Review: Butch-Femme Camp at the Norman Rea Gallery


Emily Stevens (she/her) reviews the recent event at the Norman Rea Gallery

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Image by Amelia Stallworthy

By Emily Stevens

On Thursday 21 March, the university’s student-run Norman Rea Gallery hosted “Butch-Femme Camp”, an exhibition organised by one of Muse’s own Arts Editors, Elena Savvas, in collaboration with Butch-Femme Press. The event was advertised as “a queer extravaganza, featuring poetry, art and creative discussion”, and it certainly did not disappoint. It was a fantastic celebration of queer culture and student poetry.

The Norman Rea Gallery was decorated in the style of a speakeasy, with drinks on arrival and space to sit and chat before the event began. Art adorned the walls and queer literature was displayed around the room for guests to peruse at their leisure. A photographer roamed around, snapping photos of the event and chatting to guests. The room was already filling up by the time I arrived, and the atmosphere felt friendly, welcoming and filled with anticipation for the evening to begin.

Everyone began to take their seats in chairs that had been arranged to face several sofas in the centre of the room, where students and writers could read aloud their poetry and prose. Elena opened the discussion with a beautifully written speech about camp and the inspiration behind the event. They then turned to guest Olivia Whitelaw, editor of Butch-Femme Press, an Edinburgh-based independent publication which the Norman Rea Gallery had collaborated with to make the evening happen. Olivia read an excerpt from her current project entitled ‘Truth From Fiction’, an exploration of sexuality, shame and identity. It was a moving piece of prose and a great way to start the event.

After speaking a little about Butch-Femme Press, Olivia opened the floor for other writers to read their work aloud. There was an extensive range of people, from established writers to first-time poets, but every piece of writing was connected by the common theme of queer identity. It was great to see so many students sharing their work for the first time, and I was reminded of my love for poetry by listening to so much amazing writing. One of my favourite poems was called ‘The Corner of the Street’ by Emily Warner, a bittersweet reflection on university life.

This was the first time I had been to an event at the Norman Rea Gallery, and my only regret is not going to one sooner. It is such a unique part of the University of York, as it is the only student-run gallery in the UK, and I would encourage all students interested in arts and literature to attend more of their events. Butch-Femme Camp was a brilliant queer extravaganza and an excellent display of art and poetry. I look forward to the gallery’s next exhibition.