Category Archives: Work

Twilight People: Stories of Gender and Faith Beyond the Binary

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This time last year I was deep in a volunteer project; this year I’m freelancing and full-time working… Here’s a quick recap on that project and what it meant to me. 

Cast yourself back to February 2016… for LGBT History Month, I was part of a brilliant team of volunteers and professionals to realise a temporary photography and oral history exhibition called Twilight People. It featured beautiful photographs by Christa Holka, media by Susanne Hakuba, graphics by Lai Couto, and took place at Islington Museum. Subsequently, the exhibition has toured to Coventry, Manchester and had a pop up event at the LGBT Police Conference at the Guildhall in London.

The exhibition features intimate, face-to-face encounters with people who are at the intersection of gender and faith. Pictured holding an object that means something precious to their identity and faith journey, they are also accompanied by their own words taken directly from their oral histories. Together, they give a powerful insight into faiths and identities that are often not seen as compatible, and confounds many stereotypes. For some, faith is the way they have come to terms with their identity; for others, being accepted by a religious community has been a positive marker for them in their transition.

I was honoured to be involved in such a project, not least because I got to work with Surat-Shaan Knaan, whose energy knows no bounds. With my co-curator Sean Curran, and the fabulous volunteers who took part in workshops and played a part in scripting the exhibition, we had such fun leading workshops, choosing images and creating a beautiful space, so here’s a few of the photographs from the install and launch.

The Heritage Lottery Fund, who kindly provided the money to be able to carry out the project, asked me to write a blog post for the project which you can read here.

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Bonfires and Billhooks: a weekend in Norfolk

“Ours was the marsh country”, writes Dickens in Great Expectations. I always think of that when I head north out of London. A few weekends back I visited friends on their beautiful farm in south Norfolk, which has a woodland attached. It was a working weekend, which meant that we had to earn our keep by chopping trees, hauling debris, digging the garden and feeding the chickens. But I did manage to sneak away on the frosted Sunday morning to take a few photographs up in the wood. As usual, we finished up with a beer in front of the bonfire.

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Rainbow Jews; the exhibition

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Last year, I started working with Rainbow Jews, a pioneering oral history project supported by Liberal Judaism  that tells the untold story of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jews in the UK. On 2nd February, we installed the fruits of our labour at the London School of Economics, in their Atrium Gallery; and on February 6th we held a launch event – which, despite tube stries and dreadful weather, was incredibly well attended.

For this exhibition, the Rainbow Jews team gathered long-form interviews in which people speak openly about what it is like to be both Jewish and LGBT. These oral histories are an ongoing project for Rainbow Jews and those interested in contributing should get in touch.

Many of these people had never spoken out about their faith and sexuality before, though there were others who were known for their ground-breaking visibility in being both gay and Jewish – such as gay rabbis Lionel Blue (listen to his Desert Island Discs) and Mark Solomon, and lesbian rabbis Sheila Shulman and Elli Tikvah Sarah. It became clear that the networks and support groups founded by Jewish LGBT people were vital to provide a new kind of community for those who felt on the outside of more traditional faith and family structures. Though I knew little about the Jewish faith, and even less about LGBT Jews, the stories drawn out through these interviews are universally compelling. Throughout the process, we aimed to speak not only to those with a specialist understanding of the subject matter, but also to those who knew very little.

The exhibition is running for a month (open Mon-Fri 10-6) and finishes on 28 February. A series of rainbow-coloured panels, which reflect in the highly polished floor, lead the viewer through the story. Two showcases hold objects, such as ephemera and memorabilia, as well as more substantial items such as the AIDS quilt. Several media points along the wall allow audiences to hear from the interviewees in more detail.

The panels are rich in content and suit in-depth reading, as the real assets of this exhibition are the voices of the interviewees. Their honesty, humour, bravery, anger, fear, relief and celebration are overwhelmingly apparent as they describe how in course of a single lifetime, to be Jewish and LGBT has gone from something completely unacknowledged, to something celebrated – with all the attendant struggles for personal and public acceptance that this kind of social history usually entails.

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2014-02-02 15.31.46 2014-02-02 15.30.36 2014-02-02 15.30.08My role in making the Rainbow Jews exhibition happen was as a volunteer curator, content developer and exhibition coordinator. I worked with the project manager, Surat Knan, and her team of volunteers who wrote exhibition script, conducted many of the interviews and assisted with specific research tasks. Graphic design was by the superb Urjuan Toosy, and the exhibition booklet (more on this soon!) was created with help from wonderful Kate Brangan.

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Rainbow Jews – new project!

