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Jones, Mathew - 2010.26

Mathew Jones

The New York Daily News on the Day Before the Stonewall Riot, Copied by Hand from Microfilm Records 1997
web-print newspaper and string in bundles of 50
104 pages, each: 39 x 29 cm, installation dimensions variable
Gift of the artist 2010

The tracelike, ephemeral nature of this work by Mathew Jones appears effortless in its crafting. Yet, diligently and delicately, the artist has hand copied the entire contents of a New York newspaper from 27 June 1969, the day before an event in New York that launched the modern global LGBTIQ movement.

In the early hours of 28 June 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay pub in Greenwich Village, New York, and began randomly arresting punters. The crowd resisted and fought back, spilling onto the street as more people gathered to support the activists. Protestors included trans women, lesbians and gay men, who were tired of ongoing harassment and homophobia. The confrontation continued for days, and every year since, this historic act of defiance has been acknowledged, celebrated and honoured around the world by LGBTIQ communities.

What Jones recounts on the front page of the New York Daily News is the death of Judy Garland, long lauded as a gay icon. It has been suggested that her death and the subsequent mourning of the gay community was a precursor to the Stonewall riots. There are many accounts regarding the factors that contributed to the riots, and who instigated and led the fight against police. These are, of course, contested views, and in remembering, mis-remembering and re-remembering, histories can be reinterpreted. Queer histories have often been hidden, erased or silenced and new ways to tell these stories have had to be found.

During the 1990s, Jones’ works referenced his lived experience of gay identity, masculinity and the toll of the AIDS epidemic. The Stonewall riots occurred prior to the AIDS epidemic, and by the time Jones created this work, in 1997, many of the young activists involved were fighting for their lives or had died of AIDS. Jones’ work evokes the empty silence of loss – but also the rage of activism and grief. He was a member of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), the worldwide activist group that forced change with its daring and effective street protests, to enable better access to treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS. During this time, Jones’ work sits importantly alongside that of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, David Wojnarowicz and David McDiarmid, who were all featured in the 1994 groundbreaking exhibition Don’t Leave Me This Way: Art in the Age of AIDS, held at the National Gallery of Australia.

When exhibited, the installation of this work varies from a structured bundle of newspapers, carefully stacked, to a sprawling disarray of dishevelled papers – the viewer invited to take a copy, flick through the contents, consider its tangible form and engage with a moment in history that was on the precipice of change.

Angela Bailey is a curator and photographer and is currently president of the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives.