Friday, 31 July 2015

Feminist Archive North (Volunteer Life)

A new section about my different experiences as a volunteer for museums or cultural institutions. This time it is about Feminist Archive North, in Leeds.

For several months, I volunteered as an archivist for Feminist Archive North, a collection of feminist archives created in the 1980s and now located at the University of Leeds.

I first came across FAN while working for the Community Curator at Leeds Art Gallery who mentioned that one of her previous volunteers worked for the FAN. To be honest, I did not know much when I first started, I did study Feminism at uni (for a semester and just an introduction!) but I wasn't sure what I would find in a feminist archive.
I was really surprised by the variety of archive materials, from administrative paperwork to magazines and pictures. Coming from an art history background, I was fascinated by both the story of Feminism and the pictures, especially how funny and inventive they are. My personal project was to work on a charity archive, by sorting out the paperwork and classify each document. It was a really interesting project because I was able to do my own little enquiry, I was in charge of this archive, it was my territory! 

On the other hand, I managed to get involved in the display the FAN was organising for a conference held at the Library of the University of Leeds. The conference, "Engaging the Archive: Women, Gender & Sexuality" (October 2014) organised by Dr Kate Dossett, aimed to share stories, knowledge, and professional practice about women’s history archives in Leeds. The conference gave an overview of how archives could/should engage with women history and could develop new ideas to engage the community with their archives. I was particularly interested by the talk of Fiona Philip about the Pararchive Project which is an online platform in which community groups can create their own archives, either by downloading their archive materials or by using online database and archives.

Let's go back to the display! The material picked by Jalna Hammer (the director of the Feminist Archive North) were mainly magazines and posters, showing the diversity of material hold by the FAN. Some are funny others are more serious but they all use our common history (either Pop culture or recognisable era/events of British history) to highlight women's lives. Feminism should not be perceived as only for well educated women, like it sometimes seems to be, but for everyone. A lot of the magazines were created by working class women, from nurses from the NHS to factory workers both fighting for women rights and a fairer society. Therefore, the images used by women in their magazines are really easy to understand and could speak to a wild audience while having high artistic standard, especially for the covers of "Rib".  

Here are my favourites magazines from the display:

Hope you enjoyed this little tour/personal experience of the FAN. I strongly recommend you to visit the FAN and to engage with their archives, either in your research or with your community group. For more information here are some useful contacts: 

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