clem mcnabb (l) and jet dwyer (r), creators of "queer archival"

A New Exhibition is Archiving Melbourne’s Queer Culture In Real Time

"To archive something is to give it meaning, and allow it the dignity to stand still for a moment in time.”
Arielle Richards
Melbourne, AU

Melbourne-based friends and collaborators Jet Dwyer and Clem McNabb believe documentation of the queer community should come from within the queer community and, for their new exhibition, have curated an archive of their present.

Queer Archival, opening for one evening next month in Collingwood, is an archive of portraiture and video footage of Melbourne’s queers, inspired by the historic preservation work of the Australian Queer Archives (AQua), at the Victorian Pride Centre in St Kilda.


For what they call “an offering to the legacy of queer documentation in Naarm”, the pair has spent the past year compiling and creating a lasting archive of the community’s past and present. Subjects chosen include artists the pair are inspired by and, as Jet told VICE, “Friends, my boyfriend, failed situationships turned friendships, and generally a collection of people I wanted to document.”

queer archival [supplied]

queer archival [supplied]

Jet and Clem came to archival in different ways. On an overseas trip, Jet, a creative director, visited an exhibition that pulled from queer archives in a way they’d “never seen before”. 

“When I got back to Melbourne I found AQuA,” they told VICE, “and began poring over different documents and pictures.”

“I couldn't stop thinking about how emotional and hopeful the archives made me.”

Clem, a photographer, began volunteering at the Victorian Queer Archives in 2023. 

“I wanted to see a history of queer photography, to expand my own practice and connect with communities that had been documenting themselves for decades. I fell in love with the photographic archive specifically, the care and tenderness that comes from documenting within a community.”

Both Clem and Jet were moved by the care that had gone into preserving and curating the Queer Archives, both here and internationally.


“We had many conversations about why it is important to intentionally document queer lives from within the community,” they told VICE.

“It’s important to have moments when queer people are elevated and portrayed with dignity, considering our representation in the current news cycle.”

Inroads towards mainstream “acceptance” over the past decade has had detracting run-on effects. More exposure, representation and discourse around LGBTQIA+ lives has not been backed by care from the political class and has left those most vulnerable under our system, trans or gender diverse people of colour, to have their rights parlayed for votes under the government of the day. 

We have queer representation in some television shows now, but TERF rallies can subsume Parliament steps, journalists can spread lies about transgender children, politicians can fearmonger about “women’s sports” and church groups can lobby for their right to discriminate towards LGBTQIA+ children.

The impact of this hyper-exposure of queer people in the media was something Clem and Jet reflected on.

“This is why it felt important to create a show that took the time to document queer lives with patience and care,” they told VICE.


“We wanted to emulate traditional archival photography, through portraiture that is slow and intentional, using practices that have been used in the archive for centuries. We want our work to be a response to the mass-produced, highly consumerist imagery of queer people that we are inundated with.”

queer archival [supplied]

queer archival [supplied]

And working with an entirely queer and gender-diverse team behind the camera was crucial.

“Too often queer people are the muse but are not given the agency to be on the creative team, making decisions and having their voice heard,” Jet said.

As they archive the queer lives around them, with the help of AQuA, Clem and Jet said they hoped the project would evolve to become an “offering to a larger project”.

“Archival, while connoting the past, also really just means the attempt to ‘preserve history, for future generations’. We want this work to be an offering to a larger project and belief in taking seriously the queer community that is here in Naarm, as we take seriously the community that has paved the way before us,” they said.

“The idea of a queer archive should never be a still or closed archive, it should be an archive that is constantly open and evolving to the present and future of queer lives. We want to contextualise the idea of an archive to something that can symbolise a future that we are moving toward. To archive something is to give it meaning, and allow it the dignity to stand still for a moment in time.”


Clem and Jet said they wanted to thank Halide Gallery for letting them use the space and also to thank Nick, a Collection Manager at the Australian Queer Archives, “for his time and knowledge in helping us research”.  They said they hoped audiences would be inspired to look at the Queer Archives in their own time, “because of how moving of an experience it was for us, to see ourselves reflected back throughout history. 

“We also hope they take away a print! The event is free but making art is expensive as fuck so come get a print for you and your housemates, your gay bestie, your mum, your failed situationship…”

Queer Archival will open for one night only at Halide Supply, 128 Smith Street, Collingwood on May 17.

Arielle Richards is the multimedia reporter at VICE Australia, follow her on Instagram and TikTok.