Disruptive Paradigms: Challenging the heteronormative frame in museums

By Maria-Anna Tseliou.

Published by The International Journal of Social, Political and Community Agendas in the Arts

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

In response to a range of political and legal developments intended to tackle discrimination on the grounds of gender and sexual orientation and to promote social cohesion, equality and inclusion for diverse communities, museums (in common with other institutions in the public sphere) have been experimenting with opportunities to contribute to these social goals. However, their attempts to challenge conventions around the presentation of narratives related to gender and sexual diversity have not always been easy and there remains uneven support amongst professionals for engaging with this topic. This situation is explained, in part, by the influence of heteronormativity (Warner 1993). Research in different settings has shown that the prevalence of a heteronormative frame appears to exert a powerful influence over the ways in which concepts such as gender and sexuality are represented. In this paper, the focus will be placed upon the representation of sexuality, and in particular, of queer sexualities in the UK museum scene. During the last decade, especially since 2006, the UK museums have witnessed significant efforts for increasing the visibility of queer culture in their programmes. Most of the projects, to date, have followed a similar pattern; an exhibition in a contained space, presented separately from the rest of the museums’ collections and for a limited period of time. By drawing upon the research I have carried out with two case study exhibitions—‘Hitched, Wedding Clothes and Customs’ and ‘Queering the Museum’—this paper will discuss the interpretive tools employed in these projects and then consider the museums’ potential to challenge and transgress gender and sexual conventions. Finally, I conclude with some thoughts on what new possibilities might be opened up for gender and sexual minorities’ future representation in UK museums.

Keywords: Museums, Heteronormativity, LGBTQ, Disruptive Paradigm

The International Journal of Social, Political and Community Agendas in the Arts, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp.1-12. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 387.773KB).

Maria-Anna Tseliou

PhD Student (3rd Year), School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK

Maria-Anna Tseliou, doctoral candidate in the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, United Kingdom. The provisional title of her thesis is “Museums and heteronormativity; Exploring the effect of inclusive curatorial practices”. Her general research interests are minorities and human rights’ representation in museums. She has given papers at several conferences and symposiums in Oxford, Paris, Leicester, Cambridge, Liverpool and Taipei, delivered Think Tank sessions to Postgraduates, co-edited the volume of Museological Review; Conference Edition 2012, Issue 16 and the e-book Gender and Love: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, and worked as a Research Assistant on a variety of projects for the Research Centre for Museums & Galleries, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and London Science Museum. Currently she is working as Research Assistant for the iSay Network Project at the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester.