This, Our Hive Of Voices
Commissioned as part of Meeting Point 4 by Arts & Heritage and Warwickshire County Records Office
Digital installation launched: Feb 1st 2022
Physical exhibition at Royal Pump Rooms, Leamington Spa, UK:
May 10th- June 12th, 2022
A participatory art project made with Proud Youth, Leamington Spa, between 2021- 2022. The group, supported by Warwickshire Pride, is made up of around thirty LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Plus) young people, aged 12-24.
WCRO (Warwickshire County Record Office) 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 wanted the project to be part of changing this for future generations, so the project aimed to offer opportunities to think about lively, fun, engaging ways of telling stories about LGTBQ+ history and contemporary life in Warwickshire.
The artwork in the images below was made as part of the project. It is a cabinet or “hive”, inspired by Kitt’s thoughts about the Record Office being “like a beehive, with stories flying in, to be cared for by the wonderful, dedicated staff, and back out again to connect with, and through, local communities”.
The hive (made by Lady Kitt and artist Sarah Li) is an ornately decoupaged, wooden cabinet which opens to reveal a series of hexagonal chambers. In each of these chambers you will find a “Story Scroll”. The story scrolls contain creative responses and research relating to LGBTQ+ history in Warwickshire plus documentation of activities which have taken place as part of the project (for example craft workshops and biscuit making!).
Some of the “Story Scrolls” have been made by LGBTQ+ people currently living in the county, some have been created by Kitt to reflect research and activities carried out over the last year.
Below you can find more info about creative activities carried out during the project and some of the stories which are included in the Story Scrolls in the exhibition.
celebrating pan/ bisexual histories
As part of their research Proud Youth have 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 some local (and not-so-local) LGBTQ+ stories.
Many of the group, and both the artists, identify as bi/ pan sexual. Often a marginalised identity, even within the LGBTQ+ community, this sexuality is sometimes misunderstood/ misrepresented. So, we were keen to create some work about the history of bisexual people.
One of the things we made were Bi Biscuits! Biscuits (made to an approximation of Mary Wise’s recipe) cut and decorated in the shape of Bi/ Pan sexual people. We made:
16th century bisexual playwright William Shakespeare (born in Strafford Upon Avon, Warwickshire).
Joe Lycett, pansexual, midlands based artist, activist and comedian born in 1988
5Th century BC bisexual poet Sappho (born on Greek island Lesbos)
Amrita Sher-Gil (1913 –1941) Hungarian-Indian bisexual painter and women’s right activist
Not all these people have a connection to Warwickshire, but we were keen to learn bout a variety of bi/pansexual people throughout history!
LGBTQ+ history in Warwickshire:
William Shakespeare: 1564 – 23 April 1616 was an English writer often described as the greatest writer in the English language. Shakespeare was born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire. At the age of 18, he married Anne Hathaway. He had a successful career in London as an actor and writer. Age 49, he appears to have retired to Stratford, where he died three years later. Few records of Shakespeare's private life survive; this has stimulated considerable speculation about his sexuality. A fresh analysis of his sonnets has found evidence that he was, bisexual. Evidence in the book “All The Sonnets of Shakespeare” (copy included in the art pack) show that he had affairs with both men and women during his 34-year marriage to Anne Hathaway. “The language of sexuality in some of the sonnets, which are definitely addressed to a male subject, leaves us in no doubt that Shakespeare was bisexual. It’s become fashionable since the mid-1980s to think of Shakespeare as gay. But he was married and had children. Some of these sonnets are addressed to a female and others to a male. To reclaim the term bisexual seems to be quite an original thing to be doing.” Dr Edmonsdson, 2021
Hannah Snell (23 April 1723 – 8 February 1792) was born in Worcester, England. In 1745 Hannah borrowed a man's suit from their brother-in-law James Gray and assumed his name. According to Hannah’s own account, they joined John Guise's regiment. For 5 years Hannah/ James worked as a solider traveling to France, Portugal and India. They retired in 1750 and were granted a soldier’s pension. Hannah / James sold their story to London publisher Robert Walker, who published the account, The Female Soldier, in two different editions. Hannah / James also began to appear on stage in uniform presenting military drills and singing songs.
In 1791, Hannah / James’s was admitted to Bethlem Hospital and died in 1792. Sadly, as referred to in James Davidson’s research, many gender non -conforming people in history have been admitted / forced into hospitals/ asylums because of the gender identity / expression, through we are not sure if this is the case for Hannah/ James.
The Other Branch was a radical bookshop, run by volunteers, in Leamington Spa between 1972-1987. WCRO (under reference CR3541/Parts I-III. ) contains the shops ‘Day Book’, which is full of notes from the volunteer staff to each other. The more recent Day Books are unavailable for general access, as they are under 35 years old. However, those from the early years (1974-1981) can be accessed by the public. It’s a great source for LGBTQ+ and other marginalized histories in the county. In a note on May 7th 1976, someone mentions that ‘Gay Lib[eration] aren’t as shy as they were, why can’t they have a shelf’ instead of squeezing them into the politics shelves, to which someone notes ‘I agree’. The notes record the sale of tickets to gay discos, and critiques of magazines and literature. The Other Branch was part of an activist movement which sought to shake cultural structures to their core; it shaped and reflected that movement (which is still developing and ongoing today) and its records can help us understand that movement. The preservation of records like those of The Other Branch, which actively spoke for and about LGBTQ+ groups, is an important step in ensuring that we do not remain marginalised!
melissandre varin Is a Black queer non-binary, co-parent, and artist based in the midlands. melissandre is currently working alongside community co-creators to develop B.O.O.K (Building Our Own Knowledge) for Coventry Biennial 2021. This project is about building a space for sharing under-represented narratives, taking the form of a public library that focuses on the experiences and knowledges of Black artists.
Alan Turing, queer, neurodiverse history and finding our "Queer ancestors"
Because history is often told by people who are not part of LGBTQ+ communities it can be easy for young people to grown up feeling like there are “no gay people in history”. For LGBTQ+ people this can lead to a sense of isolation. One of the things, some young people told Kitt and Sarah is that they wanted be inspired by LGBTQ+ historical figures and have a sense of their “queer ancestors”, LGBTQ+ people who have created positive change in the world.
This work is by Jamie, one of the young people from the Proud Voices (LINK) group. It celebrates Alan Turing, who is not directly connected to Warwickshire, but as a gay, neurodivergent man, is a source of huge inspiration to Jamie who wrote:
“I’m involved in the
project to let other queer, neurodivergent people, in the near or distant future,
know that the world is changing. We can only see a short distance ahead, but
we see plenty that must be done.”
“In searching for queer history I find myself reflecting on my "queer kin". Both my chosen family (or as
Armistead Maupin describes it "logical family") and the LGBTQ+ people in history with whom I feel
a connection. Most queer people don't grown up in LGBTQ+ families, this makes the search for "family
history" a confusing, exciting (sometimes fraught) endeavour (as described by LGBTQ+ artist and comedian Joe Lycett in this 2021 PinkNews article). In my work, I explained to the group, I imagine a world where my queer linage stretches all the way back to 5th century BC Bisexual poet Sappho, making her my "queer mam”*. I also talked about my future and the future of my children, being raised
by a me now, as a "queer mam”.
Lady Kitt, 2022
*local North Eastern variation of "mum". Kitt grew up in the North East.