How did you come to have the idea for Spilt Milk?
Niamh: We’ve wanted to hold an exhibition at St John’s for a while. I set up a photography collective last term and it got me thinking about it. I feel like so many exhibitions are a kind of mish-mash of random stuff, but we wanted ours to have the queer-feminist theme to give it that sense of community, as well as to make it free to come along to.
Rachel: I didn’t think I’d have time to do an exhibition, but Niamh kept on talking about it, so in the end I said, “yeah!”.
N: Well, it’s the last term Rachel and I are going to be at John’s together, so it was a now or never kind of vibe. It was at the end of last term; we were kind of like, “Trinity’s the one!” I stayed with Rachel over the vac and we had a little working holiday (and watched a lot of Merlin!)
Where did the name come from?
N: We were in Common Ground – our favourite place – having a little brainstorming meeting. I thought a sort of, “proper name” would be much more memorable, and Rachel was very keen for it to be two words – something about what’s cool and trendy in the art world…
R: In the art world they’re more like ten words! It was almost random, to be honest, we were just listing words and phrases that sounded catchy.
N: But it also links to queerness: it’s like, “No use crying over spilt milk” can be a reclamation of a situation which can be oppressive. We’re saying that actually, the spilt milk is the best part, and it’s interesting to look at it from that opposite perspective. It’s a positive mindset kind of vibe!
How would you describe the exhibition to people who would like to come and see it – is there an overall energy to it?
R: The vibe is about showcasing what our queer artists want to show. It doesn’t have to be about queer identity; it’s a celebration of voices having the freedom to say whatever they want to, rather than us imposing any clear themes. It’s going to be a fun mish-mash, hopefully curated in a logical way!
N: Queer artists and women are often pigeon-holed; there’s this idea that the work of queer artists always has to be about their queer identity, but we’re not just interested in feminist protest pieces. Everyone has so many different aspects to their life, and what’s cool is how they intersect.
What sort of art will there be?
N: There isn’t just going to be art! There’s an open bar, so you don’t have to pay for drinks, and also a live performance zone with a line-up of different musicians, as well as free zines and film screenings. The people attending the event are going to be able to get involved and contribute too, so you can do some drawing. It’s not just about the exhibition pieces – like, you’re an artist – we’re all artists! And art isn’t just to be looked at; anyone can make it – we want to be able to create something, together, to have something to show for what we’re doing afterwards.
R: It’s an event – and not just for the artists – it’s for the whole queer community at Oxford.
Are you showing your own work as well?
N: We felt within ourselves that there’s a lack of queer and feminist exhibitions in Oxford, so we thought other people must be feeling that too. All the artistic people get, kind of, jumbled in together, because there aren’t that many of us. We’re hoping that Spilt Milk will help people to network and make connections.
Were you surprised by the pieces people submitted?
N: We were just happy that we got stuff, really! You never know with an exhibition, especially as we weren’t accepting work from cis men, we were worried we were being too specific, or that we wouldn’t get enough submissions.
R: We were surprised by how quickly people sent in submissions – Niamh was saying she never submits anything until like the day before the deadline! The first email that came in was from someone who’s non-binary; their bio said it was their first showing of their art. It made me so happy to see there was a clear need for this, and that Spilt Milk was already feeling like a safe space for queer people. For me – probably because I’m surrounded by fine art students all the time – it’s been less about the content or the quality of the art, and more about the stories and the people behind it. That’s what has really touched me about this process.
What has been your favourite part of the process so far?
N: For me, it’s been really nice to meet new people. Everyone on the team is queer and identifies as female or non-binary, as well as queer, which is cool. We made a zine team, a marketing team… lots of different people are involved. And we’ve had three different socials. It’s so lovely that people have wanted to get involved.
R: The college bar crawl was my favourite! But yeah, I’d say the same – definitely the social aspect. Everyone’s so nice!
N: It’s also amazing to see things coming together – people have been really on it; we got some posters the other day that the marketing team had worked on together. It’s been amazing to create this kind of, queer, feminist face that people can come into as a team, because we’re all under the same category. It’s good to feel like you have a lot in common with the other people on the team.
What about the most challenging part?
R: The amount of stuff to do – something you don’t realise until you get stuck into it. Some days it’s been quite overwhelming, but we’re so lucky to have the team that we have.
N: When we first started planning we hadn’t thought about a team, but without them we wouldn’t have been able to do half of what we have. It’s important to remember that, when you work with other people, it makes everyone better. We’re always encouraged to be individualistic, to be better than everyone else – especially for women, there’s this pressure to compete with one another. Society might encourage that, but it’s important to remember that we’re stronger together.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
N: Please come along – it’s free! And – if you can – donate to Stonewall.
Spilt Milk will take place on Monday, 16th May, 6-11pm, in the Garden Quad reception room at St John’s College. The event will be signposted from St John’s College Porters’ Lodge.