Image of the DAAP website

The Digital Archive of Artists’ Publishing (DAAP): Building a Gossipy Archive with Linked Open Data

DAAP – the Digital Archive of Artists’ Publishing – is an interactive, user-driven, searchable database of artists’ books and publications. It was built by artists, publishers, and a community of creative practitioners in contemporary artists’ publishing, and acts as a hub to engage with others. It has been developed via an ethically driven design process, supported by Wikimedia UK, Arts Council England and ongoing fundraising. If you would like to build your own archive and upload your materials get in contact at  If you would like to support the archive please see here

Artists’ Publishing project with CSM MAFA students, displayed amongst the Archive of Artists’ Publishing, Banner Repeater, Platform 1, Hackney Downs.

DAAP was inspired by the site of Banner Repeater’s public Archive of Artists’ Publishing on Hackney Downs train station, with 11,000 people passing a day, in response to the need for a similarly dynamic approach to archiving in an online context. Banner Repeater is an artist-led reading room and experimental project space founded by Ami Clarke in 2010, with an ambitious exhibition programme installed in a highly visible and accessible project space with a programme of events, talks, and performances, which introduce discussion and encourage debate of key issues in art today. Central to how it operates is its location, deliberately sited within the ebb and flow of the commuting public, enmeshed within the public transport networks in a busy thoroughfare of passing traffic, in order to distribute art and artists’ publishing directly into a main artery of the city of London.  Networked strategies underpin Banner Repeater’s hybrid way of working in contemporary critical art practice, through the strong symbiosis between precedents set via experiments in text and publishing held in the Archive of Artists’ Publishing, and artistic practices engaged in networked strategies today, including social media and other networked connectivities. All of which help make visible, through experimentation, important ideas in art relating to the ‘copy’, questions of authorship, intellectual property, copyright, and the constitution of a ‘reading public’ – the dynamics of which have never been more pertinent to democracy than today.

Banner Repeater, Platform 1, Hackney Downs train station, Dalston Lane, E8 1LA.

Background and context

Banner Repeater’s arts programme has been driven by critical concerns regarding technology and how precedents in publishing provide us with many insights into the complex human/tech entanglements of today.  A posthuman position that acknowledges and thinks through the complexities of the subject emerging in synthesis with their environment, from a critical position, that questions the humanist project for only ever having privileged some humans over others. Publishing is particularly interesting in relation to this, as it developed alongside technological advances throughout history. Textual productions over time, tend to reveal how they inflect, as well as contain, traces of the ‘subject’ – that’s me and you – emerging in synthesis with their environment: that includes the means of production, and distribution, at any given time in history. A subjectivity that emerges through market relations, and in a present-day context, that means Twitter, Tik Tok, Instagram, Facebook and so on, enmeshed within the protocols of platform/surveillance capitalism. As such, there has been a tendency towards work that speaks about this human enmeshment with technology as multi-media assemblages that act as sites of affective experimentation and as a means to consider what might amount to ‘criticality’ within our accelerating technicity. The expertise that comes from experiences developed within experimental artists’ practice is highly valued in this instance and could be seen as vital in being able to deal with the complexities of today.

The pamphlet series: UN-PUBLISH, commissioned, and disseminated from BR, exemplifies these ideas as a series of critical works published on paper, with contributions from Zarina Muhammad, Yuri Pattison and others.  Artists, and writers are commissioned by invitation to focus’ on new ideas and modes of writing and publishing within emergent technologies. Each edition works within the evolving assemblages of humans and technology we live in today, and as such, the works hold traces of an emerging subjectivity and the hardware and software through which they write. The name UN-PUBLISH refers to a conversation between Julian Assange (Wikileaks founder) and the curator Hans Ulrich Olbrist where Assange speculated that contrary to what we may suspect, traditional print media has a potentially longer shelf life, through the wide distribution of papers that might resist the censorious reach of the authorities, commercially or politically motivated.  Many years have passed, and the seemingly democratic and open space of Web 2.0 and the global accessibility these protocols suggested, has shown since then, that the management of on-line information is exceptionally open to manipulation. Other exhibitions such as Snow Crash, The Map is the Territory, A Roll Of The Dice Will Never Abolish Chance, de-leb: the currency of data, Low Animal Spirits, Diagrammatic Form, and exhibitions by artists and curators such as Crepuscular Dreams of (Dis-) Alienation by Chooc Ly Tan, The Virosexuals by Orion J. Facey published by PSS with cover artwork by Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, Nam Gut by Jenna Sutela, Reifying Desire by Jacolby Satterwhite, Silicon Plateau with Marialaura Ghidini, Prayas Abhinav and, considered the new behaviours and the consequences of these, emerging with advances in technology today.

The exhibition ​Under/Valued Energetic Economy by Raju Rage in 2019, shared a map inspired by the lineages of the Kitchen Table Press (women of colour communities) in 1980’s, queer feminist DIY organising in 2000’s and anti-capitalist movements, as part of an ongoing process of thinking through knowledge, care and value, by highlighting connections, problems and strategies. During the months of the exhibition two workshops began the process of archiving the material collected by the artist and other contributors to the Under/Valued Energetic Economy map, exploring and developing methods and strategies appropriate for the archiving of his/her/theirstories, with attendees of the workshops.

Developed alongside Banner Repeater’s artistic programme, DAAP is also asking urgent questions about how to build software/platforms better (for the user). Questioning what a top-down ‘community’ platform such as Facebook really amounts to, where outrage drives an economy of attention, and value is harvested in the form of ‘likes’ and behavioural data analysis, that can be seen in hindsight to lead to the manipulation of voters in various elections.

Questions of access, privilege, and the rights to knowledge, are exemplified by online flame wars, amidst the distracting cries of ‘fake’ news, with access to knowledge a key driver for social and economic development as Wikimedia, Hannah Arendt and Mercedes Bunz, can all attest. Shoshana Zuboff’s fieldwork, for example, shows how the new knowledge territories emerging alongside the capacity to analyse processes and behaviours, also result in political conflict over the distribution of knowledge, as surveillance capitalists ‘declared their right to know, to decide who knows, and to decide who decides’.

Selection from Banner Repeater’s Archive of Artists’ Publishing, Platform 1, Hackney Downs.

Artists’ publishing is fantastically complex, with practices that range from the paperback to performance, long at the fore of pushing the potential for critical engagement, via feminist, post-colonial, queer, anti-ableist, and anti-capitalist critiques. Often these artists deploy strategies meant to evade the market or prevent an easy reading that falls in step with oppressive structures inherent within language, for instance. An important aspect of the database was to make it possible to include everyone who sat at that kitchen table, back when the ideas began to flow, whilst making it possible to self-identify as you wish, and include a vast array of roles not usually considered worthy of inclusion. There is also recognition that what constitutes the ‘we’ of community, also comes about through working practice as an ever-changing constitution. As such, with the DAAP, we have attempted to develop a database which is sufficiently complex whilst remaining searchable, that affords multiple histories to develop, seeking to confront issues of authorship and representation, whilst addressing the challenges of cataloguing often deliberately difficult to categorise materials.

