Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

Supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh is a consortium of local museums, galleries and archives working together to share information and expertise, and foster collaboration in research, teaching, and public engagement.

Here, at the HAA Constellations blog, you can read about some of the outcomes of these partnerships. Learn more about Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh at https://haa.pitt.edu/ckp.

 

Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

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    Touching Correspondence: Archive Visit during Making Advances Mellon Workshop

    Author: Paula Kupfer, PhD student in History of Art and Architecture and Making Advances Workshop participant

    One of the postcards shows a hunky man with dark eyebrows and long black hair, dressed in a vibrant red sweater. His left hand grasps his belt, the intensity of his gesture matched only by the fiery look in his eyes. The backdrop—a pink wall with three small pictures in kitschy frames—crowns the humorous earnestness of his pose. The other postcard depicts a hand-colored black-and-white reproduction of Jesus: his hair, highlighter orange; his sleeves, highlighter blue; his torso, highlighter pink. A caption reads: Sagrado Corazon de Jesus (Sacred Heart of Jesus). 

    These postcards were sent by artist and photographer Nan Goldin (b. 1953) to her friend, the artist Greer Lankton (1958–96), and are part of the Greer Lankton archive at the Mattress Factory, which we visited during the Making Advances Mellon Workshop in early May. Lankton is remembered for her hand-sewn dolls, installations, and autobiographical work reflecting her life experiences as an artist and a transgender person who also struggled with drug addiction. Goldin is best known for her Ballad of Sexual Dependency, a series of personal photographs mostly from the 1970s and 1980s, of her life and friends in Boston, New York, Berlin, and elsewhere. The pictures reflect moments of ecstasy and pain, in particular highlighting the ravages that the AIDS crisis inflicted on her community. Ballad offers an intimate, diaristic view of Goldin’s life; she would present it as a slideshow, often in nightclubs, accompanied by a soundtrack created by her and her friends.

    On the back of Jesus, Goldin wrote, from Mexico, in 1982: 

    Dear Greer, a belated valentines card for you, my sweet. . . . Still living a lazy existence, reading a lot, swimming, cooking + cleaning, eating only fruit + veggies for a while. It must be a modern Mexican miracle—this sudden domesticity I’ve fallen into. Still, it’s difficult to be a woman down here. It’s like walking past one enormous construction site all the time. It’s very repressed sexually especially this area. . . . Women can’t drink in the cantinas or play pool in the halls or do much alone. But actually there seems to be a new breed of woman coming up seems more independent. Mardi gras carnival is starting so we’ve been going to all these town events—the crowning of the child queen, the crowning of the lady queen. Marceled hairdos à la colonial Spain, banana curls with tiaras or else Carmen Miranda drags. . . . We’re still planning to come back March 10. Will write if changes. Love to Michele. Miss you! Want word from NYC.” 

    On the back of the handsome man in red, sent from Germany in 1984, Goldin wrote: 

    Dear Greer, this is one of the sex symbols of Turkey. We stayed in Little Turkey in Berlin—like the Lower East Side. Lived in a house with 40 people, a printing press, carpentry factory, dinners for 40 every night. A real little socialist state. Spent all the $ I brought on sekt—the link between wine and champagne—so I have not much to show for it and not even sure how many memories. Did make some good connections workwise. . . . Did 2 slideshows at cinemas, one in Berlin, one here in Wuppertal—sort of like Pittsburg [sic] except w. Pina Bausch company here. No amour this trip. Coming back in time to do the Diane B shot so get ready! Can’t wait to see Art Forum and yr new work. Love xxx Nan” 

    Although I knew of links between the two artists—Lankton appears in many of Goldin’s photographs from the 1970s and ’80s, perhaps most famously in Greer and Robert on the bed, NYC, from 1982—the discovery of these two postcards was particularly affecting. Doubtless it was the sweetness of the tone in both, but also the surprise of reading first-hand words by an artist who so often speaks through images. Reflecting the sort of intense personal character of both Goldin and Lankton’s work, these postcards embody a material link between the two women, a form of tenderness relayed through handwriting, a traveling piece of cardboard that speaks of their connection, trust, and a form of care that spanned geographic distance.  

