Session 21: Race, Gender, and Archives

Moderator: David Kim (Occidental College)
Out of the Archival Closet: Opening the Historical Record to Black Lesbian Lives / Dalena Hunter (UCLA)

This presentation will present findings gathered via ethnographic methods for the dissertation. The dissertation explores how archives capture black lesbian experiences and how those materials are subsequently used. It employs comparative case study design at June Mazer Lesbian Archives, Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, and Lesbian Herstory Archive and interviews with archivist and researchers. The dissertation asks: how does record keeping culture affect black lesbian presence in archives and how do researchers access black lesbian materials and employ them in their research? The dissertation explores how recordkeeping cultures create or exacerbate silences in the historical record and how scholars navigate gaps when they access black lesbian archival records.

The dissertation asserts that epistemic violence in archival theory and practice can be located and rectified through a reflexive archival practice. Microaggressions, counternarratives, and intersectional identity are borrowed from critical race theory to explore moments of silence in the creation, collection, and activation of archives. The concept, “cultures of dissemblance” is borrowed from black feminist studies to explore how black lesbians react to and/or participate in archival silences. Secondly, the dissertation investigates how researchers navigate silences in the archival record. It hopes to contribute to postmodern archival scholarship and ethnic and gender studies scholarship that explores the connection between dominant historical and cultural narratives and recordkeeping cultures.

Speaking the Unspeakable: Sexual Disclosures in Chicano Oral Archives / Robb Hernandez (UC Riverside)

In 2003, Chon Noriega and Rita Gonzalez published, “An Undocumented History: A Survey of Index Citations for Latino and Latina Artists,” a study which examined three major art history index search engines and commonly used Twentieth Century American art textbooks to identify the Latina/o presence in visual studies scholarship. Their data revealed a more insidious project at work, a project that routinely “undocumented” Latina/o artists in American art history. While this study laid the groundwork for the award-winning book series, A Ver: Revisioning Art History, a series committed to the critical contributions of U.S. Latinas/os in American art and culture, it also revealed that just two artists of Latin American descent were frequently cited in survey textbooks–Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Judith Baca. Although this representation is meager by comparison to the vastness of Latina/o visual expression in general, it is fascinating to note that those artists “documented” were working in gay, lesbian, and feminist modes of address.

While “post-identity” remains an undeniable strategy in Latino contemporary art exhibitions of late, in my talk I want to think through the pervasive role of queerness as an idiom and episteme. That is, how might we explain this phenomenon? What is US Latina/o Art History told through its queer archives of sexual and gender transgression? How can we imagine the field without perpetuating a compulsory heteronormative eye? How do we make space for sexual knowledges and differences that defy salient versions of “gay” and “lesbian” identities? Those that were engendered by barrio speak? By the charla?

To do this, I will foreground my findings when I served as a research associate for the Smithsonian Archives of American Art in 2010. Contracted to develop a digital exhibition in anticipation of the Archivos Virtuales collection’s conversion to a Web 2.0 platform, I fielded over 60 oral history transcripts from U.S. Latina/o artists. What I discovered were the ways in which queerness pervaded these confessional sites shaping the exchange between interviewer/interviewee and the intensifying the gap from which queer sexual knowledge manifests. I attempt to register these curious and haphazard detours, moments in the oral archive when sexual difference is bared, homosexuality encountered, contact zones breeched, and Chicana/o aesthetics interpenetrates queerness brought into relief with audio recordings and interview transcriptions. That is, the way that “other” sexualities interceded and “touched” the early careers of renowned Chicana/o visual artists, such as: Carlos Almaraz, Barbara Carrasco, Harry Gamboa, Jr., Carmen Lomas Garza, Benito Huerta, Luis Jimenez, Gil “Magú” Lujan, and Frank Romero. By stressing these moments, I want to reconsider how US Latina/o art history is written, which archives are appraised, and what vision of Latinidad must not only be seen but also, heard.