Selection from Banner Repeater’s Archive of Artists’ Publishing uploaded to the DAAP


We have prioritised inclusivity from the start, privileging anecdotal histories and multiple perspectives alongside factual data. The Wiki-style approach is central to this, as it means users can upload their own material, single items, or entire collections, choosing appropriate sharing permissions at the time of upload. Entire collections can sit next to one another, maintaining their integrity, but able to be in conversation with each other, as users compare items shared across different histories. DAAP aims to make visible the interrelations between publications, artists, and communities, emphasising the multiplicity of the historical record — something that traditional archives typically do not account for. In contrast to the authoritative voice of the archivist, DAAP proposes itself as a ‘gossipy’ archive: holding and recording many voices and the ways they speak to and with one another.

The driving question of such an archive is: how can we best serve all those who have objects to be deposited here as evidence of their and others’ creative lives? This means being hospitable to the autonomy and fluidity of the people and objects held within it, opening possibilities for change (of both the subject and the labelling language) that are usually anathema to the rigidity of record-keeping. DAAP attempts to answer this call from marginalised subjects, particularly PoC and LGBTQ+ people, who are disciplined or made invisible by traditional archiving, through Linked Open Data (LOD). We have recognised the need for a new system of archiving: one that is not static and hierarchically based on the external assignment of “identities” that group and divide objects, but rather one that privileges community over categorisation, and is able to welcome flexibility, change, and self-definition.

Promotional image for an invited talk at Booked 2021, organised by Tai Kwun Contemporary in Hong Kong, where Ami Clarke, Lozana Rossenova and Frances Whorral-Campbell presented the DAAP

Critical archival infrastructure

LOD offers opportunities to overcome some of the existing limitations of fixed digital archival systems that rely on a limited number of controlled vocabularies and pre-set metadata relations. LOD is data that is structured in a machine-readable format and published openly on the web. Crucially, it can connect very diverse sets of data distributed across heterogenous data resources and is, therefore, an increasingly popular concept among GLAMs (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums).

View of the archive page for the artists’ publication Surviving Art School: An Artist of Colour Tool Kit available in the DAAP

LOD uses a flexible structure of data statements which can also have references and additional qualifiers. In the DAAP’s data model, statements consist of items, properties, and values, with properties acting as links that connect different concepts (items) to different values in the database, which could be other items, dates, URLs, plain text values, or more. References add provenance information to statements, while qualifiers enrich statements with specifics such as the time period during which a particular statement can be considered valid, or the specific type of role a value plays within the statement, etc. The model structure of items, properties, and values, alongside the terms used to denote these, can evolve and change to suit contextual requirements. Nothing has to be decided and fixed in advance by a central authority. The overall logic of the database architecture is thus a networked one, rather than the traditional fixed tables or hierarchical trees common in other software tools.

Diagramme visualising the network of relations across works by artist Carolee Schneemann available in the DAAP generously input by Dr Karen Di Franco drawing on her PhD Thesis.

DAAP adopted the open-source software Wikibase as a flexible alternative to traditional content management systems. Wikibase comes out of a community of critical engineers who deliberately choose not to follow the models and ethics of commercial software. This alternative, critical infrastructure can connect publications and artists whose materials would typically be distributed across heterogeneous and siloed collections, or may not have been collected and described at all before. In order to customise the software and its internal data model to suit the specific needs of artists’ publishing, DAAP involved not only technical development, but a wide range of activities focused on community-building and collaboration around the design of the data architecture and eventually the access interface for users.

To sum up, the LOD environment allows for more fluid and user-driven methods of archiving to grow, whilst remaining searchable. Autonomy is given to the user to archive themselves or their community, and LOD provides them with the necessary tools to produce a fluid record: the archive is ‘animated’, made living rather than burying its subjects. Utilising LOD also brings to the surface new and unexpected data connections across diverse collections of artefacts, providing a resource to link to other archives and communities, whilst visualisation tools offer new possibilities of conducting research with data on artists’ publications.

A communal, conversational practice

Technology has a tendency to draw out like a poultice existing biases and discriminations in the world precisely because of this ludicrous notion of neutrality, when in actuality what this does is privilege a certain status quo, i.e., that of a predominantly white, western, male perspective. It is humans who design software and interact and engage with it through very specific dynamics, that include the highly exploitative practices of capitalism, often predicated upon extractive relations that can be traced to colonial times. Unsurprisingly, unless you take account of these power dynamics, tech, when thought of as ‘neutral’, has a tendency to amplify existing systemic violences.

How search criteria, and other structural aspects of archiving contribute to this, is an ongoing conversation that drives the development of DAAP, drawing from the experiences of users, archivists, and technologists. The native features of the LOD environment have been activated within a communal practice, for the project to support an equitable, and ethical design process throughout the archive development. This in itself, is a vital and ongoing conversational process in which mistakes can be made, discussed, and rectified. Workshops have facilitated much of these conversations so far, with a host of users, as well as experts joining in discussion and debate that will continue as the archive continues to grow.

View of the page with tutorials available on the DAAP website

Given the complexities of the underlying materials – artists’ books and publications, corresponding gossip and multiple histories – and the fluid capabilities of the digital environment, there is a strong educational need to make clear the reasons ‘why’ you might want to share something, and in what format would be most apt. Or, perhaps, why you might not. There has been an emphasis on developing guidance and tutorial materials related to questions that go beyond the mere mechanics of the archival interface. In simple terms, for example, if you wanted to circulate something widely, it may be advantageous to connect out from the DAAP to the vast expanse of Wikimedia Commons, that the DAAP is a part of, but separate from. It may also be wise to hold back the distribution of the digital file of the book that you’ve just published in print, at least for a while. The nuances of different forms of Creative Commons (CC) licensing is another important topic to unpack, or how different categorisations enable different ways to browse and navigate the archive, in some cases deliberately making it harder to do so. A big part of the work so far has been enabling users by producing educational materials that can help inform decisions regarding the uploading of materials, licensing, or choosing appropriate categorisations for themselves.

Banner Repeater, Platform 1, Hackney Downs train station, Dalston Lane, E8 1LA

Browse the DAAP here and learn more about how you can get started contributing your own materials. Or head over to our tutorial materials to learn more.

The DAAP is built by a diverse, interdisciplinary team; read more about the people behind the project on our team page.



Bunz, M. 2013. The Silent Revolution: How Digitalization Transforms Knowledge, Work, Journalism and Politics without Making Too Much Noise. Palgrave.

Zuboff, S. 2018. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. Profile Books.

Di Franco, Karen. 2020. “Embodied Iteration: materialising the language of writing and performance in women artists’ publishing (1968-1979).” PhD Diss. University of Reading


Frances Whorrall-Campbell is a British writer, researcher, and artist. Their writing on art and culture can be found in Art Monthly, Art-Agenda, and The Architectural Review. Frances is also an archivist and is currently working with Banner Repeater and the Digital Archive of Artists’ Publishing to develop non-hierarchical and inclusive practices.

Lozana Rossenova is a a digital humanities researcher and designer based in Berlin. She is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Open Science Lab in TIB Hannover, working on the NFDI4Culture project for a national research infrastructure of cultural heritage data. Lozana also serves as the  Technical Lead for the Digital Archive of Artists’ Publishing. Previously, she worked on the Rhizome archive of net art as part of her PhD studies at London South Bank University.

Ami Clarke is an artist working within the emergent behaviours that come of the complex protocols of platform capitalism in everyday assemblages, with a focus on the inter-dependencies between code and language in hyper-networked culture.  She is founder of Banner Repeater; a reading room with a public Archive of Artists’ Publishing and project space, opening up an experimental space for others, on a working train station platform, Hackney Downs station, London. Ideas that come of publishing, distribution, and dissemination, that lead to a critical analysis of post-digital art production are shared in her practice as an artist and inform the working remit of Banner Repeater.

