“LGBT history is everyone’s history and we’re proud to tell it”, says Charlotte Keenan, Curator of British Art at the Walker Art Gallery. Here, she blogs about National Museums legacy in programming LGBT exhibitions, artists and events that spans decades.
“Tate opened their first exhibition dedicated to LGBT or queer art this week. Their show Queer British Art marks the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Sexual Offences Act which partially decriminalised male homosexuality in 1967. The exhibition explores how artists expressed their identity through their work at a time when it was illegal (for men) to conduct same sex relationships and when social understanding of gender identity and roles were ill-informed by biological and patriarchal ideas about sex and gender.
The Walker and National Museums Liverpool have held regular exhibitions and events exploring LGBT and queer art, culture and history since 2003. We’ve often worked in partnership with Homotopia, the Liverpool-based social justice organisation, and put on ground-breaking exhibitions including David Hockney: Early Reflections, which was the first to explore the artist’s work in relation to his sexuality. The Museum of Liverpool’s exhibition April Ashley: Portrait of a Lady attracted nearly a million visitors and explored the changing social and legal conditions for transgender people since the 1960s by telling April’s story. Dry Your Eyes Princess, a collection of photographs of trans military vets by Stephen King also exhibited at the Museum of Liverpool, not forgetting Hello Sailor! Gay life on the ocean wave at Merseyside Maritime Museum.
These important exhibitions and others have led us to make changes in our venues. We believe that LGBT history is important year-round and shouldn’t be limited to temporary exhibitions or events. For that reason, we’ve been adapting the permanent displays in some of our venues so that LGBT history is present throughout, with more to come later this month at the Walker. We’ve also been publishing information about our LGBT collections online through the Pride and Prejudice: Bringing stories out of the closet research project. There’s masses of information about art works in our permanent collections, including pieces by Simeon Solomon, William Hamo Thornycroft, Edmondia Lewis and Catherine Opie.
Later this year we’ll be hosting our own temporary exhibitions too. Coming Out: Sexuality, Gender and Identity at the Walker will explore how artists have used their practice to explore these themes since 1967. Meanwhile, the Museum of Liverpool’s Magic Clock exhibition will bring together archive materials, objects and oral histories to document the ongoing campaign for LGBT equality and inclusion in Liverpool.
It’s empowering and important to mark the anniversaries that tell the story of LGBT history and the fight for equality, representation and visibility that continues today, but National Museums Liverpool is committed to telling this history all-year round.”
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