Five Questions with researcher & historian Mark Andrew Hamilton

Over the month of July Ryan Conrad (RC) from AAHP’s research team conducted an interview with Concordia MA student Mark Andrew Hamilton (MAH) about his work doing public history focused on the activism and aesthetics of ACT UP Montreal. In this short interview you’ll learn more about the work he’s been doing over the last three years researching, curating, exhibiting, and putting memory into action. The exhibition Mark co-curated with René Leboeuf entitled ‘The Aesthetic Activism of ACT UP Montréal: a history in photos and posters’ is on view at the Archives gaies du Quebec through August 13, 2023

RC: You’ve been working on historicizing ACT UP MTL through various projects over the last few years. Can you briefly describe these three projects?

MAH: I guess there’s actually four in total, and the primary driver behind it all has been an MA thesis at Concordia University in the history department that blends elements of oral history interviews with surviving members coupled with an aesthetic analysis of the group’s protest ephemera—posters, photographs, T-shirts, stickers, leaflets, etc.

But alongside that, there’s also been three additional projects which have been incredibly fulfilling to be a part of. The first was a vogue ball I co-produced with Elle Barbara, Mother of the House of Barbara in a park in Montréal’s gay village that at the time of the HIV/AIDS crisis and before was commonly used for cruising. All of the categories were drawn from elements of my research, including asking walkers to dress as 1989 AIDS Conference protestors—who infamously stormed past security and took the stage before the opening of the conference. More than one carried a sign reading “MULRONEY, YOU’VE GOT BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS.” We also managed to get the ball listed as part of the official Global Village events of the 2022 International AIDS Conference, although they initially refused to let us have the ball in the Palais des congrès de Montréal itself so it required a venue move outdoors. While it would have been amazing to host a ball referencing 1989 in the very same space as those original events, the outdoor space was actually an incredible location for it, and packed to the fences. We also paid tribute to some of the queens and houses who were active in Montréal in the early 1990s and Jacques Besner and Kiet Ha, both members of the House of Pride, made an incredibly moving speech paying tribute to the friends they’d lost since then.

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