Some Notes on Access, Art, and Writing

Audio version of this blog post can be listened to here:

‘Not only is the language we access, and which accesses us, already charged with experience and time, it is also true that the stories told with that language (or, better put, embodied by it) are the stories of others.’ (Rivera Garza, 2021)

Arts websites such as AEMI online, CCA Annex and Wysing Broadcasts, their development  accelerated by the inaccessibility of in-person events and exhibitions during 2020, are spaces cohabited by art and writing. Artist moving-image and accompanying textual responses, recordings, live streams of events, talks and readings, performances, podcasts and more, are housed together where the audience or visitor can scroll and pause, hover, and enter according to their own rhythms and impulses.

Described by the organisations as ‘exhibition space,’ ‘project space’ and ‘platform’ respectively, I’m finding it challenging also, in writing this text, to avoid spatial and physical vocabulary.

The consideration of access requirements for audiences interacting with these spaces is foregrounded in a more obvious way than it appears for physical exhibitions or screenings. With access statements and documents available to read on the sites, there are details around captioning, audio description and transcripts, as well as discussion about screen readers and screen recognition software, among other points. Organisations are reallocating funding as part of existing budgets, or making separate applications for accessibility funding, while conversations around access pick up speed within the arts and humanities in general. This is partly fed by the spaces themselves, hosting discussions and workshops, such as  ‘Making Access Work’ and ‘Starting to Think About Access and the Moving Image.’

Commonplace within these spaces are captions – the text usually at the bottom of the screen – which describes speech and/or sounds within a work or recording of a past event. Reasons for captioning’s proliferation throughout online spaces in the arts may be because it’s one of the easiest (and cheapest) ways to make a work more accessible. Captions not only benefit deaf audiences, but also those who might not experience English as their first language, or who are neurodivergent.

The length in-person exhibitions are open usually varies between a few weeks or months. Some of the online spaces discussed here similarly screen works for a limited period of time. However, much of the content is available indefinitely, with recordings of talks and events or contextualising and commissioned texts remaining to orbit the work, even as it slips off the site.

 Fred Moten talks about ‘the indigeneity and exotericism of the archive’ in the monograph Zoe Leonard: Survey (2018) written by Moten and Douglas Crimp. If we consider the work on these sites as forming an archive of activity, practice and discussion, the forms feel indigenous to online space. The sites collect materials, usually sequentially (like some writing practices might also do) and place them in relation to each other. As the art writing featured on these sites may attempt to write around a film being screened, the writing will form part of the archive of the screening and its role in the moment of delivery looking outwards from the work it orbits. Caption writing, in contrast, comes from inside a work itself. The exotericism of the archive, relating to the outside where the work meets the public (as opposed to the ‘esoteric’) is activated through the combined effort of writing practices and processes of collection.

 These sites are generating new modes of discussion and artistic research by hosting work that may lend itself to digital delivery or be too formally experimental to fit neatly within standard programming. If these sites are aiming for diverse audiences, we might consider their position as archives to also ask, ‘[…]how can such work place pressure on conventional modes of data and evidence?’ (Cvetkovich, 2021)

Detailed indexes, key word tags and search bars make up part of the method of engaging with the sites from the smudgy surface of your phone screen to the laptop lined with biscuit crumbs threatening to fall under the keys as you type. The place where you meet the work doesn’t feel precious, while still being valuable. By being presented on these sites, the process of captioning works has become a minimum requirement to aid the accessibility for current and future audiences. Creating captions of filmed events after they’ve happened or consulting with artists to caption moving-image works already at a fixed point of resolution imposes limitations on the process, accessibility and story-building that can take place. A moving-image work might not have enough space within shots to describe sounds that are happening in quick succession. Discussions around best practice admit that ideally captions or other forms of access building should be integrated from the inception of a project so that it is not just an add-on at the end, ensuring enough funding to consult with disabled people, and gain feedback throughout the process in order to develop all aspects in tandem with each other. The large number of resources needed to fulfil these aims while working with artists often on low-budgets, means there is still a way to go in the conversation between organisation, artist and access. Tensions arise around ideas of standardised approaches to access when this comes into contact with the hugely varied methods and methodologies of artistic practice itself.

[Image 2 description: A screenshot from a website where four distinct zones, arranged on top of and beside each other, meet towards the top left corner, outlined in thin black borders. Inside the top two blocks there are fragments of images in monochrome and blue-black, too zoomed in to make sense of. The bottom blocks are blue and pink respectively, the left holding cut off words so only the end letters are visible, ‘ds’ and ‘d.’ The pink block says, ‘Conversation Activism Health.’]
Creative captioning is captioning via expressions of subjectivity, humour and creativity to subvert standard models of caption writing and is a manifold form that in its practice asks questionsat the level of both sentence and structure’ (Cvetkovich, 2021) about how to represent, describe, or remediate artists’ work, and people’s speech and interaction.

Writing creative captions to describe sounds and speech can be thought of in relation to modes of writing practice such as ekphrasis and translation. When creating captions collaboratively, trying to strike a balance between artistic expression, the tone of a work and accessibility allows space for poetic intervention and intuitive ways of working. Meanwhile, critical distance is essential to ensure devices such as onomatopoeia are not excluding audiences who don’t have the same aural experience. In Ann Cvetkovich’s text on Lauren Berlant, ‘Format as Infrastructure, Writing as Archival Practice’ in Capacious: Journal for Emerging Affect Inquiry (2021), she describes a workshop, co-developed with Berlant, inviting ekphrastic writing questioning ‘what happens if the object [you are trying to describe] refuses description, or turns away from you?’ This is a fitting articulation of some of the challenges in writing creative captions, especially with a work already completed. Yet, the movement required to overcome these challenges and deepen access to a work (in whatever multiple ways the word ‘access’ can be interpreted) may open new ideas for artists and writers alike.

 The relationship between art and writing is often discussed in terms of translation. New and experimental forms of writing with, to and as art allows the csites that we make from (to borrow Daniela Casella’s neologism, combining ‘cite’ and ‘site’) to become more speculative, with methods of citation and appropriation maybe returning ‘all writing to its plural origin.’ (Rivera Garza 2021)

 A creative turn in captioning may also echo, inhabit, and reflect multiple modes and positionalities. In her text On Access Via Versioning Sarah Hayden describes the connection between an artist’s sound work and a captioner’s writing for that work’s exhibition as being a translation that is ‘loose, quasi abstract.’ The creative processes of caption writing in this case leading to a ‘versioning’ of the original work ‘eschewing anything like explication to instead solicit interpretation and speculation.’

[Image 3 description: screenshot from a website with most of the image taken up by a black background, ‘Q and A with’ is typed in a large white font, floating near the side. On the right is a fragment of a close-up colour fuzzy photograph, old and analogue, with a retro patterned cushion or sofa in the foreground and a line of tatty looking spines in the background that might be magazines, books, or records.]
For the captioner spending time with a recording of a live event or panel discussion full of clear sentences but also half-formed thoughts, interruptions and pauses, the particular subjectivities at play between their position and the work becomes part of its translation into words. The work of captioning pays attention to dialect and researching colloquialisms as it produces a particular translation of speech from a subjective position. The captioned recording will have the potential to position language beside socio-economic background and class, among other nuances of identity, influencing what’s included and not included, for future visitors to the archive. In this way, pausing to spend time thinking about the subjectivities of captioner and speaker is vitally important, as is paying attention to ethics and authorship and embedding it all into artistic and accessible work, while trying to presuppose less about where it sits.

