A Fun Visit to the Leather Archives & Museum

 

A couple of months ago, I took one of my dearest friends to the Leather Archives & Museum. She is unabashedly heterosexual (and not kinky, I'm pretty sure). She initiated the visit. And it wasn't because of puerile curiosity (my friend is much, much more sophisticated than that). She read about the museum in a mainstream website Chicagoist. She wanted to go with an expert (c'est moi). It also helped (I emphasized this fact in our conversations) that I know the wonderful couple who run the place. 

 

Leather Archives & Museum exterior

Housed in what used to a synagogue in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, and for a nonprofit, in an enviable position (they own their own building and their board is incredibly generous), the museum showcases the history and imagery of two previously taboo subcultures that are now in the vanguard of discovering and also interpreting what used to be their secret, hidden history: LGBT leather and BDSM (both gay and straight). 


The museum regularly exhibits recent work featuring BDSM/fetish-related themes by current artists, but its claim to fame, at least I think, is its stunning collection of original homoerotic art by the legendary artist Etienne, including the murals which once graced the walls of the Gold Coast leather bar. My friend, with her art history background, immediately saw these works as art, and worthy of deep analysis. 
 

Two Etienne murals on display in the museum

 


One can also learn about the history of and view artifacts from leather motorcycle, commonly known as “patch” clubs, some of which involved into the gay sex/BDSM clubs of today, and also study the diverse contributions of women and transgender persons to this subculture. There's even a room with dungeon equipment (I must admit, my friend was somewhat shocked at the violet wands on display and some of the more fierce-looking whips). 
Leather Archives & Museum dungeon display


What both of us found really enjoyable was the comfortable room where one can watch documentaries on gay and sexual history. I didn't get the title of what we were watching, as we got there in the middle of it, but the documentary seems to be about the sexual revolution of the 1960s and its influence on the stellar growth of the straight and gay porn industries in the 1970s. The documentary showed scenes from and analyzed that controversial film Censorship in Denmark, by Alex de Renzy. It was an explicit documentary that mixed footage of Copenhagen tourist attractions with on-the-street interviews and hardcore scenes from the city's live sex clubs and movies, one of the first of its type to be shown at an art house and reviewed in the mainstream press. 

So much of the way we live, especially our personal relationship dynamics (both healthy and unhealthy, I might add), depends on what happened in the 1960s and the 1970s. But this time of liberation sprung from a rich, hidden history of courageous people living in the shadows but also fighting for basic personal freedoms; the Leather Archives & Museum is now bringing this history to light. 

We didn't get a chance to visit the library, a formidable archive that includes vintage leather/BDSM magazines like Drummer and interviews with notable figures in the various kink cultures, but there's time for that. 

As Lisa White in the Chicagoist article says, “This isn’t the place to take Grandma when she comes up to visit (unless you have the most badass liberal Grandma around). But it is a wonderful look into two vibrant communities and a great resource. “ 

After we concluded our visit, my liberal badass friend and I topped off our visit with lunch in the Mariano's cafe, where I said the word “sex” quite loudly there (gasp!), shocking a tweenish boy who was emptying his tray into the garbage. Hey, after that visit, of course, the topic was on our minds. 

Check out the Leather Archives & Museum website for more information, and of course check out bijouworld's extensive fetish/BDSM product line of DVDs, books, magazines, and sexcessories. 

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