    Goldin is credited with inaugurating a new aesthetic in photography—her off-the-cuff, bright-flash, richly colored representations of her own life represented a new possibility within the realm of fine art photography. Her life was her art—raw, joyous, painful, sexual, tender. She had this in common with Lankton, whose work and archive—a deeply moving, deeply human collection of photographs, photo albums, diaries, and letters—bears testament to the troubles and joys of her unusual life and its translation into artworks. These postcards fall into the same spirit: they are sincere, disarming, and funny. 

    Thinking of Greer Lankton and Nan Goldin feels urgent today. Not only because of new threats against the lives and rights of transgender people. Or because of Goldin’s admirable and ongoing activism in response to the opioid crisis in the United States—of which she herself has been a victim—and the complicity of art institutions. But also because the radical vulnerability they offer the world through their art and archive is deeply political and necessary today. The more stories of pain and alterity—but also joy and euphoria—are shared with others, the more art may serve a form of much-needed empathy. Sometimes such reminders come in inconspicuous forms, such as that of postcards. 

    Learn more about the Making Advances Workshop here

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    Kim Fox's installation

     

    Gendered spaces, materials, forms ... and their transformation

    Author: Brooke Wyatt, HAA graduate student and HAA1030 Museum Studies Exhibition Seminar student – Fall 2018 

    Handwork is an exhibition of new work by Pittsburgh artist Kim Fox, currently on view in Contemporary Craft's BNY Mellon Satellite Gallery in the lobby of the Steel Plaza T-Station downtown. Six works are presented, ranging in size from the large-scale Eight-Pointed Star Quilt II (2018), a work that employs two salvaged wooden barn doors for its support, to the more intimate Log Cabin Quilt Block (2018), scaled to the size of the reclaimed wood lath that frames the composition. Fox engages a range of found materials, including vintage tin, paper dress patterns, and a tabletop that was used to cut glass in a hardware store, as seen in Blue Honeycomb (2018). In some cases, Fox links these materials to their previous location and function in manufacturing towns around Pittsburgh. Through wall-text information, we learn that the tabletop came from Clairton, PA, home of U.S. Steel's Clairton Works, the largest coke-producing facility in the United States. The salvaged wood used in another work, Honeycomb (2018), was found at the Jeannette Glass Works, defunct since 1983, but once one of Pennsylvania's premier consumer glass manufacturers. 

    In conjunction with these echoes of the region's industrial history, Fox's use of forms and patterns drawn from the world of quiltmaking reflects parallel traditions in the area's production of housewares and crafts. In Handwork, references to mechanized industry and factory production interface with the aesthetics of homemade, hand-stitched textile work to evoke a complicated reading of gender. Materials and techniques associated with masculinized spaces such as the factory floor and the realm of hard labor intersect with interior, domestic spaces often coded as feminine. The works allow layers of meaning to accumulate as found objects join together with the mark-making, collaging, and repetitive ordering that reveals the artist's working process. Fox combines materials and techniques from craft practice with more conventional fine art approaches, effectively playing with embedded hierarchies about which forms are most valuable or visually provocative. Through her material exploration of these binary constructions —masculine/feminine, public/private, fine art/craft, work/hobby — Fox's work unravels dichotomies to present a composite, layered meditation on labor, place, and the convergence of past and present.

    Bringing new interpretations to traditional paradigms of gendered space, material, and form is central to Fox's visual language, and reverberates with the work of Katie Ott, another Pittsburgh-based artist whose work is currently on view in the University Art Gallery (UAG) at the University of Pittsburgh. Part of the student-curated exhibition This is Not Ideal: Gender myths and their transformation, Ott's work makes a queer and intersectional feminist intervention into the historically masculine domains of woodworking and furniture-making, literally turning the tables on established gender norms around art and craft practice. 