 I have heard criticisms where captions were discussed in relation to performative politics, like      access-related virtue signalling, especially when other methods of digital inclusivity weren’t available, such as audio description. Despite all the many limitations, fumbles, and failures, we have to hope for audiences, practitioners, and future researchers that the learning around access being done now by organisations and individuals forms substantive and realistic movement in the right direction towards best practice and inclusivity. Writing from my subjective position (as I have done throughout this text) the art and writing that engages me most, attends to a desire not to answer questions, but to ‘ask better questions.’ [1]

[1] Ways of approach, and asking better questions were topics discussed at a Quiplash workshop I attended on audio description, facilitated by Lux Scotland in May 2022. ‘Quiplash is queer crip (power) couple Amelia and Al Lander-Cavallo. They consult, run workshops, run training, and make performances.’

Cascella, D. (2021)  ‘Editorial #64 something more and something else than words – A Year of Carte Blanche & Other Chimeras – November 2021’ Map Magazine, online []

Rivera Garza, C. (2021) translated by Robin Myers, ‘Disappropriation for Beginners’ Manifold: Experimental Criticism, Issue 1 (US: 2021)

Cvetkovich, A. (2021)  ‘Format as Infrastructure: Ann Cvetkovich on Lauren Berlant,’ Capacious: Journal for Emerging Affect Inquiry, 2021, 2(3) 

Hayden, S. On Access Via Versioning, Wysing Broadcasts []

Moten, F. (2018)  ‘Photopos: film, book, archive, music, sculpture,’ Zoe Leonard: Survey, Douglas Crimp and Fred Moten (Los Angeles: The Museum of Contemporary Art, 2018)


Lucie McLaughlin is an artist and writer from Belfast. She is a research associate at CCA Derry~Londonderry and her book, Suppose A Collapse, was released in May 2021 with JOAN, a new publishing project for interdisciplinary artists’ writing. She runs Eat The Pips, which works with artists and institutions to provide captions, consultation, and transcription.

Archiving Ambivalence: Fight For the Aylesbury

Document entitled ‘Fight for the Aylesbury – We’re in Occupation’, held by MayDay Rooms archive
Document entitled ‘Fight for the Aylesbury – Squat The Lot’, held by MayDay Rooms archive


The above documents are held by the activist social movement archive Mayday Rooms. They are held within a collection of material archived from the three-month occupation of empty sections of the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark by squatters protesting a) council plans to displace residents, b) social cleansing in general, c) the lack of social housing, d) the housing crisis, e) precarious, insecure labour and f) the attrition of the welfare state. The wilfully unspecifiable ‘random anarchists’ occupied a series of empty buildings in the Aylesbury between January and April 2015, playing a prolonged game of cat-and-mouse with the council who poured damningly extensive resources into trying to remove them, while allowing the basic infrastructure of the estate, which was still home to hundreds of people, to break down and rot.

The squatters’ occupation was intended both as an expression of solidarity with the tenants facing eviction in the Aylesbury, as well as a form of direct action to repurpose empty buildings as homes in the midst of a housing crisis which was affecting them too, though in different ways. In this latter aim, the occupiers were ‘successful’ for the few months they were able to resist eviction. But what about the former?

Activist political culture invests a great deal in the transformative potential of solidarity in and of itself – the reproduction and expression of relationships between strangers who have shared material interests in the long run, despite varying experiences of the effects of systemic inequality in the present. Those relationships are, like all relationships, inevitably marked by ambivalence – good intentions don’t work out, people disappoint each other, get distracted, change their minds. Ambivalence, however, is not easily contained by the standard form of the activist archive, which, where oral histories or other more subjective archival forms are unavailable, upholds collective memories of a notably intimate form of politics through the preservation of the material ephemera it leaves behind. In this case, these are almost exclusively forms of public address (flyers, posters, graffiti), which succumb somewhat to a pressure to present to the world a united front, glossing over the complexity of the relationships between the various actors involved. This post explores traces of anxiety or uncertainty in Mayday Rooms’ ‘Fight for the Aylesbury’ collection and considers the need to animate ambivalence in the activist archive more broadly.

Document entitled ‘Fight for the Aylesbury – Occupation Poster’, held by MayDay Rooms archive

The Aylesbury Estate is a 1960s social housing estate in the London borough of Southwark, just off Walworth Road. It once contained 2,700 homes but by 2015 it was rapidly being emptied of its council tenants in line with a ‘regeneration’ scheme overseen by Southwark Council. The estate was set for demolition in the same manner as the nearby Heygate Estate, where tenants were evicted gradually between 2011 and 2014. As with the Heygate, it was the council tenants who were the first to be displaced, leaving the semi-deserted estate still inhabited by a significant number of leaseholders who had purchased their council flats through right-to-buy, and were thus not so easy to budge. To empty the Aylesbury for demolition, the council went through a process of requesting approval for ‘Compulsory Purchase Orders’, whereby leaseholders would be forced to accept the purchase of their properties at rates significantly below their market value (as had been the case with the leaseholders in the Heygate). This process, which has been met with consistent resistance, is still underway today, seven years later. There are still around 200 leaseholders in residence, even as demolition and building works have begun on other parts of the site.

On January 31st, 2015, a thousands-strong March For Homes demonstration took place, protesting the government’s handling of and contribution to the housing crisis in London. Within the demonstration, between 100-200 squatters, who had come to form a ‘squatters bloc’, split from the main protest march. They made their way to Walworth to occupy sections of the Aylesbury, which, in large part through the activism of the existing tenants, had become a relatively high-profile symbol of neoliberal housing injustice. The squatters would go on to maintain occupations across different parts of the estate for three months. Multiple attempted evictions took place over the course of this period, and many of them became violent. Other activists and socially engaged students came out in solidarity to resist the evictions and rally around the squat occupation, which increasingly insisted on its inseparability from the concurrent (but slower, less immediate) process of eviction of the tenants of the estate.

For some years prior to the occupation (and consistently since), residents of the Aylesbury had been campaigning against the regeneration of their estate, forming a community activist group, Aylesbury Leaseholders Action Group. The three-month occupation in 2015, which was not initiated by ALAG, is a short episode that is part of a longer story about activist responses and resistance to the housing crisis. This crisis is the context, cause, and consequence of the social cleansing protocols played out by Southwark Council. There’s something slightly uncomfortable about engaging with the occupation as a single event, because it’s not clear how it sits in relation to the longer, slower (and, to my mind, indisputably more important) work of the residents of the estate. It remains uncertain how much the occupation ultimately contributed to preventing the demolition of the Aylesbury, and to what extent it can be understood as a valuable political act from which activists can learn without falling into a binary of idealisation or dismissal.

