Zoe is one of a group of young volunteers working on the Queer Looks oral history project which is collecting stories and clothing from LGBTQ+ communities in Sussex, garments which will be displayed at Brighton Museum as part of an exhibition of the same name. Here she is talking about her experiences on the project.
“Being involved in an exhibition for Brighton Museum looking at the last 50 years of LGBTQ+ dress, was a very exciting prospect. Historical dress and LGBTQ+ history is a combination that I’d not encountered in a museum before. As a group of young people from Brighton, we brought an accumulation of various backgrounds and experiences, eager to help shape this project and work on our ideas for what the ‘Queer Looks’ exhibition would achieve. The continuing thought process throughout agreed upon essential goals like making the exhibition valid and authentic. Also importantly, properly communicating the stories of the people kind enough to tell them. I felt that this project could potentially be challenging yet exciting to work on as it would reflect the stories from within the community.
Initial tours around relevant exhibitions, a trip to the fashion stores and a variety of workshops gave us a real insight into what it takes to put on a fashion display. We focused in particular on how to use social media to promote our work, oral history interview techniques and photographic skills, giving us a thorough foundation for interviewing older members of the LGBTQ+ community across Sussex. I personally enjoyed learning about museum curation in the context of a fashion display and the logistics of translating oral histories through exhibiting people’s donated clothes and their stories told. Along the way we also learned a bit about things such as conservation issues, archives, informed consent and overall limitations and freedoms. It was apparent that curating a successful exhibition takes more work than I initially thought given the behind the scenes work, both collaboratively and individually for every item that goes on public display.
During the conducting of oral histories, we gathered the stories of people living in Brighton and Sussex. This was by far my favourite part of the project as this required us to speak to individuals in our own community from as vast a range of people as possible who all identify as LGBTQ+. The interviews gave us an opportunity to ask people about the meaning of dress to them and to talk about their donated outfit. I found it so insightful that people have an endlessly different experiences from one another and that dress can mean so many things to different people. The importance of it can range from outward fashion expression, to capturing someone’s true identity. This is what gave the project’s significant context, that behind the exhibition being curated, the outfits weren’t just a donation, they had a meaning and a story.
This experience has given me insight into the procedure for researching and selecting garments for display as well as gathering oral histories, alongside skills such as social media and marketing. I feel that the work put in so far from the young project team promises to deliver an authentic and impactful exhibition.”