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Exhibit dates:

Friday, June 22, 2012 to Monday, August 6, 2012

Reception date & time:

Friday, June 22, 7:00pm


Public Sins/Private Desires, celebrates the 20th anniversary of Lynne Fernie and Aerlyn Weissman’s 1992 documentary, Forbidden Love: Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Livesand examines the contradictions, tensions and victories in the daily lives of lesbians during the period from 1950 to 1980. The culmination of several activities seeking the participation of older lesbians in Toronto, the exhibition includes the presentation of the film Forbidden Love and display of related artifacts. Lesbian pulp fiction of the period is used to provoke conversation about the apparently simple dichotomies of femme/butch identities. The installation seeks to document and trouble the records of public and private lives of lesbians in the 1950s, 60s and 70s – and their forbidden loves. Thematic enquiries about love – play – work surface in interviews and prompt questions about degrees of visibility in daily lives. Often the last place to be ‘out’, the work environment rarely supported anything other than a strict heterosexuality. In querying the complexity of lived experience that could shift from hidden to out within minutes, the exhibition seeks to draw attention to the women’s voices that linger in the archives. Audio recordings allow the anonymous and unknown to acquire a certain presence – stories of trauma, relief and laughter inhabit the exhibition, bringing life to the bits and pieces of ephemera that serve to document these lives.

Curated by Karen Stanworth, with the assistance of curatorial intern, Talia Linz, the exhibition is produced with the support of the City of Toronto through the Toronto Arts Council, and supporting partner, Special Collections, York University. Karen also receive a Minor Research grant from the Faculty of Fine Arts, York University.

See also: The lesbian pulp fiction virtual exhibition drawn from the Dworin Collection at Special Collections, York University


Lynne Fernie and Aerlyn Weissman are interdisciplinary artists and award-winning filmmakers, who co-directed the Genie and internationally award-winning documentaries Forbidden Love: Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives (1992) and Fiction and Other Truths: a Film about Jane Rule (1995).

Karen Stanworth, the curator, is an historian of visual culture at York University and has published on visual culture and feminist cultural history.

Talia Linz, co-curator,and curatorial intern has just completed a collaborative Masters in Curating and Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto.

The exhibition is produced with the support of the Toronto Arts Council, and with supporting partners, Special Collections, York University.