Safer at Home

April 20, 2020 to May 15, 2020


Safer at Home is an online exhibition of objects from the ONE Archives Collection at the USC Libraries organized by its curator, Alexis Bard Johnson. The selected items resonate with and reflect on the idea of “safer at home.” These archival materials act as a mirror—bringing the past into the present and offering perspective on what is happening today. They highlight people, events, and activities but offer inspiration and comfort for us in the present.

Language Matters

This project is a direct response to our current global crisis. In the past few weeks, the stream of news has been constant and overwhelming. Throughout the articles, posts, Instagram feeds, and livestreams, the language used to describe the present moment and circumscribe behavior has been striking. First, we had a “lockdown”, but that feels punitive and scary. Lockdown was soon replaced with “shelter-in-place,” which, while more accurate and still used, conjures natural disasters. Finally, the more uplifting “safer at home” has become the standard phrase used by government officials to require people to remain at home except for essential tasks or work. This phrase is particularly intriguing because it is meant to communicate the behavior necessary to combat the global pandemic but also calls to mind times when being at home is not the safest choice.

Safer at Home is an invitation to examine the many facets of home as well as what safety means and looks like for LGBTQ populations—both past and present. There are moments in queer history when homes or houses were far safer environments in which to congregate than bars and nightclubs. On the flip side, for many queer youth, homes can be the least safe place. In these weekly selections, we will interrogate these relationships to home and think about the everyday, the domestic, and illness. What is home? How do we make home? How do we exist at home? How is the home stifling? Constraining? Creative? Interactive? How do we have fun at home or mourn from home? How do we craft and care for our safer at home selves? What do we hold onto, what do we create anew, and what do we let go of?

How it Works

Each week, I will add and comment on a new archival piece from the collection. As a trained art historian, I make sense of the world through history and material culture. Combining those skills with the resources of the Archives is the best way I can contribute to understanding/contextualizing our present moment and make sense of what we are currently feeling and experiences. This is an exhibition unlike most others because, rather than having a research phase and then a public phase, these two phases will coincide. You will see the exhibition come together in real time, over the duration of the California Governor’s order to be “safer at home.”

Why Now?

This watershed moment calls for all of us to take risks and re-think how things are done. Exhibitions take an enormous amount of work and research behind the scenes before they go on view to the public. This is an effort to pull back the curtain and show this process. Essentially, this exhibition will develop week by week, in public view. This degree of transparency is daunting but appropriate as a metaphor for the more open and less judgmental space we would like to see post-pandemic. As the collection grows and I add more content, I will group and rearrange the entries to suggest themes and through-lines in the material.     

As we all create new ways of being, relating, and staying connected in real time, I offer this project to help navigate our way through the tangle of thoughts and feelings we are experiencing. Visual culture acts as a lens to examine historical moments as well as the present. Images are deeply rooted in their own particular time, but, as objects, they exist and make meaning in the present. It is the hope that this collection of images serves as a connection to a previous history and as a tool to help us better understand and parse the present moment. 


To view the exhibition START HERE


Image: "Protest against the the lack of hospital space for AIDS patients," ca. 1989, ONE Archives at the USC Libraries.