The occupiers used the squatted buildings as housing. They also made some fledgling attempts to use the physical space as well as the newly formed and gathered collective as a resource for something like a community centre – the collection at Mayday Rooms holds, for example, records of crafting workshops encouraging local people to make comic books about the housing crisis. Public meetings and assemblies were held, and amidst the records of all this, there is also a yellowed flyer for an occupiers and tenants 5-a-side football tournament. Looking through the scraps of saved and gathered material, it’s clear they were trying to form the basis of a new social form founded on solidarity, and it’s important that, despite the ultimate insufficiency of these efforts, it isn’t remembered as having been done in vain. It is nonetheless true, though, that there was only one such comic book workshop, and the football tournament didn’t turn into anything ongoing – didn’t happen again – in part because of the insecurity of the occupation and the work required to stay one step ahead of the council, but also, inevitably, because the work of building community infrastructures like that – building relationships and establishing trust and mutual investment in a version of shared space that is equally magnetising to all parties – is hard.

In an uncredited, undated 5-page essay entitled ‘The Need for a Different Representation of the Housing Struggle’), as well as other printed essays and statements held in the archive, the squatters draw comparisons between their own occupation and the occupation led by Focus E15 of the Carpenters Estate in Newham.

Extract from a document entitled ‘Regeneration Is Violence’, held at the MayDay Rooms Archives

Focus E15’s occupation of Carpenter’s Estate in Newham was a different thing to what went down at Aylesbury.  Making this comparison reveals quite a significant naivete. While I don’t think this naivete is wilful, it’s important to contradict its oversight of the differences between the two occupations. Focus E15’s was led by residents who had already been organising in their estate for years to resist eviction and campaign for their right to stay in their homes. Their use of the established direct action tactic of occupation was one strategy among many deployed in their longer plan, which continues to this day. Because of the established community ties upon which Focus E15’s occupation was founded, the occupied building on the Carpenter’s Estate was able to host daily workshops, gigs, and comedy nights for two weeks, as well as functioning as a social centre for locals. The Aylesbury occupation, by contrast, was the work of squatters and activists who were not residents of the estate, not directly connected to the ongoing campaign led by ALAG, and who did not consult with the residents before occupying parts of it. A common slogan for the occupation was ‘REPOPULATE THE AYLESBURY ESTATE’ – but repopulate it with who? How could the reoccupation of the buildings by outsiders be meaningfully different from the in-process gentrification that essentially will soon do the same thing, albeit with chrome bannisters, houseplants and Nespresso rather than ladders, sleeping bags and bin-salvaged pitta bread? I respect the intentions of the squatters, and do not want to dismiss the meaning of their actions, so I’m not asking this question rhetorically, I’m really asking. Activist archives like that held by Mayday Rooms offer us the valuable opportunity for us to learn from the mistakes of the past rather than idealising the imperfections.

In reality, a politics that relies on the transformative potential of relationship-building must contend with the constant ambivalence that characterises actually existing relationships between people in their everyday lives. The archive of the occupation at Aylesbury does bear traces of doubt and ambivalence about the relationship between the squatters and the residents, but it remains unspoken and unmetabolised. Consider the scanned page below:

Document entitled ’Aylesbury Various – Solidarity with the Squatters of the Aylesbury Estate’, held at MayDay Rooms archive

The poster has a few millimetres of empty white paper around the edges. In this margin, on the upper edge, someone has written by hand in biro, “WHAT ABOUT THE TENANTS STRUGGLE?”. There is no record of who wrote this, and when: was it a note-to-self of the person who saved it, or intentionally addressed to others who might have seen it at the time, and now, in the page’s memorialisation within the archive? The accusation in this  question – that the occupiers and the tenants are separate groups –  echoes the standard attack line made at the time and since by the council in briefings to the local press (“The squatters do not represent the residents of the Aylesbury and are risking the delivery of the very homes they claim to be campaigning for.”) This more intimate, informal expression of the same sentiments – suspicion, frustration, distrust – is different, however, because it belies a sense of this same tension from someone closer to the action. The document, as it stands, seems to carry a certain level of optimism that this doesn’t merit defacement even as it’s clear that it’s not enough. What it expresses is ambivalence.

The public address of the activism of the squatters in capital-O Occupation is at odds with the private, undocumented (and thus not archived) occupation of the tenants, whose acts of resistance began before and continued through the Occupation (having little to no other choice). The archive does not contain any record of life in the tenant-occupied flats during the long period that Spring, when the violent evictions caused havoc on the estate, and the security fences put up by the council to contain the squatters ended up ‘caging’ the tenants, too, causing them major inconvenience entering and exiting their homes. Anecdotally, as someone who has some experience of housing organising and activism, I find it hard to imagine that people weren’t at least a little p*ssed off at least some of the time. The archive contains traces of reports that the tenants didn’t mind at all, refuting the accusations of division from the council, yet we can’t know what it was actually like at the football tournament that day in February, nor what it felt like in the room while the comic book workshop was taking place. What did people think about their new temporary neighbours? How did they feel the squatters’ presence related to their own? Did they feel welcome? Did they feel welcoming? The archive contains no record of anyone’s personal story; there is no record of conversations that might have been had in stairwells, or on the grass; nothing to bear a trace of the unspoken affects that shifted and jostled the tenants and the squatters alike over the course of those three months. How might we go about animating the intersubjective ambivalence, contradiction and complexity of this historical moment in the context of the activist archive?

Ambivalence is evidence not of failure, but of desire, attachment, longing, not just for political change but for assurance that it’s worth trying again and again to induce it. We need to be better at holding onto, archiving, collectively remembering and metabolising these attempts, so that we can learn what our ambivalence can teach us. Records of the three-month period of the Aylesbury occupation show the potential for different kinds of collective subjectivity across various degrees of working-class difference and relative privilege to be generated; they also ought to teach us some important lessons about what is hard, what doesn’t work, and the necessity of engaging with the inconsistency that defines social attachments that last a long time.

George Lynch is a first year PhD student at the University of Manchester. Her thesis uses the work of the late queer theorist Lauren Berlant to explore contemporary left wing political cultures in the UK. It uses queer theories of intimacy to explore political fantasies of a more intimate sociality between strangers, with a focus on the methods and practices employed by grassroots unions, community organising, and contemporary abolitionism.

A white, blonde man is lying prone on a bed, kissing a black, dark-haired man who is penetrating him

Tracing Black Queer Modernism in the Archive: Duncan Grant’s Erotic Drawings

A white, blonde man is lying prone on a bed, kissing a black, dark-haired man who is penetrating him
Duncan Grant, detail from an untitled drawing (c. 1946–59)
Photo courtesy of the Charleston Trust © the Estate of Duncan Grant

In the 1950s and 60s, the white British artist Duncan Grant created an archive of over four hundred and twenty erotic drawings, the majority of which depict queer sex scenes, many of them interracial. Born in Rothiemurchus, Scotland in 1885, Grant became one of the central figures of the Bloomsbury Group and rose to prominence in the early twentieth century as a painter, decorator, and textile designer. In 1916, alongside fellow artist Vanessa Bell and his then-lover David Garnett, he moved to Charleston near Firle, Sussex. The discovery of the extraordinary collection of erotic drawings in 2020 after their donation to Charleston Trust, demands that renewed critical attention be paid to the role of Black people in the histories of Modernism, the Bloomsbury Group and queerness in twentieth-century Britain.

