Having written the book on queering the museum, Mr Middleton is part of the team that has brought together the National Museum of Australia’s upcoming Night at the Museum: QUEER. STUN’s Hannah Head spoke with Craig Middleton about the upcoming event, creating safe spaces for queer knowledge, and how the NMA is pushing the boundaries as an institution.
The National Museum of Australia’s latest QUEER event is changing the way institutions represent and celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community.
Museums and other similar cultural institutions are often seen as a place of privilege. Only celebrating the most palatable moments of history, and opening its doors to those who will consume the knowledge, without challenging the complex expectations of how one must exist inside the space.
“This is about challenging our assumptions and the expected ways in which people are to interact with museums,” says Senior Curator Craig Middleton.
Co-authoring the book Queering the Museum, Mr Middleton has explored hidden histories and how institutions must better reflect the LGBTQIA+ community.
“Historically, institutions have shied away from telling queer stories or recognising non-traditional identities. It is so exciting to have the NMA engaging with the queer community in this event.”
With Sydney’s 2023 World Pride event around the corner, Mr Middleton and his colleagues saw it as a perfect time to queer-ify the NMA.
“We wanted to build something that was quintessentially queer. We wanted something fun, with dance parties and a local queer DJ, but we wanted a space where we could share knowledge, listen, learn, and have the freedom to play.”
Pushing the envelope of how patron’s commonly interact with museum exhibits, the NMA’s Night at the Museum: QUEER, is built to be unapologetically rainbow.
“Our national historical collection contains so much LGBTQIA+ history. We have pieces from the second ever Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, as well as Ron Muncaster’s fabulous 1994 Mardi Gras award-winning costume ‘Lucille Balls’.”
Costume designer Ron Muncaster competed yearly in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras costume competition. ‘Lucille Balls’ was composed of fibreglass rods, styrofoam balls, and a lot of sequins. The costume was worn by Muncaster’s partner, Jacques Straetmans, in the 1994 Mardi Gras.
Apart from exhibiting moments integral to queer history, the NMA invites all attendees to contribute to a pop-up exhibition.
“We want to gain a crowd-sources perspective of LGBTQ+ history. With many of our patrons bringing lived experience to the event, we want to encourage vulnerability and bring new perspectives to the exhibition.”
Pictured: The holographic shoe from Ron Muncaster’s ‘Lucille Balls’ costume.
The exhibition brings together drag performers, community groups, LGBTQ+ advocacy services, and intersectional experiences to explore what it means to be in the queer community.
“Often institutions fail to create safe spaces for marginalized communities. It is about building something with the community. Not for them. They should have agency over their own story. At NMA, we are simply custodians of donations, we do not own them.”
Mr Middleton also discussed the importance of building an intersectional space.
“Queer, as an identity, is intersectional. Sexuality and gender are only part of how people experience the world. We want to ensure all elements of intersectionality are celebrated.”
With a lineup of First Nations Drag performers, to a panel on experiencing life as a queer person with a disability, Mr Middleton sees the event as a starting point for modern storytelling at the NMA.
“It is time for intersectionality to be explored by our institutions. Though this is the first event, it is definitely not the last. I am so excited to see where this will go.”
Night at the Museum: Queer will take place Friday 10 February from 6pm to 10.30pm.
For the full program and tickets, visit nma.gov.au/queer
Glitter and UV paint to be provided by the museum.