Personable, passionate and clearly very involved in his topic Dr. Cole’s talk for the Friends of Te Papa referenced the politics, identities, artists, cultural environment and influences of fashion in  apparel both designed by and worn by gay society.

His historical perspective focused on the V&A ‘Street Style- Sidewalk To Catwalk’ exhibition held at the V&A, London, in 1994 and made connections to a NYC exhibition 20 years later – ‘Closet to the Catwalk- A Queer History of Fashion’. Dr.Cole raised and discussed issues in relation to these two exhibitions.  He made comment on the process and progress of general support for gay and lesbian inclusion in the broader museum world of collecting and showing. Views affirming that tokenism is preferable to non- existence and the developing presence of more explicit subject matter as acceptance and valuing of contributions made to museum collections were fascinating. That museums have a mandate to represent all people and that prevailing attitudes and latent or explicit homophobia has no place in the role and responsibility of museum curation seems a given in 2019 but the construction of the historical and academic change in institutional attitudes was compelling listening.

Dr. Cole spoke of museum collecting policies and referenced specific practices. There was commendation for the role of Brighton as a Mecca for the gay community in England and for the Brighton Museum collections, particularly the Gluck collection and ‘Queer Looks’ – an exhibition with oral stories and interviews were included and current. The role of the Museum of London  exhibitions – Peter Beattie (1985) and Francis Golding (A sartorial biography ‘Wear it Out’ 2013) as well as a V&A Exhibition ‘Club To Catwalk’ 1980’s’ Exhibition in which the High Camp section particularly succeeded  placed the question of policies in museum’s collection practices more significantly and successfully centre stage.

Dr. Cole’s talk was factual and reportive but ended on a note of doubt. Two more recent exhibitions – one  in Boston ‘Gender Bending’ and the Metropolitan New York ‘Camp’ seem not to have hit the mark. This brings  the research and progress of this area of museum policy and curatorial breadth back into question and very much into present day focus. Fascinating insights, extensive personal knowledge and huge commitment to the improvement needed in this field drove a fast hour and certainly sent me away to Google for more! Thank you .

Deirdre Tarrant
Member, Friends of Te Papa


Pictured L to R: Pamela Church Gibson, Dr. Shaun Cole, Dr Jo Turney