Touring SAVAC and Vtape

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And update from Amal Khurram, who is participating in the undergraduate Scholars in Residence Digital Collections lab in partnership with the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives.

Scholars in Residence group pose in the SAVAC / Vtape archives. (L to R) Mac Stewart, Amal Khurram, Caleigh Inman, Saj Soomal (SAVAC), Alisha Krishna, Zohar Freeman, Cait McKinney.

Scholars in Residence group pose in the SAVAC / Vtape archives. (L to R) Mac Stewart, Amal Khurram, Caleigh Inman, Saj Soomal (SAVAC), Alisha Krishna, Zohar Freeman, Cait McKinney.

On May 17 our group went to visit the 401 Richmond building for a tour of the South Asian Visual Arts Centre (SAVAC) and Vtape. These organizations are central to two of the digital collections we have been working on. The Not a Place on the Map Desh Pardesh festival oral history project that Alisha Krishna and I are working on was produced by SAVAC. The gendertrash zine collection that Caleigh Inman, Mac Stewart, and Sid Cunnigham are making was edited by Mirha-Soleil Ross, whose video art is distributed by Vtape.

I thought it was interesting to see where the magic of community archiving really happens—this is where people on the ground are creating history for archives like CLGA. We were given the opportunity to leaf through some SAVAC materials that weren’t accessible to us at the CLGA, and it was interesting to spot some familiar names amongst the collected work.

Deirdre Logue introduces the Vtape archives to Zohar Freeman and Alisha Krishna.

Deirdre Logue introduces the Vtape archives to Zohar Freeman and Alisha Krishna.

The polished Desh Pardesh festival flyers and pamphlets that we got to look through were an interesting contrast from the unfiltered interview personas we have encountered through oral history interviews. Pamphlets and other promotional materials are the end product of several revisions by coordinators and funders, and they reflect broader politics and tensions behind putting on a large festival.

What we have in the interviews is everything but this and it’s interesting to see the contrasting elements of the Desh Pardesh festival. Seeing all these print documents related to the festival shows how much larger the world of the event was than it might seem from listening to interviews, decades down the line. Learning all this while standing in the vicinity of where it all went down was truly an experience.

Walking down the staircase in the 401 building’s outdoor courtyard.

Walking down the staircase in the 401 building’s outdoor courtyard.

Affect in the Mirha-Soleil Ross Archive

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Archival objects can be powerful and moving. When they are centred around LGBTQ people, they can bring hope and joy. Some objects found  in the Mirha-Soleil Ross fonds demonstrates this hopefulness to me.

In her collection Mirha-Soleil Ross donated some pictures that were professionally taken of her and her partner at the time, Xanthra Phillippa MacKay. When Ms. Ross donated the photos to the CLGA, she attached a note requesting that we digitize them soon, showing their precious status to her.

Photograph of two white trans women embracing and looking at the camera.

Photo of Mirha-Soleil Ross and Xanthra Phillipa MacKay, 1993. Photo grapher: Jennifer O’Connor. See Mirha-Soleil Ross digital collections: http://digitalcollections.clga.ca/exhibits/show/gendertrash/item/870

The amount of bravery it took to be queer and trans in the 1990s and before astounds me, especially since many trans people were fighting to deny that queerness was intrinsically linked to transness. The idea of trans normativity has been rampant for many years in the queer and trans community. This essentially means policing other trans people’s identities and making them palatable for the general straight and cis public (Matte, 126).

As a queer trans person, Ms. Ross and Ms. MacKay’s bravery and activism inspires me over twenty years later as I recognize those who paved the way and came before me.

Source Cited:
Matte, Nicholas.  “Rupert Raj, Transmen and Sexuality: The Politics of Transnormativity in Metamorphosis Magazine during the 1980s,” We Still Demand: Redefining Resistance in Sex and Gender Struggles, ed. Patrizia Gentile and Gary Kinsman (UBC Press, 2017):117-137.