    Handwork is presented in conjunction with Contemporary Craft's biennial show Transformation 10: Contemporary Works in Found Materials, the Elizabeth R. Rafael Founders Prize Exhibition and is on view from September 14, 2018 to January 5, 2019

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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  • Xander describing his exhibition

     

    Politics, Propaganda, And The Steel Industry

    Author: Xander Schempf, Museum Studies Intern at Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area – Fall 2017

    Spending over six months working with Rivers of Steel Arts taught me more about the history of Pittsburgh and its role in the development of the United States than being born and raised here. As part of my internship, I had the opportunity to develop a new exhibition for the traveling “Steel Case” – a mobile display case that functions as a miniature gallery on wheels. In preparation for the exhibition, I began by sifting through Rivers of Steel Arts’ vast archive to create a list of possible themes. None of them were quite right, so I always ended up scrapping them for something else. Eventually, I stumbled upon some old magazines created to spread information about union rights. Searching for related materials led me to an array of interesting artifacts and documents that taught me a lot about the WWII era, a moment in US history that until now, I did not know very much about. 

    With the guidance of Director of Historic Resources and Facilities, Ron Baraff, and the Chief Curator, Chris McGinnis, I developed a Steel Case exhibition that examines the political propaganda produced before, during, and after WWII in response to the rise of the steel industry in the United States. The rise of the steel industry ushered in new political ideas, my case considers how the political climate of the period was shaped by two major competing ideologies. There were left-wing groups who sought to attract steel industry workers to the socialist ideology, and in response, there were large corporations who quelled and attempted to maintain the existing capitalist working state. Themes such as the “common man” and the “greater good” were staples for each side in discrediting the other and strengthening their own views. Yet, hidden beneath corporate language was a continued effort to quell movements that threatened their status. The objects on view are only a small selection of the materials that can tell this story, but the ones I have selected seek to illuminate the progression of these interactions from unions, the industry, and popular culture, exploring how their influence made its way throughout many facets of twentieth-century America.

    The exhibition is on display at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Oakland through April 30, 2019.  

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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    Students Shaping Zine Collections

    Author: Kate Joranson, Head, Frick Fine Arts Library and Making Advances workshop co-leader

    On October 14, undergraduate gender studies students met up with me at the PGH Zine Fair at the Union Project to purchase zines for our growing collection at the Frick Fine Arts Library. This activity grew out of my partnership with Julie Beaulieu, faculty in the Gender Studies and Women’s Studies Program. Our partnership began during the Making Advances workshop in May 2018, when we spent a week exploring local collections, considering how we might activate these collections through student engagement.

    As a librarian, I believe that library and archival collections are strengthened when they are shaped by many voices. I invited Julie’s students to join me in building the collection to ensure that a diverse range of LGBTQ+ perspectives, narratives, and imagery are the foundation of the collection. 

    When purchasing zines, we purchase 2 copies whenever possible, so that we have one copy that can be checked out like a traditional library book, and another copy that is preserved for future scholars and artists. We want to honor zines as democratic multiples that connect people and ideas through wide circulation while also preserving zines as locally-produced artifacts of this moment in history. By engaging students in this process, they learn about the history of zines and alternative publishing, participate in unpacking the power dynamics that are at work in traditional collection practices, and see their vision shape the materials that will be available to future scholars and artists. 

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    Photography: Bryan Conley, Carnegie Museum of Art
     

    Finding Detail in Dimension

    Author: Erin Patrick, Inside the Carnegie International 57th edition, 2018 Student - Fall 2018

    Artist Rachel Rose challenged students to explore the theme of “Depth and Durability” at a recent Tam O’Shanter Drawing Session hosted by the Carnegie Museum of Art, asking everyone to participate in an interval drawing exercise. We began with Rose sharing her struggles as a young artist attending Yale University, and the influence of professor Robert Reed, who inspired the session’s theme. Rose put forward the idea that art can be done in any time frame and with layers of depth. Her idea was a session based off an exercise routine with varying time constraints and focuses.

