‘God made the days and nights but man made the calendar.’ ANON
The calendar is a distinctly social invention. At its fundamental level it allows for groups of people to arrange time in order, identifying the past and future. If we are posed with two dates and a calendar, we will be able to determine which preceded the other, and by what margin. It provides uniformity in the face of human forgetfulness. If, like Robinson Crusoe, you were to be stranded on a desert island, how long would it take for you to lose track of the days, months, or years? It is therefore not surprising that repressive regimes will ‘restart’ calendars according to the birth of a dictator, throwing social memory into disarray.
Yet calendars are not purely mechanical instruments. Humans, ever the artistic animal, have decorated calendars according to social customs, religions, and mythologies. A Chinese incense seal from the 14th century consisted of a single continuous groove that would be filled with different aromas; once lit, the aromas would burn for around 12 hours, allowing the user to determine the time according to the current fragrance. Even contemporary calendars, whether they are decorated with puppies or famous celebrities, demonstrate the continuity of this decorative tradition.
One such example is the ‘Gay is Angry’ 1971-2 calendar. This calendar was produced by the New York Gay Graphics Collective, and is a part of the Ian Dunn archive. It demonstrates the atmosphere of radical politics alongside an acerbic sense of humour. The 1970s marked a period of rapid social change for LGBT persons. The Stonewall Riots in 1969 is often seen as the igniting of modern gay rights in the United States, while the decade saw homosexuality decriminalized in Austria, Costa Rica, Finland, Malta, Southern Australia, and California.
Printed in a distinctive collage style, this calendar features photographs of 60s-70s activism alongside political commentary. Wednesday 12th May is deigned ‘Smash Sexism’ day, while the actions of organisations such as the Gay Liberation Front, Lavender Menace, and Gay Coalition are celebrated throughout. The more radical edge of this period emerges in statements such as ‘things for men to do: buy three guns – give one to your mother, one to your sister, one to your daughter,’ or ‘Avenge Ramond Lamon and James Clay – gay power grows out of the barrel of a gun!’
This calendar can be found in the Ian Dunn archive. Ian Dunn (1943-1998) was one of the foremost Scottish gay rights activists of the late 20th century. In 1969 he held a meeting of close friends and other activists in his parent’s front room – this would be the first gathering of the Scottish Minorities Group, one of Britain’s earliest gay rights organisations. Dunn launched Gay News in 1972 and co-founded the Edinburgh Gay & Lesbian Community Centre in 1974. Later in 1974 he helped convene the International Gay Rights Congress in Edinburgh, which led to the formation of the International Lesbian & Gay Association (ILGA). He also helped in the campaign to extend the 1967 decriminalisation of gay sex to Scotland, which was eventually realised in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980.
The Ian Dunn archive hosts an extensive range of materials that give an important insight into gay civil rights during the late 20th century. These include papers from the Scottish Minorities Group [Acc. 11905/47-74], the Scottish Homosexual Rights Group [Acc. 11905/75-97], and Outright [Acc. 11905/113-125]. Of particular note are four boxes of photographs collected by Ian Dunn between 1970-1998, which are in turns inspiring, humorous, and astounding [Acc. 11905/160-163].
These documents bridge the latter half of the sexual revolution, the AIDS crisis, Section 28, and the decriminalization of gay sex in Scotland. As such they are an invaluable resource for social and LGBT history, as well as an encouraging reminder to arc of history ‘bending towards justice.’
‘Gay is Angry’ is not the only calendar in the National Library’s collection. Other highlights include a Sumatran calendar written on tree bark [Acc. 7943], a Batak calendar incised on buffalo horn [Acc. 8226], and a fully moveable 18th century astronomical rotula.
This exhibition will be available to view in the Special Collections Reading Room until January 2019.