Foolscap Oral Histories and Gay Bar Culture in Toronto and Mexico City

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For the past few weeks I have been reading transcripts of the interviews that John Grube conducted in the 1980s with Canadian gay men born in the first half of the twentieth century. One of the most interesting topics in the interviews is the experiences that these men had with the gay bar culture in Toronto during the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s. Going to bars or “beverage rooms” was instrumental in their coming out experience, in their coming to terms with their sexuality, or in dealing with the difficulties of being queer at that time. As one of the interviewees stated, “before there was any kind of organization, the counseling […] went on in pubs […] with everybody who was there, there was a lot of talking a lot of mutual support.”

St. Charles Tavern in 1955

St. Charles Tavern, 1955. Photography by James Victor Salmon. Toronto Reference Library, Baldwin Collection

Aside from my concerns as a historian, one of the reasons I have felt so interested in this topic is because it reminds me so much of my own experience with the gay bar culture in Mexico City between 2007 and 2012. I remember fondly those alcohol-free parties organized every Friday afternoon, from 5 to 8 pm, at bars in the gay village for underage queer folks that wanted access to the gay scene in the city but were not yet 18. The first time I went to one of these parties called “tardeadas” I was 16 and had just begun to come out as gay with some close friends. Going to these bars was my point of entrance into Mexico City’s gay world, and enabled me to find the friendships, support, and security I could have hardly found anywhere else at that moment in my life. Years later, every time I go to a gay bar at night and run into one of those gay folks of my generation who I met at the “tardeadas,” I smile and think about how important those parties were in my coming out experience, in my finding of long-lasting friendships—both gay and straight—, and in my dealing with my sexual orientation in a time in which I was still afraid of my homosexuality.

I am really looking forward to find more insights into the Toronto gay bar culture prior to the gay liberation movement by looking at the stories that took place at the St. Charles Tavern, Letros, the King Cole Room at the Park Plaza, the King’s Plate Room in the King Edward Hotel, the Quest, the Parkside Tavern, the Red Lion Room in the Westbury Hotel among others.

Foolscap: The Social Responsibility of Digitizing Erasure

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Listening to the Foolscap interviews, it seems impossible to have been in Toronto in the 1960s without realizing that the St Charles Tavern was a hotbed of gay activity. However, researching press coverage of the bar, it’s clear that this watering hole’s queerness was fairly hidden from most of the public in the 1960s. A brief review of Globe and Mail articles between the 1940s and 1960s rarely link homosexuality to the St. Charles Tavern.

It’s important to expand the scope of your research beyond the secondary-source materials you first encounter, particularly when researching marginalized groups. Deeper research prevents us from reproducing the erasures found in old media. Archival materials pertaining to queer spaces require us to bring in more context in order find the queer people hidden between the lines of these materials; their subtext and the details of their lives.

VandalsWreck Yonge Street Tavern article

Consider the article “Vandals wreck Yonge tavern”, published in the Globe and Mail on February 21, 1966. The article describes damages done to the bar by vandals, including flooding, smashed chairs, cracked eggs, and files dumped out with ink poured all over them. Yet, there is no mention of the impact of this vandalism had on those who patronized the bar. By some accounts, in 1966, the St Charles Tavern was already a shrine to open queerness for many gay men in Toronto. While we cannot know the intentions behind these vandals’ choice of bar, we can imagine that many queer men read this article and felt targeted. Scared, maybe. Reading the stub through the Foolscap oral history interviews, it’s possible to find those whom the article does not describe.

 

Desh Pardesh: Historicizing a new brown, queer artist scene in Toronto

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“Not a Place on the Map” is an oral history project initiated by the South Asian Visual Arts Center (SAVAC), concerning Desh Pardesh, the queer South Asian arts festival in the 90’s which ran roughly from 1988 to 2001. Interviews show that Desh provided a sense of community and gave a platform for marginalized artists. The Collaboratory, SAVAC, the CLGA, and the Jackman Scholars in Residence are working to exhibit these interviews in a digital collection.

