It’s a great opportunity to revist a commissioned peice of work I did with Senate House Library, University London 2018 around the exhibition Queer Between the Covers with support from Gays the Word Bookshop.
LGBTQ+ History Month is a chance to talk about the history of the Gay Rights movement and Gays the Word Bookshop is a great place to start. I was commissioned by Senate House Library to make a body of Artists Books in response to the exhibition, Queer Between the Covers. Gays the Word Bookshop, via bookshop Manager Jim Mac Sweeney provided the exhibition with ephemera from the shops archive. Jim kindly gave me free rein to explore the archives to gather material for the books I would make. I was interested in exploring the solidarity and support shown to the shop during ‘Operation Tiger’ when in April 1984 Customs and Excise seized over 1,000 books. Gays the Word was the biggest LGBTQ bookshop at the time in the UK. A campaign fund was organised as Customs and Excise continued to seize books and newspapers The shop was threatened with court action. The court action would have been costly and easily put the shop out of business. The act of Customs and Excise was a threat to the LGBTQ community and set a nasty precedent for attacking basic freedoms. There is a great talk by Jim and Graham McKerrow (Capital Gay) as part of the exhibition which explains the politics behind the raid.
I decided to create a Flag Book (top left) celebrating the sense of solidarity that was shown to the bookshop from independant bookshops, libraries and publishers with funds and letters of support. Penguin books publicly stated support for the bookshop which was an important acknowledgement. The case went on for nearly two years before being dropped.
I made a collection of four book designs for the exhibition. The Turkish Map Fold (bottom left) captures the story of Djuna Barnes, creator of The Ladies Almanack ‘a faux-medieval Chapbook’. Printed by Barnes with letterpress and lino or woodcuts, the Chap Book recounts stories of Lesbian sexual antics. It is claimed Barnes used to sell the Chap Books on the streets of Paris wearing a long, black velvet cloak which she flung open to reveal the Chap Books embedded inside her cloak. I loved the idea of Barnes revealing here saucy material this way and felt the Turkish Map fold suited the story well. Inside my book design, can be found a bunch of naked pink ladies that are exposed to the viewer when the book is opened.
Maud Allan, (the fold out book to the right) is a different story. It recounts a story of persecution and interweaves with the final book Oscar Wilde (above). The design of Maud Allan is a process of revelation, each turn of the page reveals the oppression metered out by the British establishment towards Allan. Allan created The Dance of the Seven Veils, inspired by Oscar Wilde’s Salome and performed in Europe, including the UK. Her profile brought her to the attention of a right-wing press that claimed Germany had a Black Book with the names of 47,000 homosexuals in the UK. The Black Book could be used by the Germans, the press claimed, to compromise some of the high-profile names in the book which could expose British security during 1918. The very same claims made against Gay and Lesbians working for the American state during the McCarthy period.
The final book, Oscar Wilde is a concertina style book with stitched single sections. The most grim and sober of the collection, the book holds a series of quotes revealing societies worst prejudices towards lesbians and gays throughout history.
The collection is now part of Senate House Library but as part of the development of the work I made a series of variations of the books.
You can purchase Solidarity HERE, Djuna Barnes HERE (only two left) and Maude Allan HERE.
In fact, the research I unearthed at Gays the Word Bookshop led me to create a zine, The Book Gobblers. Made up of archival material from Gays the Word bookshop, the zine has a fold out poster depicting Customs & Excise. You can pick up a copy of The Book Gobblers HERE.
Check out the short films below: Solidarity, Djuna Barne, Maude Allan and Book Gobblers.