Research Week - Subverting the (Hetero)normative Museum

Maria-Anna opened the presentations this morning - and did so with great aplomb, I must say. Representations of gender and sexuality are particularly relevant at this point in time, as Richard's presentation yesterday noted. Maria-Anna's research focuses around the relationship between museums and heteronormative social constructs. It is particularly interesting to me that she opens her presentation with two example displays which have incorporated the representation of LGBT experiences in two rather conservative countries - 'Eros' at the Museum of Cycladic Art, a display which incorporated LGBT representation, and Ars Homo Erotica, at the National Museum in Warsaw.

She then drew us into the theoretical background to her research - which is incredibly detailed, based upon Queer Theory, and the social construction of 'heteronormativitiy', 'gender' and 'sexuality'. The latter two, it should be pointed out, are seperate and fluid constucts, though there seems to be a tendancy towards binary divisions, such as male and female, heterosexual and homosexual. These binaries, queer theory suggests, depend upon each other for their meaning, and in this way heterosexuality 'others' homosexuality in order to legitimate itself.

Why should we bother with LGBT issues? There are a number of arguments which Maria-Anna makes upon this point. The 'post museum' concept emphasises that museums are for the people, have a role and responsibility in social inclusion, promotes ethical leadership and the demonstration of accountability. It is clear, following on from this, that representation matters. The transmission of ideas through art is always politicised and contaminated, and there are always certain prevailing perspectives in cultural representations. Representing minority groups, therefore, can be highly influential in terms of their inclusion, and the knowledge of the group in wider society.

As a third reason for her research, Maria-Anna cites the growing interest in LGBT related exhibitions over the last four years, including "Queer is Here" at the Museum of London in 2006, and Shout, which Richard spoke about yesterday. She will use four such exhibitions for her research, "Gay Icons" from the National Portrait Gallery in 2009, "Hello Sailor" at National Museums Liverpool, "Family Album", a multisite exhibition, and "Hitched: Wedding, Clothes and Customs" at Sudley House. These latter two are particularly interesting, for they use heteronormative concepts, such as the family album and marriage, yet incorporate LGBT narratives.

She will use these to explore the reasons for the boom, to consider the role of museums in perpetuating or challenging heteronormativity, how they represent non-heteronormative living, and to establish a queer/feminist theoretical framework for exhibition making.

Wow. Thats a lot a lot. Looking forward to next year to find out more!


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