When we started this project, I knew that “exploring the politics of South Asian cultures in the West” would be a massive endeavour. From previous experience, I know that almost any question of South Asian (specifically Indian) culture stumbles upon the prejudices of caste and the pain of colonization, two subject areas with a ton of scholarship that is new to me. On top of this, there remains my queer identity, which until very recently I refused to acknowledge. My journey into Desh Pardesh’s story has provided a history for me. Looking at these files, I am learning how people made space in a white society for a queer and brown body. This knowledge is particularly inaccessible to me—growing up, I was very much isolated from my culture in my dominantly white and Catholic schools and neighbourhoods.

Promotional postcard from 1994 Desh Pardesh Festival. Photo by Rachel Kalpana James. Source: Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives vertical files.

Promotional postcard from 1994 Desh Pardesh Festival. Photo by Rachel Kalpana James. Source: Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives vertical files.

It is also interesting to think about the politics of categorization and my own personal biases in research. My family is almost exclusively Indian (with potentially a distant Portuguese relative), and given the state of Hindu right-wing radicalism oppressing large portions of the Indian and South Asian population, I am trying to be conscious of excluding other South Asian and diasporic countries. The Desh Pardesh festival’s contributors show the same blind-spot as well. Even the name—“Desh Pardesh”—can come from Hindi or Urdu, but I’ve mostly seen it explained via Hindi in the oral history interviews.

Looking back at this record forces me to reflect not only on the contemporary moment, but the long history of exceptionalism and segregation which brings us to the present. Our picture of Desh is shaping up to not just acknowledge the history of a new brown, queer artist scene in Toronto, but a snapshot of competing patriotism and the consequent increasing centrism. Right now, we are trying to navigate the influences of historical and colonial divisions which reveal themselves in what seems to be standard, leftist in-fighting.

Desh Dies? Sifting through emotions in the Desh Pardesh collection

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Over the past couple weeks, my research partner, Alisha, and I have been working through a number of interviews conducted in 2014-2015 with various participants of the Desh Pardesh festival. We’ve been weaving through text-heavy transcripts, and even transcribing a few audio interviews, but in the past couple of days we’ve been finally able to come in contact with the real archives. Seeing material outside of reflection or storytelling is a completely different experience.

"Desh Dies?" Clipping for Xtra! magazine, August 23, 2001. Source: Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives Vertical Files

“Desh Dies?” Clipping for Xtra! magazine, August 23, 2001. Source: Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives Vertical Files

The tiny article above struck me, not by its content but by the title of it: Desh Dies? What feels so interesting about this tiny piece of paper, which was likely in a small corner of the newspaper Xtra! is that it leaves this end of Desh open to interpretation by posing the festival’s demise as a question— expressing a kind of disbelief in the notion of Desh Pardesh ending. This kind of emotion also came through in a lot of the interviews that we’ve been listening to many of the interviewees reflected on how their memories of Desh have been nothing but good (of course with minor hiccups), and a few also remarked on how Desh might reoccur today.

I found this article interesting because it takes these feelings of nostalgia and hopefulness and sums them up briefly in a couple of words — without having even lived through that nostalgia. I think its interesting how  feelings attached to he festival have carried on nearly a decade after its collapse. The parallels in time are truly representative of the kind of impact this festival had on its community, its artists, its audience and beyond.

Reading gendertrash

publishing / trans history

I spent a lot of my first week at the CLGA looking through and digitizing materials related to Mirha-Soleil Ross’ and Xanthra Phillippa MacKay’s zine gendertrash from hell, published from 1993-1995. One of my favourite images I have come across was a drawing of four femme figures holding hands on a yellowing piece of paper. Below the figures, drawn in purple pen, text reads “TRANSSEXUAL SISTERHOOD IS POWERFUL!!!” This image is published in black and white in gendertrash #4.

Materials from the gendertrash series in the Mirha-Soleil Ross fonds. On the left is a collage made from letters cut out of magazines in a variety of colours and fonts. On top is a drawing of four femme figures in purple. Text below them reads "TRANSSEXUAL SISTERHOOD IS POWERFUL!!!"

Materials from the gendertrash series in the Mirha-Soleil Ross fonds.

