On 11 February the University of Oxford’s Gardens, Libraries and Museums (GLAM) launch an innovative new project Out in Oxford. Spearheaded by the Pitt Rivers Museum and funded by Arts Council England (ACE) and the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Out in Oxford explores items from across the University’s collections. Through public events, a new website and a specially commissioned printed trail, Out in Oxford provides platforms for people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ+) and allies to speak out about the fascinating, important and often overlooked queer histories that exist within the University’s collections. Through collaborations between curators and volunteers, new perspectives are being foregrounded and personal experiences shared as staff and the public queer the collections.
Central to the project is a specially commissioned trail. With all interpretation newly written by project volunteers, the Out in Oxford cross-collections trail provides fresh and personal perspectives on some of the iconic and also lesser known items cared for by the University. Launching on 11 February at 'Out in Oxford: Party at the Pitt' and available throughout 2017, visitors can download the trail from the Out in Oxford website, or pick up a copy at the Ashmolean Museum, the Bate Collection, the Botanic Garden, the Museum of Natural History, the Pitt Rivers Museum, the Museum of the History of Science and the Weston Library. 2017 is also significant as the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales, and the 60th anniversary of the Wolfenden Report, which advocated that change in the law.
With powerful forewords from Stephen Fry and Professor Richard Parkinson, the Out in Oxford trail will take visitors on an alternative journey, delving deep into the archives of the collections. Trail-goers will be encouraged to consider the Museum of Natural History’s Bluehead Wrasse cast as an example of non-standard biological sex in nature, and the fluidity of gender in Japanese Noh theatre performances as they visit the Pitt Rivers Museum. At the Ashmolean, trail-goers will find objects ranging from antiquity to present day including a US banknote stamped ‘lesbian money’ linked to gay and lesbian rights movements. Moving on to the Botanic Garden, the gay association with the hyacinth and the Polish secret police will be highlighted, while at the Bate Collection, a pink plastic recorder will invite visitors to think about how certain colours have been used to alternately victimise and celebrate LGBTQ+ people. The Out in Oxford trail will be a fascinating experience for any visitor looking to discover the University’s Gardens, Libraries and Museums for the first time, or existing visitors wishing to discover something new about their favourite collection.
To mark the launch of the Out in Oxford trail, Pitt Rivers Museum will host a series of exciting events for the general public, co-produced by volunteers and local LGBTQ+ community organisations. Working with groups such as Oxford Pride, community project Tales of Our City, the University’s own LGBT Staff and Student Networks and youth group My Normal, the galleries will be taken over by performances, talks and interactiveactivities designed to celebrate aspects of LGBTQ+ culture. The event series begins with Out in Oxford: Party at the Pitt (11 February, 19.00-22.00, ages 16+). Students from St Hilda’s College (University of Oxford) will curate performances in the galleries; Molly: Party for Queers, will be making slogan t-shirts; Tales of Our City will display their rare archive of local queer ephemera from the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s. Visitors can pop into the Balfour Library to find out find what Oxford's gay women got up to on Tuesdays in 1983 and why something called ‘Project October’ caused so much excitement in 1991. We will also be joined by Oxford Pride and performance artists who will lead a Drag Kings workshop. Tickets are available for free and there will be a cash bar. Party at the Pitt will be followed by a discussion based event, Is Gender Identity a Choice? (16 February, 19.00-21.30); an Out in Oxford Spotlight Talk (18 February, 14.30-15.30); and a youth takeover night from My Normal with a non-alcoholic bar and live music from bands Lucy Leave and Rainbow Reservoir (25 February, 18.00-21.00). The Out in Oxford series of events will close with a special film screening of cult classic Paris is Burning. This film chronicles the underground ‘vogueing’ scene in 1980s Harlem, a dance trend led by young gay black men and appropriated by Madonna in her 1990 chart hit Vogue. The screening will be followed by Q&A with special guests (28 February, 18.00-20.30, ages 16+). Most events are free, but some require booking in advance. Click here for tickets and more events information.
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