    After Rose’s introduction, the group moved to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Hall of Minerals where we were each given the opportunity to select a gem and draw it repeatedly for different intervals of time. Rose started with short intervals, increasing to ten minutes, and then back down to thirty seconds.  The process required a great deal of focus yet let us expand and express our relationship with the objects. Although slightly anxiety provoking, the task proved to be a great exercise in mental endurance and flexibility. How can you complete a drawing of a three-dimensional object in thirty seconds?   How does your interpretation of an object change between thirty seconds versus ten minutes?  Rachel’s process made us think through the dimensions of the object, which was reflected in the evolution of our drawings. Students’ works varied in texture, shape, size, and value throughout the process. 

    After the session, Rose allowed time for debriefing. We were encouraged to share our art and discuss how the time intervals affected our expression. The Tam O’Shanter session was a challenge in the best way possible:  we were allowed to let our creative process free, just as Rose has in her upcoming work in the Carnegie International, 57th Edition, 2018.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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  • A 1908 Overland model on display at The Car and Carriage Museum

     

    Driving the Disenfranchised

    Author: Meghan Lees, HAA1030 Museum Studies Exhibition Seminar student – Fall 2018

    Organized by one of our partners, The Frick Pittsburgh, Driving the Disenfranchised: The Automobile’s Role in Women’s Suffrage explores how the automobile served not only as a turning point for modern life, but also as an iconic symbol for female suffragists during the Progressive Era. Through the installation of a range of women’s fashion and vintage vehicles, many in the trademark yellow of the suffrage movement, the exhibition sends the visitor on a journey through the early twentieth century activism. The creation of the automobile allowed women a form of escape from the confines of the home. It was a symbol of individual mobility and social change. Vehicles were used in activist rallies and decorated in the suffragist’s message for independence and equality.

    This history closely connects with the ideas raised by our exhibition This is not Ideal: Gender myths and their transformation, opening at the University Art Gallery on 26 October. But one way that these exhibitions differ is in their overall tone. Since it commemorates the journey of activism towards giving citizens the right to vote regardless of sex from the first Women’s Rights Convention in July 1848 to the ratification of the 19th Amendment, The Frick Pittsburgh’s exhibit has an appropriately upbeat tone. It is conveys a feeling of pride in documenting the work of these early-twentieth century activists, and shows how a technological innovation, such as an automobile, can produce profound psychological changes in society. This is not Ideal, on the other hand, is less straightforwardly positive. With the title – This is not Ideal – we are taking a stand on issues of gender. The viewer is not meant to look fondly on the narratives told by many of the works we have selected from the UAG collection. Our exhibition asks the visitor to reflect not just on the changing nature of gender myths, but also on the progress that remains to be made.

    The Frick Pittsburgh’s Driving the Disenfranchised: The Automobile’s Role in Women’s Suffrage is currently being held at the Car and Carriage Museum and will continue to be displayed through October 21. This is not Ideal: Gender myths and their transformation opens October 25.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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    Guerrilla Girls, Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?, 1989, offset laser or inkjet print poster. The Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, © Guerrilla Girls

     

    Guerrilla Girls and the CMOA

    Author: Annie Abernathy, HAA1030 Museum Studies Exhibition Seminar student – Fall 2018

    “Only 4 of the 42 artists in the Carnegie International are women.” So declares a message by the Guerrilla Girls in 1986, produced as part of this feminist art collective’s sustained attack on the inequalities of the art world. As Pittsburgh prepares to welcome the 57th edition of the Carnegie International, the situation is thankfully much better. This year, 17 out of 32 artists included in the International are women.

