This, Our Hive Of Voices
Lady Kitt Sarah Li 2021-22
Socially engaged art project exploring LGBTQ+ history in the Midlands
Commissioned as part of Meeting Point 4 by Arts & Heritage and Warwickshire County Records Office
Artists and drag kings Lady Kitt and Sarah Li are currently working with Warwickshire County Records Office (WCRO) and young people from Warwickshire Pride "Proud Voices" LGBTQ+ group in Leamington Spa. Through collaboratively made art works we are celebrating and sharing LGBTQ+ history in the county and beyond. Focusing on pan / bi sexual and trans / gender non-conforming histories.
Much of the work is taking the form of a direct rebuttal to the quote:
“There are no gay people in Warwick”
Which is what a local councillor said to the founder of Warwickshire Pride in 2013, the year the organisation was founded.
Celebrations of local Bi / Pan sexual people through baking. Here's some initial ideas including Will Shakespeare :
Warwickshire County Records Office (WCRO) contains over 3 miles of archives. WCRO’s archive collections date back to the 12th century and contain information about many aspects of life and work in Warwickshire. Currently there is very little LGBTQ+ history in the archives & we really want this project to be part of changing that for future generations.
Mary Tilson (married name Wise) lived in Warwickshire in the early – mid 18th century.
Mary recorded recipes for preparing food, medicines and cosmetics in a book which is now part of the WCRO archives. These recipes are not related to LGBTQ+ history (as far as we know), but do show how some hidden / lesser know 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, we can engage creatively in ways of bringing this history to life, making it exciting and tangible.
We are inventing and subverting our own recipes to add to the archive. We hope these might help future generations to engaging creatively with our lives as members of the LGBTQ+ community in the early 21st century.
Mess making as social glue:
Kitt and Sarah’s work: The way we make art is often called “Socially engaged” or “Participatory”. We create artworks, events and projects by collaborating with community groups. The art we make usually includes jokes, crafting, performance and mess. Stuff that’s happen as part of projects we’ve facilitated includes giant origami boat races, policy changes and an international feminist art magazine for, and by, children.
Research informing this project so far:
William Shakespeare: 1564 – 23 April 1616 was an English writer. 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 many aspects of his life including his sexuality. A fresh analysis of his sonnets has found evidence that he was, bisexual. The 2021 book “All The Sonnets of Shakespeare” suggests 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 there in 1792. Sadly, as referred to by PHD researcher James Davidson as part of his investigations for this project 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. 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.