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50 Shades Of Discipline Daddies: Chicago’s Leather Museum Diversifies

By Linze Rice | June 29, 2016 5:08am
 The exhibit's curator said she found people of color were present in nearly every facet of LGBTQ leather life from her archival research.
The exhibit's curator said she found people of color were present in nearly every facet of LGBTQ leather life from her archival research.
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Provided/Leather Archives and Museum of Chicago

ROGERS PARK — A new exhibit at the Leather Archives and Museum in Rogers Park seeks to unearth, display and share the contributions made by LGBTQ people of color to Cook County's leather/fetish/kink communities.

The "Excavating Experience" multimedia exhibit uses archival images from the museum, as well as photography, oral histories and artifacts to "serve as a small glimpse into the myriad ways LGBTQ people of color have contributed to the leather community in Cook County,” said Alisa Swindell, curator of the exhibit.

“From forming organizations to being representatives as titleholders to the mere fact of being present, these people have helped to make this community what it is," she said.

Linze Rice chats about diversity in the leather culture.

After the museum received a grant meant to highlight and attract more historical contributions from people of color, Swindell was asked to curate the exhibit.

Despite an overwhelmingly "white face" put forward in mainstream media when it comes to the LGBTQ leather/kink scene (think "Fifty Shades of Grey" or the Village People's leatherman/biker), what Swindell said she found was the opposite.

People from the African-American, Asian, Middle Eastern and other diverse communities are featured in the exhibit.

In every facet of the scene — holding competition titles, owning clubs, performing, DJ-ing, stage work and more — people of color were present in every facet.

"There really wasn't an area in the community that people of color weren't participating in," Swindell said. "So 'presence' is the theme that I'm going with — just people of color have been more present in the leather community than a lot of people often recognize."

A new exhibit at the Leather Archives & Museum in Rogers Park will center around LGBTQ people of color in the Chicago area over the years. [Provided/Leather Archives and Museum of Chicago]

With the exhibit, Swindell said she and the museum hope to attract more artifacts and donations from people of color who have participated in the scene — a task that's so far proven somewhat difficult.

Ticket stubs, business cards, magazine clippings, photos and more are all items of value to the museum's archives, Swindell said, but they're also everyday items people may not realize are of historical worth.

"What you see generally in media, or what comes up in movies like ["Fifty Shades of Grey"] ... a lot of the face that's put forward is a very white face — that's why I say sometimes I think people of color are less likely to think of their personal history as being important enough to contribute."

The exhibit will run from Saturdaya to Jan. 8 at the museum's 6418 N. Greenview Ave. location in Rogers Park. On opening day, the museum will hold a free reception from 5:30-7 p.m., which is open to the public.

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