Queering Australian museums: Collections, exhibition, management and connections (2018; forthcoming). Doctor of Philosophy, University of Sydney.
Queering Australian Museums addresses the problem of how queer or LGBTIQ communities can be further included in Australian museums on their own terms. It looks at four areas of museums—management, collections, exhibitions, and connections with audiences and communities—to consider barriers and enablers of queer inclusion in these often heteronormative institutions. Case studies of queer-inclusive efforts in public Australian museums are interpreted from institutional and community perspectives drawn from 25 interviews. The interviews are put into critical conversation with archival material and literature from museum studies and the emerging field of queer museology.
The study evaluates the visibility of the history, cultures, and identities of queer communities in Australian museums. It establishes that many public representations of queerness have been driven by the efforts of LGBTIQ communities, particularly through community-based heritage organisations. It also gathers and reflects upon examples of critical queer inclusion that have occurred in public museums. Using these exemplars, it argues that queer communities should be empowered to make decisions about their own heritage with the support of museums and their unique attributes; that individual and organisational leadership, involving queer individuals and allies, should be brought to bear on this task; and that effectively navigating the tensions between museums and queer communities requires mutual understanding and accommodation. Through the process of queering the museum, it is suggested, each party might be transformed, leading to LGBTIQ diversity being valued as an integral part of society.
The thesis addresses the gap in Australian museum studies literature on queer or LGBTIQ inclusion compared with Euro-American settings. It further contributes original case studies to the international field of queer museology, and to museum studies literature on including and empowering diverse communities. In recognising both the agency of queer communities but also engaging with the language and conventions of museums, it constructs a distinct account of how to navigate the historical tensions between the two. It thereby aims to enrich museum offerings for all audiences on the terms of those erstwhile excluded.
'Co-existence and collaboration: Australian AIDS quilts in public museums and community collections. Museum and Society, 16(1), 41-55
Abstract: The Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt is arguably the most recognizable artefact of the AIDS Crisis in Australia. Consisting of over 800 panels, most of the quilt is now divided between a public museum (Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney) and a community organization (AIDS Memorial Candlelight Vigil & Quilt Project, Melbourne). This paper compares the accessibility and meaning of the quilt depending on its location. In doing so, it argues that neither is a ‘better’ custodian for these objects as their differences are also the source of their unique contribution to the care and interpretation of the quilts. The tensions that exist between museums and LGBTIQ communities were exposed when the proper residence of one of the panels was disputed. I use this case to suggest that equitable collaboration can only occur if museums take more cues from communities.
'Mediating queer controversy in Australian museum exhibitions' (2016). Historic Environment, 28(3), 36-48.
Abstract: The phrase ‘museums are safe spaces for unsafe ideas’ belies the reality that museums are often wary of discussing unsafe ideas, not to mention queer ideas which often fall under this classification. Yet the phrase follows from the aspiration that museums can do better—that they can be socially responsive and responsible, and that they can seek to include the diversity of communities they serve. The three exhibitions discussed are moments where their host institutions pursued the implications of the phrase leading to queer inclusiveness but also to controversy: Mapplethorpe at the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, in 1995; Becoming Visible at the Constitutional Museum, Adelaide, in 1982; and Prejudice and Pride at the Australian Museum, Sydney, in 1994. Controversy almost inevitably follows from unsafe and queer ideas, the issue becoming how to mediate rather than avoid it. The above museum moments together suggest directions for best museum and heritage practice based on progressive organisational cultures, strong leadership and openness to experimentation. In actively encouraging these three elements, museums can reaffirm and defend themselves as safe spaces for unsafe ideas.