A crucial challenge I have faced in my PhD research on Grant’s erotic drawings has been how white supremacy structures the archive. Although prominent white members of the Bloomsbury Group left a plethora of autobiographical material, anti-racist scholars are challenged by a lack of written evidence available regarding how individual Black people impacted their life and work. As a white queer and trans researcher without first-hand experience of racism, centring the work of Black scholars and writers methodologically has been vital in my critical engagement with Grant’s work. I have been influenced by historian Gemma Romain and writer Shola von Reinhold, who employ two distinct approaches that seek to expose and challenge how white supremacy is embedded in archival structures. In her biography of Patrick Nelson, a Jamaican valet, artist model and lover of Grant’s, Romain explores how archives are implicated in racist knowledge production proposing scholars should ‘read against the grain’ (following the work of theorist Ann Laura Stoler) to counter these challenges. Within Grant’s erotic drawings, distinguishable facial features are frequently elided, their focus resting instead on the sexual scenes depicted. As such, it is difficult to determine whether Patrick Nelson himself modelled for these specific works, which differ stylistically from paintings such as Grant’s portrait of Nelson made in the last years of his life in 1960-1963. Nevertheless, the artist’s recurring fascination with interracial sex between white and Black men raises questions about Grant’s relationships with men like Nelson outside of his work, rendering Romain’s work crucial in contextualising the collection.

 A white, blonde man is lying prone on a bed, kissing a black, dark-haired man who is penetrating him
Duncan Grant, detail from an untitled drawing (c. 1946–59) Photo courtesy of the Charleston Trust © the Estate of Duncan Grant.

In contrast, Von Reinhold’s novel LOTE challenges the binary division between fiction and historical research, offering the character of Hermia Druitt as an amalgamation of the archival traces which hint towards Black involvement in British Modernism.

Both LOTE and Romain’s biography of Patrick Nelson articulate the challenges faced by scholars of Black queer Modernism—how racism structures which material is preserved, catalogued, and deemed valuable. In LOTE, we see how Black researchers specifically are marginalised in the archive through economic and academic marginalisation. Whilst Gemma Romain reads mainstream collections such as the Ministry of Defence and Tate Archives subversively, working within institutions structured by white supremacy in ways opposite to their design, Shola von Reinhold uses fiction to consider the historical connections that may be crafted outside of archival structures.

Against the Grain 

In Race, Sexuality and Identity in Britain and Jamaica (2017), Gemma Romain tells Patrick Nelson’s life story which spans several sites of historical interest. After his youth and adolescence in Jamaica, working as a valet in a Kingston hotel in the 1920s and 30s, Patrick emigrated to Britain, working first in domestic service in rural Wales and then as an artist model in London. During World War II, Nelson served in the British army and was captured as a prisoner of war by German forces. Upon his release, he ventured back to Jamaica until his eventual return to London in 1960, where he died three years later. Romain’s chief archival sources relating to Patrick Nelson are drawn from the Ministry of Defence Personnel archives and the letters he wrote to Grant, held at the Tate Archives. After becoming lovers in the 1920s, these written records of Nelson’s relationship with Grant chronicle a decades-long friendship that lasted until Nelson’s death in 1963. Yet Romain draws our attention to archives as sites of knowledge production which are inherently political. Rather than seeing the archive as a neutral site of source collection, researchers must focus on why collections were created. Patrick Nelson’s letters to Duncan Grant survive because they have been deemed relevant to the biography of a white British artist, making it more difficult to trace Nelson’s story on his own terms. Romain reminds us that the rationale behind archival creation specifically works to obscure the histories of those marginalised by structures of racism, sexism and classism.

In order to challenge the structural barriers faced when uncovering Black queer histories like Nelson’s, Romain reads the archive against the grain, following biographical information about her subject in alternative ways. Through Patrick Nelson, she connects interwar Black British life with the Bloomsbury Group, research which had until then largely focused on the affluent white artists and writers affiliated with the set. By seeking to highlight Nelson’s story in an archive which catalogued his life only in reference to his white lover, Romain provides an important corrective to this implicit bias towards whiteness in the historiography. Through Nelson, we see the presence and impact of Black queer men on Grant’s inner circle, laying important groundwork for future efforts by historians to make this impact visible.

The importance of Romain’s methodology is underscored by racist narratives which refute the existence of Black people in early twentieth-century Britain. She explicitly challenges the claims of Juliet Gardiner, a historical consultant for the 2007 film Atonement who, in a 2013 BBC Radio 4 programme, ‘Presenting the Past – How the Media Changes History’, critiqued the inclusion of a wounded Black soldier at Dunkirk in the film because it would have been ‘almost impossible’ for a Black man to fight for the British army in France during World War II. Patrick Nelson’s life story challenges this historical erasure, and Romain’s inclusion of this statement emphasises the racist dynamics operating in academia which work to erase Black history within archival practices and beyond.

Out of the Archive, Into the Streets? 

In LOTE, Shola von Reinhold uses fiction to explore how racist attitudes within research communities and archives function to erase Black queer histories. In the first part of the novel, the heroine Mathilda works at the National Portrait Gallery Archives. Alongside an older Black woman, Agnes, she is asked to catalogue a collection of old photographs, in which she discovers of picture of Hermia Druitt, a glamorous Black artist and socialite, at a party held by Lady Ottoline Morrell, attended by Bloomsbury Group members like Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, alongside ‘Bright Young People’ like Stephen Tennant. The donation they are working with has been in the archive for a long time, unlooked at, hinting at many more traces of Black queer Modernism hidden in collections across the country, which are not deemed worthy of the resources to catalogue them.

Similarly, the collection of Duncan Grant’s erotic drawings, created in the late 1940s and ‘50s, was hidden from the public for sixty years. Conceived during a time when homosexual activity between men was still illegal, Grant first passed them on to affluent friend and painter Edward le Bas in 1959. The collection was then passed from friend to friend, lover to lover, until they came into the possession of South African theatre designer Norman Coates, who kept the drawings under his bed for eleven years before donating them to Charleston. It is difficult to assess how far the interracial nature of many drawings in the collection contributed to them remaining in private collections for such a long time. Nevertheless, it is significant to note that access to these representations of interracial desire between men was chiefly afforded to affluent white gay men in the art world. As a result, the question of how to make the collection more accessible to researchers remains crucial. In time, I hope to create a digital online archive of the drawings to tackle the physical and institutional barriers that prevent audiences from accessing these images.

From the outset of LOTE, the ability of Mathilda and Agnes to retrace Black queer history within British Modernism is contingent on white gatekeepers, namely an affluent young white woman called Elizabeth/Joan and James, her boss who initially refuses Mathilda entry into the archive by pretending it is a private member’s club. This power imbalance is emphasised further by the fact that whilst Elizabeth/Joan and James are employed by the archive, Mathilda and Agnes are unpaid volunteers. After the two have catalogued some of the donations, including the Hermia Druitt photograph, James challenges Mathilda on the date assigned to the picture:

“Some of these dates are way out,” he said without looking up.

“We’ve gone through them all properly, at least twice. ”

“This one for example,” he said, and it was the picture of Hermia, the one I’d just put back. “Yes, look: one of you has put ‘circa 1920’ on the sheet but it’s obviously no more than 30 years old. Black and white, maybe even an old camera, but contemporary.”

James’ dismissal of Mathilda and Agnes’ expertise is uncomfortably reminiscent of Juliet Gardiner’s assertion that it would have been ‘almost impossible’ for a Black soldier to be at Dunkirk. Mathilda’s experience in the archive translates to the reader how the structural racism of the archive works in practice; through the disincentivisation of scholarship due to poor working conditions, power imbalances between those who oversee collections and those who access them, and the foreclosure of research not deemed worthy under white supremacy.