    The Guerrilla Girls are also making their presence felt in the permanent collection displays of the Carnegie Museum of Art. As part of Crossroads, the museum’s recent rehang of the contemporary galleries, a collection of their posters are currently on display in the Scaife Galleries. What would the Guerrilla Girls think of This is not Ideal: Gender myths and their transformation, the student curated exhibition at the University Art Gallery that opens a few weeks after the Carnegie International? Given their own iconic billboard designs of the 1980s, what might they make of our inclusion of Tom Blackwell’s print I-610 North? Where the Guerrilla Girls use art to protest the art world itself, Blackwell’s work appears to merely repeat and reinforce traditional gendered imagery. Both women in these works are reminiscent of classical depictions of the female nude such as Manet’s Olympia or Titian’s Venus of Urbino. Drawing upon a history in which women have consistently been presented as passive objects, the Guerrilla Girls take a stand. The group of their posters on show in Crossroads at CMOA use the traditional female nude to call out institutional sexism.

    This is not Ideal also uses a historical lens to confront contemporary issues, reinterpreting artworks in the collection to expose their sexist content. The CMOA has often collected works through the Carnegie International, such that the decisions of its curators make a lasting impact on the museum’s collection. As the students curating This is not Ideal have discovered, it is a constant struggle in exhibition making to acknowledge the limits of the collection you are drawing upon. The UAG collection also has its disparities: the statistics are difficuly to calculate, but only about 8% of the works in the collection were created by women. In This is Not Ideal, sexist and traditional histories are challenged through their dialogue with non-normative images. By using a biased history to tell a new narrative, we hope that viewers will see how the past still resonates in the present, and what transformations must occur to effect lasting change.

    Crossroads is now open in the Scaife Galleries at the Carnegie Museum of Art. This is not Ideal: Gender myths and their transformation opens October 25.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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    Andy Warhol, Ladies and Gentlemen (Marsha P. Johnson), 1975, The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

     

    Important Identities: Recognizing and Remembering the Faces of Ladies and Gentlemen

    Author, Rebecca Moser, Milton Fine Museum Profession Fellow at the Andy Warhol Museum – Summer 2018

    As the most comprehensive single-artist museum and archive in the world and the largest in North America, The Andy Warhol Museum certainly doesn’t lack research material. During my Fine Foundation Fellowship at the museum under the supervision of Milton Fine Curator of Art, Jessica Beck, I spent the summer experiencing the daily operations of the museum and learning about the curatorial process. My favorite thing about working at the Warhol was seeing the lengths that the dedicated staff go to exhibiting Warhol’s artworks in new contexts in order to connect with diverse communities.  The opportunity to participate in these efforts was one of the most rewarding experiences of my internship.

    This summer I assisted in the curatorial staff’s research on Warhol’s Ladies and Gentlemen series (1975) as they prepared for a temporary exhibition opening this fall. Ladies and Gentlemen is portrait series featuring predominantly black and Latinx drag queens and transgender women from New York. The series was commissioned by Luciano Anselmino, an Italian art dealer, and is arguably Warhol’s largest undertaking. The series, including Warhol’s preliminary work, is comprised of 268 paintings, 65 drawings, a print portfolio containing 10 collages, and over 500 Polaroids of 14 models. Select prints, paintings, drawings, and Polaroids from Ladies and Gentlemen will be exhibited for the first time as a comprehensive group at the Andy Warhol Museum in conjunction with Devan Shimoyama’s first solo museum exhibition, Devan Shimoyama: Cry, Baby (October 13, 2018–March 17, 2019).

    In an effort to recuperate the stories of figures who have historically been marginalized and overlooked, even by Warhol himself, we focused on the models’ biographies. During Warhol’s lifetime, the models for the series were left anonymous at exhibitions. Due to this persistent disregard for the individuality of the models, they were grouped together and commodified as anonymous faces of an oppressed subculture. After Warhol’s death, when works from the series were displayed, the models were occasionally named, but still little was known about their lives. Thanks to efforts by the researchers behind the Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonne: Volume 4, published in 2014, extensive information about the models and the series was uncovered and compiled. We now know they did not lead easy lives and most of them lived on the streets fighting homophobia and transphobia in society, even in gay activist circles.

