Sharon Hayes exhibition at the Common Guild

Published

1-JEANNINE

Emma Brand
Writer

Sharon Hayes is an American artist whose work often investigates the function of the individual voice within historical and political history. These voices are most commonly on the periphery, with this work focusing on female, black, and transgender voices. In My Little Corner of the World, Anyone Would Love You, focuses mainly on archival material of the lesbian and gay liberation, women’s liberation, and the conversation that evolved into transgender liberation between 1955-1977. This video installation provides a face to the very personal history left behind by these movements. By creating this work she reaches out to the community, not as a hero wanting to save them, but as an ally keen on hearing and appreciating their voices.

The title is a poetic gesture to the overall themes of the work. It is primarily a conversation with a historically oppressed group of people through the use of archival material. Hayes refuses to position her subjects as artifacts, a tendency often seen in the broader historical traditions of archiving. Instead, she hands us a mixture of personal narratives full of emotion and intention. The empathy, which is tough to find when dealing with textual writing and reading, Hayes creates by putting a face to the words. She masterfully places the peripheral history within the wider cultural values as well as their narrative in conjunction to a broader history.

The work focuses on the functionality of materials such as magazines, journals and newsletters; Hayes explores the purpose of individual writing and reading and how this plays into a larger political discourse and identity. By bringing archival materials into a more contemporary context, she is showing that the identity of these groups are still there, still wanting to be heard.

The starkness of the rooms in relation to light directs all of your attention to the video, to the sounds and words that are being played out in front of you. This also means that the presence of this group is unavoidable within the space. This is done with purpose, as Hayes focuses on feminine visibility, something so often held back in favour of a more masculine viewpoint in broader history and within notable archival material.

The rooms link in their subject matter, showing a continuous exploration of all the different identities that make up these liberation groups. Most importantly, Hayes shows the complexities within the movements. She presents intricate ways of being in the community and perceiving it. She champions the archival format and shows the significance of the history, the fight and the struggles that these people have gone through. What I particularly loved was that each person shown was clearly individual; they did not adhere to particular tropes or assumptions about the community.

This exhibition presents various faces to a group so often left in the shadows, where their stories and historical texts are usually left out of broader cultural history. Hayes demonstrates that although these groups have been marginalised their issues are not buried. The mix of subtlety, curation, and the engaging content coalesce to make this work so successful in its intentions.

The exhibition runs from 8 October- 4 December 2016.