bookcase housing a New Zealand collection. And then there is a smaller lending library collection housed in the meeting room.

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What would your favourite event at the Museum have been?

Tash: I don’t know actually, there are two that I really liked… one was a printing workshop, which Miriam ran. It was really cool to use the mangle; I thought that was really wicked, I got really inspired. And then there was this discussion one night… there were like three speakers, and one was a transgender woman, and they were speaking of their stories, you know, growing up and stuff, and I just found that really interesting… it was really cool.

You must enjoy…?

Tash: I do enjoy working here, I really love it… I love working in the library, I like learning new stuff and then getting inspired and taking that further. I like networking with other people as well, like the Lilac Library, and Jenny [Rankine]… I like coming in here and shelving the books, and writing the new books down, and putting them in their places.

I like working with Miriam – Miriam’s got a lot of knowledge, you know, so when I ask her a question she can give me a really good run down of stuff –

She’s like the lesbian google of New Zealand

Tash: I know!

I like it how whether they are big or small, I do like the gatherings and exhibitions and stuff, I do like that, I think that that’s really cool.

You are also interested in running a mosaic workshop for us?

Tash: Yes, yes I am

So how did you get interested in mosaics?

Tash: It was when I was living in Colville, we put on an art exhibition… and I used to work with kids out there, so we were part of a youth programme – which was a really cool programme – and I ran a mosaic workshop with those kids. So that’s when I started to actually do mosaic… and how I got interested was through my friend Sarah, she had this mosaic hand that she made and I thought that was really cool and I wanted to do that with the kids. And then also my boy’s Dad, his mum, was a mosaic artist as well, so I got inspired by a few different things.

Is there any mosaic project that you have done that you particularly enjoyed doing?

Tash: Yeah, when I was living in Colville, I got commissioned to mosaic some chairs, you know those old-school wooden chairs? So I did a few of those, and I really enjoyed that, and it was really cool. What I liked about them was that I could put whatever I was going through or whatever I was inspired by, or anything, [onto the chairs] and there are a couple of people mosaicked onto those chairs, but not actual people, it sort of takes a different form. I really liked doing those chairs. That was cool.

It’s going to be in the Spring? The workshop is going to be in the Spring?

Tash: Yes, and we are playing around with ideas for what to do with that workshop, if it will be a collective thing.

Do people need to have an idea to come into it, or will you help them through the finding an idea process?

Tash: Just whatever, if people want to come in with their own things then that’s kind of cool, you know, and just to be around other women, that’s kind of cool. If people don’t know how to mosaic I can help them with that.

Will you do one as well, or do you just instruct?

Tash: I don’t really have time to do – you don’t really have time to do your own. I could probably bring something in that was mine, because I am working on something at the moment as well. It was with a friend of mine, and we have started to mosaic on a mannequin torso. So I’ve started half of that, and then she was going to do the other half. So yeah, I could probably bring something in of mine. But people who don’t know how to mosaic, you actually have to be a bit more hands on, you know, just instruct… but you don’t get too involved, you actually just let people go.

Thanks Tash!

If you are interested in meeting Tash and enrolling in her Spring workshop, keep an eye out for future events on Charlotte’s facebook

And if you live in Auckland and want to volunteer at the Charlotte Museum Trust, then send us an email at charlottemuseum@gmail.com, we are always interested in people who might help us run events or work with us to preserve our collection. It’s a great way to gain skills for your cv, or to fill in some spare time in the company of great people like Tash:)