Reading gendertrash has given me some context into issues, politics and activism specific to transsexual communities that I have never gotten in a gender studies classroom. In my academic experience, trans issues are often tacked on to discussions around queerness. Mirha-Soleil Ross makes an argument for radical specificity that I find really refreshing. Rather than being divisive, this specificity can have generative political possibilities. In an interview in Viviane Namsté’s (2011) book Sex Change, Social Change, Ross says:

I don’t think intersex people, drag queens and drag kings, transsexual people, women who sleep with genetic lesbians, transgender FTM lesbians who sleep with other lesbians, transvestite prostitutes, and hetersexual cross-dressers have much in common personally, sexually, philosophically, or politically. So as long as we don’t expose our core differences, as long as we don’t show how our respective interests put us in conflict with one another, we won’t be able to identify and work on the little bit that we do share in common and that might possibly call for some form of political coalition. (p. 131)

So for me, reading a zine made by and for trannssexual people and communities has offered some insight into the specific, grassroots-level issues that can be erased in a gender studies classroom. I hope that digitizing these zines and making them available to undergraduates and other researchers will help to make more transsexual writings available to researchers, especially writings by those who are excluded from publishing in traditionally academic venues.

References:

Namaste, V. (2011). Sex change, social change: Reflections on identity, institutions, and imperialism. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press.

 

 

 

Oral History Podcasting Workshops

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Photograph of students taking part in a podcasting workshop

Stacey Copeland teaching us the basics of radio storytelling.

We are big fans of Morgan M. Page’s One From the Vaults trans history podcast, which brings out “all the dirt, gossip, and glamour from trans history.” Her work is a great example of how the podcast form can enliven public history, a project we are trying to emulate here at the Collaboratory.

As part of our Scholars in Residence Digital Collections lab, we’re learning how to make radio documentaries using the oral history tapes we have been digitizing. Stacey Copeland, instructor at Ryerson University, has been workshopping the basics of storytelling and audio editing with us. Students will be working in pairs with audacity, and basic digital audio recorders, to create a podcasts for each of the three lab projects: the “Not a Place on the Map” Desh Pardesh Oral History Project, the Mirha-Soleil Ross archives, and the Foolscap Oral History Project (Details on all three here).  Each podcast will give visitors to our digital collections a short, engaging intro to the materials in the collection. Ideally we hope they can become additional resources for classrooms wanting to use these digital collections.

Our hope is that making radio documentaries will also be an exercise in thinking about how to narrativize oral history materials. One thing we struggle with, like many digital history projects, is that most online users are not interested in listening to an entire two-hour oral history interview. What kinds of digital models, storytelling techniques, and curatorial approaches might we use to engage users with these audio materials in ways that are consistent with online media’s timescales? How can we make oral histories useful for digital collections users, so that all our work digitizing audio tapes actually leads to users hearing these stories? Our hope is that developing podcasts becomes one way to do this kind of engagement.

New Lab Projects Update

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We’ve just updated our projects pages with details about the digital collections we are building right now as part of our intensive, four-week Digital Collections Lab for undergraduate students.

The projects are:

1) The Mirha-Soleil Ross Archives

2) “Not a Place on the Map.” Digital Collection for Desh Pardesh Festival oral history project, partnership with the South Asian Visual Arts Centre

3) Foolscap Oral History Project

We’ll be posting lots of updates on the lab here, and on our Twitter and Facebook. First off, a shot of our gorgeous wall calendar. We went full analog for this one, animating the lab space and keeping each of the three teams informed of what everyone else is doing. Thanks to CLGA volunteer Hazel Meyer for help taping these (almost) straight lines.

Photo of a large wall Calendar for Scholars in Residence Digital Collections Lab at Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives. Made of yellow tape against a white wall and filled in using post-it notes and other stick-on papers.

Wall Calendar for Scholars in Residence Digital Collections Lab at Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives.