    By revealing their names and their stories, the images of Ladies and Gentleman become more personal, allowing viewers to connect with the artworks in new ways; especially when the series is put into conversation with Shimoyama’s portraits of black boys and men in queer spaces. Over forty years after the completion of this series, these drag queens and transgender women of the past will be recognized as early advocates in the fight for racial and queer justice and equality that continues today.

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    Andy Warhol, Ladies and Gentlemen (Wilhelmina Ross), 1975, Acrylic and silkscreen on canvas. The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

     

    Ladies and Gentleman: Queer subjects at the Warhol and the UAG

    Author: Rebecca Moser, HAA1030 Museum Studies Exhibition Seminar student – Fall 2018

    The student curated University Art Gallery exhibition This is not Ideal: Gender myths and their transformation focuses on themes that revolve around idealized beauty and gender norms as well as the subversions of these ideals by queer subjects. It is no surprise that there is a huge collection of art at the Andy Warhol Museum that can be discussed in regards to gender and sexuality. One of Warhol’s series of works that best fits into such discussions is his Ladies and Gentlemen series.These works are currently on display in conjunction with the Warhol’s forthcoming solo exhibit of the work of Devan Shimoyama, curated by Jessica Beck.

    Although queer subjects are rarer in the University Art Gallery collection than at the Warhol, several works in This is Not Ideal do present variations from the conventions of gender expression. Historical prints of the Chevalier d’Eon and Mary Frith, for example, register the long history of non-normative identities. A more contemporary example featured in the exhibition is the photograph titled Jennifur, by Daniel D. Teoli from his Gender Bender series. As a self-taught social documentary photographer, his goal was to assemble an archive of the people and cultures of Los Angeles street life in the 1970s. While no record of the sitter’s identity exists, their appearance suggests the sitter to be a drag performer or a transgender person.

    This photograph was taken at the same time that Warhol started shooting the Polaroids for his Ladies and Gentlemen series. In recent years, Warhol’s models have begun to be identified and credited, but Teoli’s models still remain unknown. The biggest difference between the works, however, is how each of the artists deal with the fine details of their sitters. In his paintings, Warhol erases the models features that seem less ideal to him, such as masculine attributes, obvious wigs and overdone makeup. These are characteristics that Teoli instead accentuates. Shot on opposite sides of the country, both Teoli and Warhol’s images provide important documents of queer culture in the late twentieth century.

    Devan Shimoyama: Cry Baby opens October 13. This is not Ideal: Gender myths and their transformation opens October 25.

    Rebecca Mosser was also the Milton Fine Museum Profession Fellow at the Andy Warhol Museum in Summer 2018.

    Read more about her internship experience here

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    Rural Queerness and the KKK

    Author: Nick Marsellas, PhD student in Rhetoric and Composition in the Department of English and Making Advances Workshop participant

    The project of whiteness in America has always been a project of gender and sexual oppression as well. One can see this quite clearly in the way that violence based on race, sexuality, and gender intertwines in the pages of local Pittsburgh newspaper Planet Q (“Planet Queer” until August 1995). I came across this newspaper in Pitt’s Special Collections of local underground presses during Pitt’s Making Advances workshop. Planet Q provided a radical voice for Pittsburgh queers, publishing articles on local and national politics while rejecting the assimilationist energy of national newsletters like The Advocate that were also publishing at the time. Digging into these local papers can offer us a glimpse of the more radical, leftist, rural politics that are left out of queer historical narratives that build on assumptions of the cosmopolitan, white, affluent queer.

    Michael Hames-García, in his chapter “Queer Theory Revisited,” critiques queer activist histories for what he sees as their invisible whiteness: “gay liberationism and lesbian feminism [have been made to] appear to be developed by whites without significant participation from people of color, with the consequence that their histories can be told without reference to works by people of color.” (24-25). The way that current genealogies of queer activism are written is not only false, Hames-García argues, but also whitewashes the importance of queers of color in developing the theories and practices of resistance that would eventually be translated into “queer theory.”

