When you put the books together ........
‘When you put the books together in the same room they start talking to each other’ – Sigrid Nielsen, co-founder of Lavender Menace Queer Books Archive.
Lavender Menace, the first queer bookshop in Scotland (known at that time as ‘lesbian and gay’), opened in 1982. The shop sold hundreds of openly queer titles being produced by new gay and feminist publishers – and later by mainstream publishing companies. It also created safe space for the community and hosted queer author events, launches and parties.
In 1987 the shop expanded and re-launched as West & Wilde Bookshop. In 1997, like many queer booksellers and presses worldwide, it closed due to changes in the publishing industry.
After the success of James Ley’s 2016 play about the shop, Love Song to Lavender Menace, founders Bob Orr and Sigrid Nielsen reopened Lavender Menace in 2019 as a popup bookshop with a new project – to create a queer books archive, preserving copies of out of print queer books and set up a database to list queer books and record readers’ views and stories about them.
As a result of the generosity of The National Lottery Heritage Fund, they have recently expanded their programme to include many new projects. Edinburgh Art Festival are collaborating with Lavender Menace as part of their work with artist Sean Burns, which includes an event hosted by Sigrid and Bob to reflect upon personal and political experiences of HIV in Edinburgh during the 1980s and ’90s. This discussion will explore the personal experiences of inhabitants of Fairy Heights – the colloquial names given to a housing block in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket area – where several queer people lived in the 1990s and ’00s.
Illustrated by Cat Gordon
“As an artist who is driven by the desire to tell stories, my stand alone pieces consist of densely filled compositions with lots of elements. I use these as a base to weave narratives into, showing multiple different interactions, relationships and ideas within one piece.
For this project, I knew that I needed to tell the story of Lavender Menace Returns and showcase the different characters you could meet when you spend time at queer archives. The characters emerging from the books represent different parts of queer history, from lesbian bikers to non-binary icon, Joan of Arc, there is a wealth of experiences and stories to uncover.
I wanted to create a dynamic scene in which the books come to life, each one part of an important narrative that links queer history together. I also wanted to use bright, joyful colours to create an eye-catching piece and show the joy that can be found within this community.”
Visit Cat’s website | @catgordonillustration