Romain uses existing archival collections in new and unexpected ways, and Mathilda breaks Hermia out of the archive. She steals the photograph, as an act of liberation which allows it to become more alive: “I felt it might dissolve in my possession, outside of the archive, but instead it became more substantial, if anything materialising not dissolving—sucking in atoms, becoming more of an object, more vivid.”

Escaping the archive becomes a way for Mathilda to harness a historical connection with a figure in Black queer Modernism which is intimate and embodied. Hermia takes on the role of a divine figure for Mathilda, connecting her subjectivity with a heritage of Black queer Modernism. Yet it is only upon leaving the archive that this quest can begin in earnest.

Archival Bias of Black Queer Figures in British Modernism

Both Shola von Reinhold and Gemma Romain’s texts make visible the structural inequalities that underpin archival research, specifically as they pertain to the influence of Black queer figures in British Modernism. As part of my PhD research, I will apply Romain’s methodology of reading against the grain to the Duncan Grant archive. Using The Charleston Papers at the University of Sussex’s The Keep, I will read an archive intended to preserve the legacy of prominent white members of the Bloomsbury Group to trace references to the Black men who influenced Grant. I hope to trace further links between Grant’s circle and queer Black men such as Richie Riley and Berto Pasuka, who founded the all-black ballet company Les Ballets Nègres in 1946. Riley was a friend of Nelson’s who informed Grant of his death in 1963. In contextualising relationships like that between Grant and Nelson within a wider queer Black artistic community in twentieth-century London, I will seek to challenge the archival biases which have marginalised the role of Black queer figures in British Modernism.

I hope to use my privilege as a white researcher working within institutions to broaden access to the collection of Grant’s erotic drawings. Drawing on LOTE’s exploration of the racialised dynamics which prevent access to archival collections, making this vast collection of works available to the public will encourage a broader set of audiences to engage with Grant’s work. Mathilda’s quest to uncover Hermia’s story situates the researcher within the dynamics of power that have marginalised Black queer history. Rather than employing von Reinhold’s fictional methodology, I will dedicate a chapter of my PhD dissertation to connecting Grant’s erotic drawings to current political and theoretical concerns. Aware of my positionality as a white researcher, I hope that the digital archive I am collating will generate responses from Black queer scholars and members of the public, so that I may use this space to generate a dialogue surrounding representations of interracial sexuality in the works.

Samson Dittrich is an interdisciplinary researcher in trans and queer masculinity studies. He is a first-year doctoral candidate at the University of Sussex, working in conjunction with the Charleston Trust to explore a collection of over 422 erotic drawings by Bloomsbury Group artist Duncan Grant.

People look at archival material at Bishopsgate

Resilient and Resisting: Collaborative Storytelling

Jet Moon

Between 2018-2019 Jet Moon created Resilient and Resisting, a collaborative storytelling and oral history project that collects stories from people at the intersection of disability, queerness, kink, sex work, and survivorship. Currently, Jet is compiling a book version of Resilient and Resisting, to present the collected stories, photographs, and archive material as a tool for community sharing events. The original project was funded by The Heritage Lottery Fund. In the following post, Jet Moon shares their approach to this project. 


I’m aware I do a very ‘incorrect’ form of oral history, when compared with, for example, The British Library who describe their methods as ‘rigorous’. Resilient and Resisting challenges notions of correctness. The stories in Resilient and Resisting are not verbatim texts, but instead, a creative collaborative process with interviewees, transforming oral history interviews into narrative stories. The person being interviewed participates in a storytelling process with me. That process is often healing, a deep listening and acknowledgement of our shared marginalised experience. After writing a draft, I share this with the person I interviewed. Some people correct details, sometimes we re-write together, other times people are just happy with the result.

With support from Bishopsgate Institute Special Collections and Archive, Hackney Museum, MayDay Rooms, and Arcola Theatre, these stories were first presented in a series of workshops and reading events alongside archive materials or museum displays. These events were a space for communities and individuals to hear themselves reflected in a powerful respectful way. To have their stories presented as valuable historical documents. 

These events would feature a small collection of the stories curated around one of the core themes: disability, queerness, kink, sex work, or survivorship. As all the stories contain three or more of these topics, a process of overlap and gaps between stories occurs. This creates a dynamic space of richness and interchange, as individuals listen to their common ground alongside the differences. 

Below are two accounts of presenting the stories alongside archival materials: they demonstrate the function of overlapping, and how these themes brought people together.

Leather archive event advertisement
Designed by Ola Podgorska of Fierce Love design


Leather and Fetish Archive Open Day with readings: Saturday, 29th September 2018, in collaboration with Bishopsgate Institute Special Collections and Archives. 

Housed in a grand Victorian building close to Liverpool Street Station, when the volunteers arrived at the institute they would ask ‘Is it here? Are we in here?’ In my experience as an SM Dyke/a queer, I’m more used to parties in basements that stink of piss (and we had to fight for that!). It’s amazing to see our kink culture in this setting.

During the event, people pored over the books, pamphlets, photographs, drawings, boxes of memorabilia, club patches, and badges. People read aloud to each other – for a while I joined a group who were reading out the gay personal ads from a small magazine printed in Leytonstone in the 1970s. They were sweet, pervy, queer, full of desire and longing, pre-Internet, no instant hook-ups, no apps! 

‘Sorry the material here is all mostly men’, whispers the archivist, ‘it’s what we’ve got.’ 


Interior of the Bishopsgate Institute Library
Credit: Cath LeCouteur

At 2pm, we gather for the story readings, surrounded by the antique beauty of the Library, the stained-glass dome overhead. A large-scale recreation of ‘The Last Supper’ featuring Leather Men seated at a table draped with the Leather Pride flag hangs behind us. 

The archivist reads first from an editorial from the 1977 copy of the MSC Leather Men’s newsletter, which begins: ‘Not for your Maiden Aunts or Grandmothers…’ I chose the article – while it is sweetly nostalgic, it also provides a great counterpoint to the Resilient and Resisting stories.

Our first reader follows: ‘It started after watching some porn and I had just cum like a train.’ A story that ranges across kink, queerness, childhood sexual abuse and trauma, mental health, and community work. One of a triad of stories, that additionally span gender identity, disability, activism, the lesbian sex wars, domestic violence, sexual education, and survivorship. The stories break stereotypes and demonstrate the breadth of our shared history, in surviving stigma and creating social change.

Participants of ‘Leather Archive Open Day’
Credit: Cath LeCouteur

My lasting impression of the day was of the participants’ openness to each other: some were kinky, not kinky, curious, new to the scene, others were old to the scene, from different generations, Gay, Pan, Dykes, WLTI. There was a feeling of sharing the space together, feeling what community can be – an ability to be open and discuss, to listen to each other and explore, valuing our histories.

Access a more in-depth report on the Leather and Fetish Archive Day Event

‘Fighting for Space, love and loss’ 28th February 2019 at the Hackney Museum. 

Advertising/zine cover artwork for ‘Fighting for space, love and loss’ Design by Ola Podgorska of Fierce Love design

As part of this event, there was a call for people to contribute objects to a temporary exhibition for the duration of the evening: ‘Come and celebrate Queer Action past and present by taking up space in the Hackney Museum. What isn’t allowed to be on display? What objects would you contribute and caption to tell a tale of Hackney Queerness?’ 

