On Saturday, Tate Britain held an event called Queer and Now, launching Pride in London for 2017. They’ve also currently got an exhibition called Queer British Art 1861-1967, which is on until 1st October. All in all, it promised to be a fantastic day, and me and Beth headed down to London.
Right queer, right now
A note on the use of Queer: Tate Britain outlined in the Queer and Now programme that ‘the word queer has been used both as a term of abuse and by LGBTQ+ people to refer to themselves from the end of the 19th century onwards. Queer and Now is inspired by its usage as an inclusive, fluid term for people of different sexualites and gender identities, and as a way of expressing ways of being in the world that don’t conform to the established norms’. Please be aware that I use queer throughout this post to refer to the LGBTQ+ community, as I both use it to refer to my identity as a bisexual woman in a relationship with a woman and it was part of an event called Queer and Now. However, I feel it’s important to acknowledge that while queer has been reclaimed by some members of the community but not every member of the LGBTQ+ community is happy to use queer, so it’s always worth talking to members of the community about how they would like to be referred to.
The size of a giant wall this was
First thing we did was go round Queer British Art 1861-1967. Starting, as you might expect, in 1861 it chronicles art created by people confirmed or believed to be queer, which was often of people confirmed or believed to be queer. My favourite rooms were Blooomsbury And Beyond, which focused on the Bloomsbury group – a set of artists and writers whose gender identities and sexualities spanned the full LGBTQ+ spectrum, and the Defying Convention room, which focused on how gender norms were challenged in the late 19th and early 20th century, particularly by women* and non binary people.
These rooms in particular, but also the rooms before them, tried to be representative past white gay cisgender men, including several women, trans men and nonbinary individuals. Most notably, the self portrait used in the promtional material for the exhibit is of Gluck, whose name, as stated by the artist, is to be used with “no prefix, suffix, or quotes” and resigned from an art society when this wasn’t followed. However, there was little racial diversity throughout the exhibit, and the final three rooms, as far as I saw, focused on cis men, as if the rest of the queer community stopped produing art in the early 20th century. The exhibition also had a real problem with deadnaming trans and nonbinary people. (Deadnaming is when when a trans person’s birth name is referred to either in addition to or instead of their chosen name.)
As exhibits go, it was so great to see myself represented in art, and to have this representation explicitly referred to in the signs next to the art. Some of the pieces in the exhibit were on loan from Birmingham Art Gallery, and I have seen them several times, never knowing they were part of queer art history. However, while I could see myself represented, there was still huge swathes of the community who were not. As I said earlier, the racial diversity in the displayed art was poor, women disappeared from the exhibit past the early 20th century and I imagine it must be upsetting for trans and non binary people to see themselves in the art, only for the artists identities to be disrepected in the contextual writing. I’d still recommend the exhibit, as the sheer joy of being in a space where queer artists were allowed to be queer was exhilirating, but as a white woman, I do speak from a position of relative privilege in being able to see myself in the art shown.
Solid sign this is. To the point, I like it
While we were in Queer British Art, Queer and Now got off to a swinging start, and when we came out of the exhibit the gallery was busy. All the activites were free, some were explicitly family friendly, and the variety on offer was incredible. From LGBTQ+ vendors at the pop up esty store, to performance art to make up workshops to talks about queer history, there really was something for everyone.
We learnt about queer convicts in Australia before we headed to The O Show on female masculinity. Hosted by Oriana Fox, this was a chat show style talk about the expression of female masculinity. Guests included Lucy Hutson, a performance artist, Temi Wilkey, actor and drag king who co-runs Pecs, a Drag King collective, and Del LaGrace Volcano, an international photographer who has referred to themselves as a ‘part-time gender terrorist’.
Drag King Cole (Temi Wilkey) and Thrustin Limbersnake (Lauren Steele), two Drag Kings of the Pecs collective, performed a lip sync, which was incredible. The discussion on female masculinity was really interesting, and two days later I’m still thinking about issues discussed. But, in all honesty, the thing that has most stuck with me was Temi’s solo performance as Drag King Cole, which was about police brutality against the black community in Britain and the USA. I’d never realised how political drag could be and how it could be used to make such a powerful statement. The room was silent when she’d finished, as well it should have been.
As the day turned into evening, there were several DJ sets beginning, but after so much to think about (how much do I subscribe to traditional gendered dressing, if I have kids how do I raise them in this society while being aware that the gender binary is a harmful contruct, where is my closest drag king night), we headed home for Birmingham.
It was glorious to be in such a queer coded space. It felt more queer coded than Pride, and that’s saying something. Coming back into the real world was a bit of a shock, especially when a stag do took over our train carriage on the way home, but I feel buoyed up by my queer Saturday in London. We have always existed. We produce art, we form academic theory, we hold hands and kiss in art galleries. We exist.
Love happens here
*To confirm, whenever I say women, I include trans women.