New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

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New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Review: ‘On Selfhood: Young Lesbians within the Margins’ creates an archive of lesbians today

The exhibition, created by NYU alum Olivia Newsome and co-curated by two recent NYU graduates, is showing at The Center through May 26.
Adrita Talukder
(Adrita Talukder for WSN)

Currently on view at The Center, a historic community center for LGBTQ+ New Yorkers, “On Selfhood: Young Lesbians Within the Margins” is an exhibition expanding the scope of recorded histories. Created by NYU Olivia Newsome, the showcase documents the lives of 42 multiply marginalized lesbians ages 18-25 through their oral histories, their art and other personal items.

Spanning three floors, the exhibition revolves around four central themes: “Identity and The Self,” “Love, Sex, Desire,” “Transness and Gender” and “Friendship and Community.” The project began in 2022, initially taking the form of Newsome’s thesis project for her master’s in Archives & Public History at NYU.

“I wanted people to feel like they are a part of the present historical moment,” Newsome wrote in a statement to WSN. “I wanted to create a project where these multiply marginalized lesbians could literally add themselves into the historical narrative by talking about their lives, what makes them happy and what inspires them.”

Select works from the participants — including poetry, photographs, illustrations and mixed-media works — line the walls of The Center. Photographs provide glimpses into New York City’s transgender rave scene and the expansiveness of gender nonconformity. The writings speak to the joys and heartbreaks of being a young lesbian.

“Coming to the identity of lesbianism or experiencing lesbianism can be very different things for a lot of different people,” said Srishti, a co-curator of the exhibition. “When you look at objects that may seem unimportant, like journals, or Tumblr poetry, or fanfictions, you don’t really know what makes someone a lesbian. That’s what this project tries to strive for … to embody some understanding that personhood is made up not only of grand victories, but simply being and expressing.”

Accompanying participants’ works are QR codes linking to their oral histories, a medium of storytelling at the heart of “On Selfhood.”

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“Oral history’s importance to us was never about producing some paper to be cited as objective truth, or even an exhibit at The Center,” Newsome said during the exhibition’s opening night on Thursday, Feb. 8. “It was an intentional departure from normative history-making projects, allowing for desires and imaginative realities to take space.”

“On Selfhood” is a labor of love. In creating her oral history project, Newsome tapped into her lesbian community for support. She talked with them while creating the initial intake form, and enlisted the help of her two closest friends — and NYU class of 2023 graduates — Maia McDonald and Srishti, who co-curated the project alongside Newsome.

A person wearing a white dress, a person wearing a brown vest, and a person wearing a pink dress smiling, standing next to each other.
“On Selfhood: Young Lesbians Within the Margins” co-curators and NYU alumni Maia McDonald, Srishti, and Olivia Newsome. (Adrita Talukder for WSN)

Newsome first conducted pre-interviews for each participant, working through and adapting the questions with them, before later conducting the final interviews, which range anywhere from one to three hours.

“I constantly interrogated my own role as the interviewer in relation to the interviewee,” Newsome wrote. “I came completely open about my plans, shared my fears, my hopes, answered any and all questions they answered. I am a multiply marginalized Lesbian whose subjectivity is deeply embedded within every oral history.”

CAS senior Ariel Rond is among the 42 participants featured in “On Selfhood.” On the second floor of the exhibition is a poem of theirs, “short-nail thursday.” Rond, a Creative Writing minor, wrote the poem in a workshop at NYU, following their first visit to Henrietta Hudson, a lesbian bar in Greenwich Village. “short-nail thursday” is the first work they’ve published.

“This is the one time I really did take a risk and step out there and contribute,” Rond said of their poetry submission to “On Selfhood.” “Seeing the results of it, it really cements that this is something that I can do — I can take these steps, I can show my lesbianism out into the world; it’s worth submitting, it’s worth publishing, it’s worth reading.”

A white placard containing a poem titled “Short-Nail Thursday.”
CAS senior Ariel Rond’s poem, “short-nail thursday.” (Adrita Talukder for WSN)

Rond, like many other participants, had been in community with Newsome prior to participating in “On Selfhood.” A notion of community came to embody “On Selfhood,” as in every part of the creation process — from consulting friends on the making of interview questions and having participants directly author their contributions to the project, to the act of interviewing itself — Newsome invited the larger lesbian community to partake in the project. The final floor of the exhibition, centering around the theme of “Friendship and Community,” invites attendees to add messages to a display board of photographs and quotes.

“This project implores its listeners to contemplate a Lesbian Present where we think big thoughts, express how our marginalities impact our Lesbianism and dream big gay dreams,” Newsome wrote to WSN. “I want the Lesbians within this project to feel like their lives matter, like their history matters.”

“On Selfhood: Young Lesbians Within the Margins” is currently on view at The Center through May 26. A fully digitized version of the collection can be found here.

Contact Adrita Talukder at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Adrita Talukder
Adrita Talukder, Editor-at-Large
Adrita Talukder is a sophomore at CAS planning to major in Comparative Literature and International Relations. Outside of the paper, she's usually photographing her friends, watching movies, or polishing her NYU French award. You can find Adrita on Instagram @adritasphotos or @adrjta.

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