    One might assume that there has always been a substantial rift between white queers and people of color, but this was not always the inevitable, or even most likely, conclusion. The trajectory of early queer activism could be traced through both institutional and individual patterns of white supremacist violence against queer people just as easily as it could through poststructuralism and battles for legal rights. Many early scholars talk not about the importance of visibility and institutional recognition but about sanctioned and unsanctioned state violence at the hands of the police and the AIDS epidemic. There is relatively less mention of the KKK as an institution of homophobic violence, likely because those early scholars who are traditionally understood as inaugurating queer theory were writing in and about cities rather than the more rural sites of conflict where the KKK posed a threat (though queer people were certainly aware of this violence as well). In fact, archival evidence suggests that queer people (both white and people of color) had far more in common with other marginalized groups in the 90’s than with the institutionalized whiteness that seems so fundamental to the typical genealogy of queer activism today. The newspaper showcases the imprecise violence of white supremacists, among whom the KKK featured heavily but not exclusively. A few of the acts of violence reported in Planet Q are as follows:

    • In Montana, the KKK mailed a flier on gay pride weekend that urged the public to “wear surgical masks outside for protection from airborne transmission of the AIDS virus. (June 97)
    • In Arkansas, two men beat and strangled a black cross-dresser and pled a trans-panic defense, though they also scrawled “KKK” in blood on his wall. (Aug 97)
    • In Minnesota, a gay bookstore was vandalized for the fourth time in six months, with the words “fag,” “KKK,” and “187” (the police code for murder) spray-painted on the store’s window. (May 98)
    • In Alabama, a gay man was killed and his body set on fire by a “racist skinhead” who frequently wore a KKK t-shirt. (Apr 99)
    • In California, two brothers with white-supremacist ties shot and killed a gay couple after committing a string of arsons at three synagogues. (Aug 99)
    • In New York, the skull and pulverized bone fragments of a 19-year-old murdered by his white step-father were found with his social security number, a racial epithet, and a derogatory term for gays scrawled on the skull. (Mar 00)

    Not only did Planet Q record higher-profile national violence, but it also chronicled the ongoing violence and intimidation occurring here in Western Pennsylvania. A right-wing preacher and local chapter of the KKK joined together to harass, damage property, and threaten violence against Johnstown’s “alternative” bar, the Casa Nova. These acts of intimidation, which lasted over three years, resulted in a variety of creative resistance efforts like the “Burn in Hell” bus trips from Pittsburgh to Johnstown and the fire-eating Lesbian Avengers, who came up from Washington DC to perform in the Casa Nova parking lot. Rather than providing assistance, it was believed that the police chief was running the plates of Casa Nova patrons and passing that information along to members of the KKK.

    After three years of intimidation and protest, the owners were forced to sell the Casa Nova in April of 2000. The experience of Western PA queers – witnessing the nationwide terrorism of the KKK and experiencing it firsthand at home – forces us to rethink queer activism’s origin stories. Tracing local grassroots resistance and activist work reveals a different set of priorities than what we are usually taught about (white) queer history. The queer publishers and readers of Planet Q knew the importance of racial solidarity – not from a sense of charity or obligation but out of the very practical sense that, for both people of color and white queers (and certainly queers of color), the same people wanted us dead.

     

    Citations:

    Hames-García, Michael “Queer Theory Revisited.” Gay Latino Studies: A Critical Reader, edited by Michael Hames-García and Ernesto Javier Martínez, Duke University Press, 2011, pp. 19-45.

    Planet Queer, Pittsburgh PA, c1994-2000.

    Further Reading:

    Compton, Julie “Why Are So Many White Nationalists 'Virulently Anti-LGBT'?” NBC News, 21 Aug. 2017, https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/why-are-so-many-white-nationalis.... Accessed August 27, 2018.

    Hobson, Emily K. Lavender and Red: Liberation and Solidarity in the Gay and Lesbian Left, University of California Press, 2016

    Learn more about the Making Advances Workshop here

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