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Unboxed: Transgender in a Gay Museum?

18. January 2019 – 1. March 2019

This exhibition is an invitation to the wider public to engage in an ongoing process of surveying trans* related material in the collections of the SMU.

Unboxed shows how objects arrived, how they were documented, and put on display. The exhibition makes use of a range of archival materials including photographs, letters, personal scrapbooks and art works. Some sources, such as those from the Charlotte von Mahlsdorf collection, are well documented. Other collections have no documentation at all, leaving us unable to know about the lived realities and experiences of the people depicted. In some cases, Unboxed reveals detailed histories of trans* people in the archive, in others it points out gaps and invisibilities.

The exhibition shows these objects in order to investigate the SMU’s archival practice. Can its archive as a place where meaning seems fixed and people come to seek out ‘truths’ be challenged to accommodate new voices and perspectives? Can archivists reveal trans* narratives without breaking up collections? And how do they deal with changing terminology?

Unboxed offers several impulses for visitors to engage with the objects and offer their own interpretations. Some of these materials (those not donated by known trans-identified individuals) have been categorized using a cis gaze. Furthermore, this project has been conceived and developed by cis scholars at an institution that has been perceived as trans-exclusionary. We hope to create some space in this exhibition for trans* communities to talk back to existing structures and intervene in the current archival practices of the Museum. These feedbacks and dialogues will be included in the ongoing (re)cataloguing of the SMU’s trans* collections.

Opening: Friday, January 18th, 2019 at 7 pm

Dr. Sebastian Felten works as a lecturer in history at the University of Vienna. For the past 12 months, he has been cataloguing trans materials as a volunteer at the Schwules Museum.

Dr. Rebecca Kahn is a researcher in Digital Humanities at the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society in Berlin.