In the early hours of 28 June 1969, officers entered the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York. The bar served as a haven for the city’s gay, lesbian and transgender communities amidst a series of police raids taking place across Manhattan. But, that June morning, something about Stonewall was different. The mounting tension finally erupted, sparking a riot that lasted several days and, ultimately, acted as a catalyst for LGBTQ+ liberation movements in the US and worldwide. Now, every year, the month of June is Pride Month – dedicated to honouring the history of Stonewall and foregrounding LGBTQ+ communities all around the world through parades and celebrations. Here are exhibitions and events to note in the UK, Europe and US, from photography shows and collection tours to day-long festivals and talks programmes.
For more than 30 years, British artist Ajamu (b. 1963) has unapologetically celebrated Black queer bodies and pleasure through the lens. He has remained at the forefront of genderqueer photography and activism, challenging dominant ideas around masculinity, gender, sexuality and representation of Black LGBTQ+ people in the UK. Ajamu’s evocative photographs present the lives and experiences of himself and those around him. From charged self-portraits to tender depictions of lovers, spirited images of friends, The Patron Saint of Darkrooms uses sensuality and desire as a creative practice and form of liberation.
“Until recently, the lives of LGBTQIA+ people were largely invisible or untold in museums,” says V&A. The recent opening of dedicated museums like Queer Britain has gone some way to redress the balance, but it’s just as vital to see historic institutions – whose legacies span hundreds of years – reassess their existing collections from a more inclusive and intersectional perspective. Now, V&A is offering tours of its exhibits through the lens of gender and sexual identity, introducing audiences to “a selection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer plus objects in the V&A’s rich and surprising collections.”
The British Museum’s permanent collection comprises at least 8 million works, with roughly 80,000 on public display. It is amongst the top five most-visited in the world. June sees volunteers lead a tour that encompasses the ancient world and the present day, and includes some of the most famous artworks on display. It joins V&A in a re-evaluation of its holdings, encouraging visitors to engage with the untold stories behind thousands of years’ worth of objects, artworks and historic artefacts.
The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art is the only dedicated LGBTQIA+ art museum in the world, with more that 25,000 objects. Korean-American transgender artist Coyote Park’s new series, now on view at Leslie-Lohman, is inspired by research into these exhibits, specifically those which depict intimate pairs. The resulting photographs explore the artist’s own deep bonds and intimate entanglements, featuring past lovers, current partners and those they hold close. Park aims to capture the unspoken understandings of how they see and are seen, expanding on existing queer illustrative histories. As such, Park’s works are presented alongside rarely-exhibited works from the museum’s collection.
Zanele Muholi (b. 1972) is a visual activist whose images reclaim the lens, offering a vital platform for black lesbian, gay, transgender and intersex individuals. Muholi’s images – including the renowned Somnyama Ngonyama (Hail the Dark Lioness) self portrait series – have captivated the world. Creating direct, powerful and affecting compositions, the South African artist works across photography, video and installation, focusing on race, gender and sexuality. Muholi uses the lens as a space for reclamation – of both gaze and representation. July sees the first comprehensive presentation of their work open in Switzerland.
Tate Britain’s festival is dedicated to the powerful role of LGBTQIA+ art and culture in the UK. It delves into the gallery’s newly hung selection of displays, tapping into themes of desire, history and culture throughout the day. Audiences will be introduced to the trailblazing contemporary filmmaking of Isaac Julien as well as a Queer Collection Tour spanning 1890-1945. Elsewhere are free performances, talks, workshops, family events, DJs, films and readings from artists rooted in the UK’s queer community. Topics for discussion include Queering the Library and What Does a Genderqueer Museum Look Like?
Whitworth’s current exhibition is interested in what the term ‘queer’ means. In an attempt to unpick a definition, it delves into its own collections, presenting works that have never before been on display by the likes of Ajamu X, Niki de Saint Phalle and Wolfgang Tillmans. The project is co-led by an intersectional group of people who self-identify as LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and/or questioning, intersex, and asexual), who have set out to interrogate language, histories and narratives within the Whitworth’s practice and collections. Most importantly, the exhibition seeks to redress “historic omissions that have existed as a result of heteronormative museum practice.”
Keith Haring (1958-1990) famously said: “Art should be something that liberates your soul, provokes the imagination and encourages people to go further.” The Broad’s retrospective celebrates his lasting legacy, spanning 120 artworks bursting with vibrant colour, energetic linework and iconic characters. Haring’s work continues to dissolve barriers and spread joy, and remains rooted in the creative spirit and mission of his early subway drawings and renowned public murals: art is for everybody. This show highlights pieces that span from the late-1970s – when he was a student at the School of Visual Arts in New York – up until 1988, just two years before the artist tragically died from AIDS-related illness at the age of 31.
A Hard Man is Good to Find! charts over 60 years of queer photography of the male physique. It celebrates images that emerged in the post-war period, during a time when making and distributing such images was a criminal offence. Whilst the 1955 Wolfenden Report and the 1967 Sexual Offences Act marked the partial decriminalisation of gay sexual activity, prompting gay liberation and the fight for social equality; any depiction of male nudity which suggested homosexuality remained subject to the 1857 Obscene Publications Act. This show navigates “key areas of London which were a focus for men seeking out men to photograph”: Highgate, between Chelsea and Wellington Barracks, Soho, Brixton, Portobello and Euston.
1. Zanele Muholi, Vile, Gothenburg, Sweden, 2015. Courtesy Yancey Richardson and the Artist, © Zanele Muholi.
2. Malcom and Chris, 1992 © the artist, Ajamu Studio.
3. V&A Exhibition Road Quarter, designed by AL_A ©Hufton+Crow.
4. Jake Trotman, Unsplash.
5. Coyote Park, River and Coyote (2022). Digital print. Courtesy of the artist.
6. Zanele Muholi, ZaVa IV, Bordeaux, 2013 Courtesy Yancey Richardson and the Artist, © Zanele Muholi.
7. Miguel Sousa, Unsplash.
8. Ajamu X, Bud Kim, 2018 © the artist, Ajamu Studio.
9. Keith Haring at his Pop Shop in SoHo, 1986Tseng Kwong Chi / Muna Tseng Dance Projects Inc./The Keith Haring Foundation.
10. Basil Clavering, (Royale, Hussar, Dolphin), Mail order Storyette print, late 1950s. Courtesy of the Rupert Smith Collection.