‘Queer British Art’ at the TATE

By: Robbie

A brief reflection of a progressive exhibit.

Learning about the stories and history of your community is important in order to understand where your roots lie and where you come from. It’s necessary to hear stories of acceptance and struggle so that you can build on what those that came before you left. As a young gay illustrator, reading the different stories featured within the TATE Britain’s ‘Queer British Art’ exhibit has not only educated me on the lives of queer artists within an early LGBT community, but also encouraged me to broaden what I think I’d like to achieve within illustration.

As a queer person, these stories have made me feel even prouder to be following the route of an illustrator

Beginning in 1861, the year when the death penalty for sodomy was abolished, and ending in 1967 with the partial decriminalisation of sex between men – the TATE’s ‘Queer British Art’ exhibit provides glimpses into the lives of queer artists at the time. These can be observed through paintings, illustrations, objects and detailed descriptions – giving snippets of a period where LGBT rights laws didn’t exist. The images not only display a realistic social representation of these rights at the time, but also a representation of fantasy and escapism for the community.

A woman is posed flipping gender norms in a dashing suit as she plays ‘husband’, as her and her partner act out the roles of a heterosexual couple just so they can enjoy a weekend break at a hotel. Approving male onlookers stand and watch a recent shipment of navy men arriving at a harbour-side bar – a colourful scene of drinking, dancing and safety. And an artist sketches his most intimate moments, as well as those of his fantasy. These images were an escapism for the artists and onlookers that lived in an oppressive era – they were portrayals of courage, intimacy and warmth. Art has always been an escapism for artists to lace their reality with love and dreams of optimism, casting aside hate and fear for another day. This exhibition gives an honest representation of what it was like to live as an LGBT member in a pre-rights era, as well as showing the freedom that these artists desire.

As a queer person, these stories have made me feel even prouder to be following the route of an illustrator, and also allowed me to question what I would like to achieve within my work. Including LGBT themes/characters was always a given for me as that’s what I find personal – however, after taking in the TATE’s exhibition, I know I want to feature them as a way of documenting my community, to contribute to the presence of queer artists and to provide a platform for queer artists to speak.

Responding to the exhibit, I have created two illustrations to go along with this article! Above is a self-portrait of myself sat in front of a Duncan Grant piece that I really loved – titled ‘Brothers by the Pond’ -Whereas below is my own personal take on the image itself. What I loved about the original image is that it showed a lovely freedom of gay expression, and that in those oppressive times there were safe places to go, relax, be gay and enjoy a swim.

Smile :)
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