Month-Long Intensive Undergrad Digital Collections Lab

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We have been eagerly prepping to welcome five new undergraduate researchers to the Collaboratory team for the Month of May. Thanks to generous support from the Jackman Humanities Institute’s Scholars in Residence program, we will be running an intensive, Digital Collections Lab out of the CLGA for four weeks. Students will build three new digital collections documenting art and activist work by queer, trans, and people of colour in Toronto. We’ll be introducing the students and each project in detail over the next two weeks, but for now, here is a preview of each project and the background readings students will be doing to prep for the lab. Together we will digitize new materials, write metadata, research, curate, and build these digital collections using the CLGA’s Omeka site. Students will be introduced to critical issues in queer, transfeminist, and P.O.C.-centred Digital Humanities, and practice making online content as a scholarly practice.

Undergraduate “Scholars in Residence” Intensive Digital Humanities Lab

Introductory Reading List

General Trans and Queer Issues in Digitization

Daniel C. Brouwer & Adela C. Licona. 2016. Trans(affective)mediation: feeling our way from paper to digitized zines and back again. Critical Studies in Media Communication 33.1: 70–83, DOI: 10.1080/15295036.2015.1129062

South Asian Visual Arts Centre (SAVAC) “Not a Place on the Map” Desh Pardesh Oral History Project.

These interviews reflect on Toronto’s Desh Pardesh festival (1988–2001), a multidisciplinary arts festival that showcased underrepresented and marginalized voices within the South Asian diaspora. In collaboration with SAVAC, we will produce a digital collection that streams these born-digital interviews with artists and activist of colour, and brings additional context to the interviews through digitized visual materials that document the festival.

Take a look at SAVAC’s website, and in particular, read the “History” page in full.

Sharon Fernandez. 2006. More than Just an Arts Festival: Communities, Resistance, and the Story of Desh Pardesh. Canadian Journal of Communication 31.1 (10 pgs).

Leah Lakshmi Piepznsa-Samarasinha. 2004. Artists, Rebels, Warriors: Desh Pardesh’s Legacy and the Future of Radical South Asian Art. Fuse Magazine 27.4.

Also see additional Desh Pardesh Materials (3 videos and program guide, attached)

Mirha-Soleil Ross Digital Collection

Mirha-Soleil Ross (b. 1969, Montréal) is a transsexual media artist, activist, and sex-worker, who lived in Toronto from the early 1990s until 2008, the period covered by her archives at CLGA. Ms. Ross’ collection provides an unparalleled record of trans art and activist histories in the city and we will be building three digital collections based on these materials: 1) A “Counting Past 2” Collection, documenting this path-breaking transgender arts and culture festival, organized by Ms. Ross and others; 2) A Gendertrash collection, documenting the zine produced by Ms. Ross and Xanthra Mackay; 3) A Yapping Out Loud collection, contextualizing Ms. Ross’s celebrated 2002, one-woman show.

Viviane Namaste. 2005. Beyond Image Content: Examining Transsexuals’ Access to the Media, 51–73. In Sex Change, Social Change: Reflections on Identity, Institutions, and Imperialism. Toronto: Women’s Press.

This Collaboratory/CLGA Blog Post on Processing Ms. Ross’ Collection.

Foolscap Oral History Project

A series of 40 oral history interviews completed by John Grube and Lionel Collier in the early 1980s. The interviews are primarily with gay men who reflect on life in Toronto in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. We will be producing a digital collection based on these recently digitized tapes, which will offer streaming audio and provide background on gay life in the city during this period.

David Churchill. 2004. Mother Goose’s Map: Tabloid Geographies and Gay Male Experience in 1950s Toronto. Journal of Urban History 30.66: 826–852.

Tim McCaskell. 2016. Page 1–73 of Queer Progress: From Homophobia to Homonationalism. Toronto: Between the Lines Press.

John Grube. 1997. ‘No More Shit': The Struggle for Democratic Gay Space in Toronto. In Queers in Space: Communities/Public Places/Sites of Resistance, edited by Gordon Brent Ingram, Anne-Marie Bouthillette, and Yolanda Retter, 127–45. San Francisco: Bay Press.

Digital Collections to get Inspired

Komagata Maru Archive
Provides history on the South Asian diaspora in Canada.

Black Liberation Archive
Uses Neatline, an Omeka plugin that might be useful for some of our digital collections.

AIDS Activist History Project
A recent digital history project that uses the same software (Omeka) that we will be using.