Within the custodianship of a collection or an archive, there are many complexities to consider. Once someone sets about organizing and classifying an archive they must make sure it is stored well, as this can be a paramount concern for the life of the collection; in order to avoid damaging the collection, each item should be kept in a separate container and stored in suitable moisture and air conditions. As such, a collection is created simply by keeping.
The Arthur Leahy Collection
In the case of the Arthur Leahy Collection (which is now one piece of the larger Cork LGBT Archive), it was created unintentionally and is made up of organisational documents and articles from the community groups he was a part of. Leahy, like many collectors, didn’t have an original intent when comprising his collection but understood that it would have value.
The image to the right is how Leahy’s collection was stored before Orla Egan began her work on it. As is visible, the materials are often stored in unsuitable ways. As a result of this, not only is the archivist, historian, or developer of the archive responsible for the organisation of the material they are often also responsible for rescuing the materials from the conditions they have been kept.
Orla Egan is currently developing a Cork LGBT Digital Archive to preserve, store, share and display information in relation to the rich history of the LGBT community in Cork. However, the Cork LGBT Archive is a record of not only the LGBT Community activism in Cork but of various other community groups to which it was inherently linked, e.g. Women’s Rights Groups etc. Orla Egan is maintaining and cataloguing the contents which have been collected over the past 35 years.
Amongst the uncatalogued boxes of documents pertaining to the organization and running of these groups are the ephemeral traces of how these groups spread awareness of their existence, the posters, flyers and leaflets that were used; to advertise organisational meetings, to highlight social issues, as well as to welcome those interested to various social gatherings. These ephemeral items can be used alongside organisational documents to directly place their historical timeline; however this does not answer the questions associated with the physical experiences of those involved in the production and sharing of these ephemera, of how they were used to ‘encode space‘.
It is worth looking at how posters such as this would have typically been made.
Handmade and then ‘photocopied’ using xerography technology (hence, the dominant black used for the text and the imagery) this made the posters cheaper to produce. This could be suggestive of issues at play within these community groups working towards social change, issues relating to funding and financing. Looking at the image on the right we also see suggestions of the importance of privacy for the members and those getting in touch, the P.O. Box number which is given allows anonymity for the collective to the point that no specific street address is attached to the group.
When looking at another image which was taken in the Cork LGBT Archive of a poster for Gay Pride similar issues are identifiable. This poster is full of ambiguity; most noticeably the image does not have a location, any event details – other than the dates ‘Gay Pride’ will occur – are omitted and no contact details are given. This raises questions. Is it, that all the information needed for the group to communicate this event was the dates given, or is it, that the safeties of those involved were at risk?
Traditionally badges were a very useful communication tool for community groups such as LGBT rights activists, they deliver a quick, coherent message using symbols and memorable designs.According to Tamsin Spargo, some of the symbols used are significant as they demonstrate the transgression of the community, re-forming symbols which originated as homophobic iconography.
To illustrate, the pink triangle which started as a symbol of oppression of homosexuals in concentration camps, whereby homosexuals would have to wear the symbol to identify themselves to others is then transformed and used widely in LGBT ephemera as a symbol for standing up to oppression and fighting against intolerance. The image below shows this in action. The Cork LGBT Archive includes a box of badges, 37 to be exact, and of these 37 badges 21, display this pink triangle in their ‘Campaign for Lesbian and Gay Rights’. A note-worthy point, one which highlights the importance of ephemera in community activism, and the breadth of communities that exist in Cork would be the remainder of badges. Badges which campaign for social change such as – the Anti-Apartheid Movement and Irish Anti-Nuclear Campaign.