In a project about stigma and social change, many conversations have questioned structures of exclusion, and even the concept of who ‘the general public’ were. When people were invited to contribute the most common question was ‘What counts as an object?’ It was very closely followed by ‘I don’t know what I have that counts as history.’ 

Museum staff emptied cases and made space available so that nestled among the permanent collection were items contributed by the community for this event: a giant uterus costume from Transfabulous transgender festival of the arts, protest signs, photographs, and memorabilia representing protests decades apart – by the Lesbian Avengers in the 1980s and East London Strippers Collective in 2008, both of which had taken place outside the Hackney Town Hall next door to the museum. Core Arts Men’s GBT Mental Health Group set out objects in a shared corner display case. Mounted on a wall next to a portrait of some historical figure is the ‘magical crowbar’ from A.S.S. Advisory Service for Squatters, and a list of the crowbar’s attributes, including ‘the power to make padlocks turn to dust, and bailiffs and cops to call in sick.’ 

Members of the Men’s GBT mental health group in front of their installed objects at Hackney Museum
Credit: Cath LeCouteur

The exhibition and readings showed our complex community: sex-working queers, squatter queers, kinky queers, queers who are tired of racism in the scene, Crip queers, traveller queers, activist queers, celebrating what we’ve loved and what we’ve lost, what we’re still fighting for. 

Lesbian Avengers T-shirt installation, part of exhibition and Hackney Museum, ‘Fighting for space, love and loss’
Credit: Cath LeCouteur

Around 20 members of the Project Indigo youth group are present at ‘Fighting for Space, love and loss’. Sitting up front asking questions, they are focused and engaged. Many of us older folk ask each other ‘I wonder what it is like hearing these histories at such a young age?’ We are enormously affected by their presence, as it reflects the lack we experienced, we grew up in times of illegality, Section 28, and other prohibitions.

This event was one of my favourites, and around 50 people attended. Some took part by installing and captioning their own objects within the museum. Everyone sat together, listening to stories read by our readers, and following along in the zine. The atmosphere was lively and intimate at the same time.

Access a more in-depth report on the ‘Fighting for Space, love and loss’ event

I have lived long enough as a multiply marginalised person to know that sharing specific commonalities of experience does not always produce unity. Instead, often the opposite occurs with groups splitting into smaller and smaller factions. Resilient and Resisting took a different approach by asking people to think between the gaps of shared experience and to accept difference. Placing our contemporary stories in a historical and political context, we showed that our struggles don’t exist in a vacuum, and similar issues have been fought for repeatedly. It demonstrated that we may not always feel resilient, but the resistant act of living and gathering with others can bring about change in society.

 Jet Moon is a multi-disciplinary artist who writes, performs, and collaborates on fierce work for radical social change. Collaborating for many years with the LGBTIQ, kink, sex worker, disability, and survivor communities they belong to, creating intimate spaces of sharing, visibility and resistance. 

A Queer Feminist Archive Reader

In 2019, The Queer and Feminist Archives Research Network was formed by Lily Evans-Hill and Hatty Nestor. It sought to bring together researchers dealing with feminist and queer archives, and the methodological and theoretical questions they pose. The Network has taken the form of research meetings, approximately once a month, where we workshop each other’s writing, hold public reading groups and visit archives relevant to our research. We intend for our research to culminate in a public symposium, a forum to publicly share our research and invite speakers who tackle similar questions. The activity of the network also generates an informal support network for our members.

The network has been a unique opportunity to encourage collaborative and interdisciplinary exchange. We have encouraged creative and experimental research through our group work. We engage with questions about our methodology and the objects we study, using workshops to share and respond to each other’s work. Writing and critically reading for these sessions has developed our skills in editing, self-reflection and peer-review. More than anything, we have developed our knowledge of feminist and queer archiving techniques through basic archival training and visits to relevant archives.

Barbara Hammer in Women Artists News autumn 1980

The following list of resources gives an overview of the concerns and questions raised by the network. It consists of writings and projects that probe at the concept of the ‘archival,’ complicating the academic usage of the practice and instead thinking about the archive as a generative space for feminist and queer histories and futures. The list also serves as a practical introduction to the politics of archiving and digitizing that are important beyond issues of canons and visibility – archival practice has to be generative, accessible and productive outside of preservation. The references here suggest frameworks, questions and stakes for working with and in spite of the archive.

Some readings:

Ashton, Jenna. “Feminist Archiving [ a Manifesto Continued ]: Skilling for Activism and Organising.” Australian Feminist Studies 32, no. 91–92 (April 3, 2017): 126–49.

Bryan-Wilson, Julia, and Cheryl Dunye. “Imaginary Archives: A Dialogue.” Art Journal 72, no. 2 (2013): 82–89. (The whole special issue is worth looking at)

Cvetkovich, Ann, ​An Archive Of Feelings​ (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003)

Eichhorn, Kate. “D.I.Y. Collectors, Archiving Scholars, and Activist Librarians: Legitimizing Feminist Knowledge and Cultural Production Since 1990.” Women’s Studies 39, no. 6 (July 27, 2010): 622–46.

Eichhorn, Kate. “Feminism’s There : On Post-Ness and Nostalgia.” Feminist Theory 16, no. 3 (December 2015): 251–64.

Gaillet, Lynée Lewis. “(Per)Forming Archival Research Methodologies.” College Composition and Communication 64, no. 1, (2012): 35–58.

Lewis, Gail. “Questions of Presence” (2017), Feminist Review, 117, pp. 1–19

Niehaus, Kiona Hagen, and Guesnet, Brenda. “Articulating and Defending Our Vulnerabilities: Interrogations of the Feminist Archive.” Feminist Review 120, no. 1 (November 2018): 135–42.

Marshall, D, Murphy, K and Tortorici, Z, ​Queering archives: intimate tracings,​ (New York: Duke University Press Books, 2015) 

Moravec, Michelle. “Feminist Research Practices and Digital Archives.” Australian Feminist Studies 32, no. 91–92 (April 3, 2017): 186–201.

Mathias Danbolt, Jane Rowley, Louise Wolthers, Lost and Found: Queerying the Archive Exhibition Catalogue (Museum Tusculanum Press, 2010)

McBean, Sam. ​Feminism’s Queer Temporalities​ (New York: Routledge, 2016)

Reger, Jo. “Finding a Place in History: The Discursive Legacy of the Wave Metaphor and Contemporary Feminism.” Feminist Studies 43, no. 1 (2017): 193.

Tirza True Latimer, ‘Conversations on Queer Affect and Queer Archives,’ Art Journal 72, no.2

Tamboukou, Maria. “Archival Research: Unraveling Space/Time/Matter Entanglements and Fragments.” Qualitative Research, vol. 14, no. 5, Oct. 2014, pp. 617–633, doi:10.1177/1468794113490719.

Some Online Resources:

Rita Keegan Archive Project blog, various authors 

Sisterhood and After, The British Library 

Duke University Library’s Women’s Liberation Movement Print Culture digital repository 

JStor Reveal Digital: Independent Voices 

Mayday Rooms, Leftovers 

Lesbian Herstory Archives 

Glasgow Women’s Library 

Bishopsgate Institute 

The Women’s Liberation Music Archive ​​

If you are interested in joining, please email:

Lily at or Hatty