I’m thrilled to be using my exhibition development knowledge in a volunteer, “coal-face” context, working with the Rainbow Jews, organised by Surat Knan at Liberal Judaism. Although this is a totally new content world for me,  I’m hoping  I can be useful in helping to develop and deliver the temporary exhibition next February at the London School of Economics.

The exhibition is about opening people’s eyes to the intersection of Jewish and LGBT identities, more specifically, about how having a Jewish and an LGBT identity makes life doubly complex. The stories we’re telling are often fraught with struggle and emotional conflict, and strike at the heart of what it means to belong and feel happy in oneself, while at the same time answering to the expectations of others. A dedicated team has been collecting oral histories and filmed interviews from people with stories to tell.

To find out more or to get involved yourself, take a look at the Rainbow Jews website. I’ll be posting about this in more detail as we get stuck in!

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Marsh autumn

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I feel like I’ve been living under a stone since I got back from holiday… Work and fun has been eating up my spare hours, and this morning I stepped out onto the balcony with my cup of tea and realise autumn is HERE. There was a thick layer of mist across the football pitches, a strong low sunlight, golden patches among the foliage and brrr was it chilly on my bare feet!
I’m so thrilled that I now live somewhere where I can see all this happening from my doorstep. A few days ago, some ducks flew past two storeys down, and I was given a rare glimpse of these birds from above instead of the landlubbing view we humans customarily have.

Like many people, I’ve always loved autumn for that back-to-school feeling. Tell me I’m not the only one to get a bit nostalgic for all the supermarket adverts showing rosy cheeked five-year-olds in grey shorts and navy pullovers clutching lunchboxes and shivering on the school run. I feel all sorts of new motivations at this time of year – knit more, bake bread, have people round, run in the dark, go for long walks on the weekend, learn a new skill. It’s the beginning of my year still, even though I’m no longer a student (and haven’t been for, eek, two years!).

I’ve got a whole bunch of blog posts about the walk I undertook through Holland and Germany, with heaps of photographs, but I’m going to have to wait until work dies down again.

How on earth do you bloggers get all your life done and written about?? I can barely keep up!

1. Breakfast

2. Yoghurt, coffee, juice

3. Sunset on Wilton Way

4. Touches of gold among the green

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How to write a mission statement (for your blog)

Jenny of Dinner, A Love Story, wrote this piece: her rules of blogging. Lesson 2: write your mission. Work out exactly what your blog is going to deliver, write it down, include it in your ‘About’ section, and it will help not only you, the writer, in determining your content, but also your readers, helping them to navigate and understand your content better.

So I started brainstorming what I wanted for this blog, which is not something I’ve really thoughts about, as my current content (at the grand total of 24 posts! whoop! yeah! writing prizes for me! ha) probably shows.

This blog was started just to get me writing. It was to help me overcome the sheer embarrassment of seeing my words OUT THERE. It was to help me practice a craft. Publicly. Like doing squat jumps in front of fifty apartment windows on a Sunday. It was meant to be a kick up the bum. It wasn’t meant to be for readers.

So why do it publicly? Good question. Well, it does have a bit of the exhibitionist about it. But I know that if I write something on my computer, or in a notebook, I leave it in draft. I never work at it. I never have the pressure of a readership. Online, getting noticed big time is the hard part, but getting a few readers here and there? Not that hard. I even started getting the odd comment, the odd ‘like’. You mean someone bothered to read though my stuff and click ‘like’? Wow. That makes me want to get better.

So I did want a readership. Of sorts.

I also knew I remembered things better when I wrote about them – hence my recent posts about theatre performances I went to: In the beginning was the end and The Great Gatsby. But they weren’t very popular. They were too long and, to be honest, a bit poncey. And who was I, to mouth off or delineate in prosy ways the merits and faults of works of art that actually made it onto a stage?

Right then. What is this blog for? A meandering account of me, in London, being interested in “culture” and going to a few things when I could afford them? Hardly the stuff of dreams.

So, today I started thinking about how I could make this blog a bit special, a bit different. Objectively I tried to find out whether I was interesting enough to support this by thinking of things that maybe I knew a bit more about than everyone else (inspired by Jeff Goins’ blog advice: be a resource). Then I tried to think of the things that people marvel at when I bring them up in conversation, when they say “Gosh that’s so interesting”. (This sometimes happens, even to me!) Then I tried to remember the things I was good at. And I started to make a list…

But…! This post has already wittered on enough about me (I’m truly sorry for that, another bad blogging indicator). So the list is going to wait a day or two.

And you? Have you determined a mission for your blog? Was that the whole point for you? Or did you just start writing hoping something would turn up? Can you list the things you know about easily? Let me know!

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