Interview with the UK LEATHER AND FETISH ARCHIVE
“This is a history that needs to be recorded to empower current and future generations”
published on 27 September 2020
Hello Stefan! You work for the UK LEATHER AND FETISH ARCHIVE. Thanks for having you for this interview!
You’ve got a wide range of different art works in your archive: from single artists like „Matt Spike“, to clubs like „MSC Bournemouth“, to magazines like „Skin Two“. Can you please describe how it all started?
Well, I’ve always been very strong in my resolve that we need a venue in the UK where the history, heritage and culture of fetish, kink, BDSM, rubber, leather and much more can not only be documented and archived but also celebrated and made accessible to everyone.
It all started in 2016, when I received a call from a gentleman in Birmingham who had been heavily involved in a gay/bi leather fetish club called Midland Link MSC. They were called Motor Sports Clubs to hide the true intention of the group, although many of the members did like motorbikes too! He was downsizing and had the records, posters, newsletters, artefacts, trophies, badges, t-shirts and other material documenting the history of the club from 1974 and needed to find a home for it, after being turned away by other several larger archives. The collection was a treasure trove. We shortly received calls from similar groups in London, East Anglia, Scotland and elsewhere seeking a home for records of other clubs, and the UK Leather Archive was established. It immediately began to be used by researchers and members of the groups, and we now regularly have visits, open days and events celebrating this important sub-culture of UK Queer History.
Inevitably, we quickly came to the conclusion that the collection needed to be expanded and to cover the whole of fetish and kink experiences and history in the UK, regardless of gender and sexuality. We have subsequently received generous and wonderful deposits of material from Miss Kim and Club Rub, Mistress Absolute, Club Subversion and London Fetish Weekend and many other individuals and organisations. A large library of books, pamphlets and magazines has also been amassed with material ranging from the turn of the 20th century to the modern day. Thanks to the generosity of others, the UK Leather and Fetish Archive was born, although we still have a long way to go!!
Why is it important to archive fetish art material?
The history of fetish and kink is one that most people would rather not see. I remember a comment I received: ‘I don’t know why you’re creating an archive for those people. It’s the kind of thing people should keep to themselves!’ That was two years into curating the Fetish Archive at Bishopsgate Institute and was the first comment like this I had received. I expected it much earlier. Little did the person know, I was one of ‘those people’ and the comment did nothing but strengthen my resolve. This is a history that needs to be recorded to empower current and future generations that is not wrong or abnormal to feel the way you do and there have been kinky people doing kinky things to each other since the beginning of time. Unfortunately, we are also a community with its liberties and rights continuously under threat, whether it be the closing of clubs or internet censorship, and I hope that having an established UK Fetish Archive in a UK public institution might act in some way to counteract this.
I often feel disappointed that the Archive wasn’t started 5, 10 or 20 years ago and rarely a week goes by when I don’t hear of a sad tale of collections of books, magazines, photos, art or general filth that ended up in the skip as there was nowhere for it to go. The many people who would have been incredible to interview are now also long gone and I imagine the stories we have lost. Now that we have the Archive, we can try to make sure that doesn’t happen. Finally, the archive is everyone’s archive. I have worked in many places where it’s only the ‘big’ names or organisations that are considered worthy of being archived. That’s not the case with the UK Fetish Archive and we will welcome donations from anybody who wants to add their own items, whether it be digital photos, a bit of gear, a club flyer or anything they feel is important in their kink history.
Can you give an insight on some treasures you have in your archive?
We really are honored to hold some absolute treasures in the collection already. We hold original pamphlets, magazines and artwork stretching back to the 1950s and showing work by artists such as Eric Stanton, John Willie, Gene Bilbrew, and an incredible set of 200 photographs of bondage artwork by an artist named ‘Mory’. Then there’s the leathers, toys and truncheon from a member of 1990s group, the Rebel Dykes. Recent new additions include the extensive archive of gay comic artist Bill Ward and erotic photographer China Hamilton. A personal favourite is a wonderful expose done by the News of the World in 1979 on the gay leather club MSC London. The reporter ‘Trevor’ obtains the necessary passes and follows a late-night throng of leather men to a back-alley doorway. To quote Trevor, ‘It was 11.45pm and we were about to witness the most horrifying scenes of homosexual depravity in a cellar packed by about 100 men. The atmosphere was frankly terrifying’. Poor Trevor sat through the whole thing. The gentleman who deposited it claimed it was the best PR they ever had…’We got 200 calls asking about when the next meeting was the morning it hit the newspaper stands’. I also love the wonderful flyers for clubs that the archive holds, such as Der Putsch, Chain Reaction, Severin’s Kiss, Club Rub, Club Subversion…and more recent wonderful donations from Klub Verboten, Club Pedestal and more.
Which material do you wish to have for your archive?
There are so many things that I wish we had! More material from 1940s to the 1960s and earlier would be fantastic, and, of course, I would love to make sure that the archive represents the true diversity of gender, ethnicity and sexuality in the scene. I’m also looking forward to more furniture and clothing coming in to the archive, though I might have to get more storage space!
Sometimes there are crossovers between kink art and mainstream culture. How do you think about that?
I think any increased visibility is good for the kink community. I can remember similar crossovers of fetish/pop culture (although perhaps not to the same degree) with Madonna’s ‘Sex’ book in the 1990s and Jean Paul Gaultier appearing in Skin Two. There was also Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood in the punk era and even the use of leatherman/’clone’ imagery with Freddie Mercury, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Rob Halford of Judas Priest. There has always seemed to be a close link between popular culture and kink.
Societies in Europe are liberalised, more individual freedom ist granted these days: thias has effects on the way of consumption, the connection between artist and recipient, and the role of fetish art. What’s in your point of view the biggest change in recent years in this field?
I think the internet has been the real game changer. For several generations past, any kind of kink or fetish is now just a touch of a button away and the networking this has afforded the community has been invaluable. I remember the first time going onto dial up internet to do some ‘homework’ after the parents had gone to bed…mind blown! It’s now far easier to find imagery of whatever fetish turns you on and someone else who likes it too. It’s a joy to see more and more people empowered, emboldened and unashamed to explore their fantasies and fetishes in a safe, sane and consensual way and I feel honoured that the UK Leather and Fetish Archive can be there to record and document it all.
Which future aims do you have for your archive?
We finally have an archive in a stable and supportive institution dedicated to making sure that fetish and kink history not only survives and is documented but also celebrated and available to all. This is a community archive and needs your support. We are always looking for further material and would love to archive you and our collective kink history! Whether it be a flyer, a photo or a bit of kit, all of our histories are important and there’s a box waiting with your name on it. Kinky people have always been here and it’s so important that our history is here to entertain, empower and inspire future and current generations. We need to make this happen, so get in touch! The UK Leather and Fetish Archives is open at Bishopsgate Institute Monday to Friday, 10am to 5.30pm (with a late night on Wednesday until 8pm), and no appointment or ID is necessary.
Stefan, thanks for this interview!
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