“Master-Mistress” at Sutton House in Hackney

National Trust volunteer and guest curator Sean Curran chats to Shades of Noir about his latest exhibition “Master-Mistress: Passion, Desire and Ambiguities in Shakespeare’s Sonnets” at Sutton House in Hackney for Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) History Month.

Sutton House Pic: Laura Raphael

Sutton House Pic: Laura Raphael

“You don’t get many people, like me, from Sunderland who are National Trust members. At school I was part of the only family to have a National Trust membership, it was seen as a middle class luxury” laughs Sean.

“It is difficult, people see the National Trust as a conservative white middle class preserve, and to an extent I agree, I also think part of the barrier is not age but class, but the Trust are beginning to realise what else can constitute heritage and to target younger audiences.”

It is thanks to Sean, that for the first time in National Trust history the Hackney house is celebrating LGBT History Month, through a sound installation of Shakespearean sonnets written for a man know only as “Mr W.H”. Sean said: “I chose Shakespeare because it fits with the period that the house was built and was the most obviously queer apart from all the cross dressing that is.”

Judith Brocklehurst artwork Pic: Laura Raphael

Judith Brocklehurst artwork Pic: Laura Raphael

“Master-Mistress” consists of four artworks situated in the home’s Tudor rooms. The artworks are in fact cunningly masked speakers by Judith Brocklehurt which play contemporary readings of the 17th century Fair Youth Sonnets, as read by people who identify as LGBT.

The installation aims to question desire and ambiguities of gender and identities as opposed to Shakespeare’s sexuality. Sean said: “You are drawn in by the sound, a kind of subliminal engagement. The artworks compliment the surroundings of Sutton House so you instantly assume they are original objects. There is a playfulness, they poke fun at the heritage that has prevented these stories being told.”

This “playfulness” is integral to Sean’s work, who outside of the National Trust is currently undertaking a PhD at the Institute of Education on heritage sites and how they have contributed towards queer invisibility. Sean said: “My work has been generally well received in the circles I have presented it in, academia and the museum world, but outside of that sometimes people ask ‘but what does this have to do with me?’ And there is a moment of ‘what is the point?’”

LGBT History Month is a grass roots initiative which has celebrated the role of LGBT communities in history for the past fourteen years, and it is visibility for the community that Sean believes is vital: “Sexuality is still hugely political and we are still seeing extremes like Russia at the moment. There are a lot of young LGBT people who face daily harassment and commit suicide. Things like the equal marriage bill are a distraction, there are far more productive ways of ‘being seen’. Like a child walking round a museum who sees these different narratives and perhaps someone they can identify with who has a real heritage too. There is an element of trust within that too, as museums are seen as an authority.”

“Master-Mistress” runs until Friday March 7, head to the National Trust website for more information.