Light After Dark (28 Sept - 31 Oct 2017)
An exhibition exploring the past, present, and future of queer nightlife in London.
Curated by Kat Hudson
The National Trust Prejudice and Pride 2017 Autumn season exhibition at Sutton House in Hackney
Featuring: Angel Rose, Charles Jeffrey, Damien Frost, Denise O’Brien, Emily Rose England, Hanna Demel, La JohnJoseph, Josh Quinton, Julia Fodor, Kat Hudson, Kesang Ball, Liza Keane, Lucy Wills, Lyall Hakaraia, Otamere Guobadia, Rachel Hodgson, Sara Ahmad, Waj Hussain, BBZ London, Pxssy Palace, and material from The National Archives - Kew, Gay News Archives, and Boyz Magazine.
Room 1: Behind Closed Doors
From one of the few surviving photographs of men and women present in a raid on a queer venue at Fitzroy Square in 1927, through to the Sexual Offences Act being passed in 1967, and on to some of our favourite queer venues of the past few years, this room explores the history of queer culture in the city. In London temporary sanctuaries popped up all over the West End in the early 20th century, including The Caravan Club in Soho, Shim Sham Cabaret Club in Wardour Street, Billie’s Club in Little Denmark Street, and a rented flat at 25 Fitzroy Square where resident Bobby B would throw parties for small groups of his male friends who would wear powdered make-up and dance through the night in ladies’ shoes.
The partial legalisation of homosexual sex in 1967 was a legal starting point but was far from the beginning of acceptance for the LGBTQ+ community in Britain. The way it was presented was as an act of pity to those already suffering from perverted mental illness. The rate of arrests actually increased in the time following the Sexual Offences Act as the authorities sought to enforce discretion highlighted in the bill and uphold the widely held belief that these individuals were suffering from sexual perversion. Lesbian sex was never illegal but crossdressing, namely wearing less than three items of clothing of the ‘appropriate’ sex could land you in prison for masquerading as another gender for the purposes of fraud. This didn’t stop the parties though and queer folk continued to dance in each other’s shoes all through the night for years to come.
Room 2: A Modern Utopia
‘Queer fun is about finding joy in relief from normative expectations but it’s also a platform for resistance to oppression and a space to rehearse utopia.’ - Ben Walters
The small queer spaces of our past still live on in elements of modern day London. The fear of raids and imprisonment for ‘sexual perversion’ may be gone but alternative spaces specifically for queer folk still remain essential to our existence.
The mainstream LGBTQ+ scene has blossomed with venues in Soho boasting line-ups of top pop stars and TV queens from RuPaul’s drag race. Fully lit, above ground, gay and gay-friendly, legal venues litter the West End. For those who still don’t fit the ‘norm’ and don’t feel comfortable integrating with mainstream culture however, our dingy little basement clubs are still as important as ever.
The alternative club scene has claimed to be many things over the years, an act of rebellion, revolution, resistance. Whilst counterculture certainly helps ideas like this to thrive, whether or not it actually achieves these things in the light of day is up for debate. What can be agreed upon, however, is that these queer spaces act as a kind of temporary constructed utopia; spaces in which it feels like a revolution has already happened. You walk through the doors into a different reality in which the mundanities and prejudices of the everyday become a distant memory. In these spaces, we change what is deemed to be ‘normal’ for ourselves, embrace each other, and push the boundaries of self-expression beyond the realms of popular culture.
Room 3: Backstage
Behind the scenes comes everything that you would expect from close groups of friends celebrating their differences together. Love, intimacy, and companionship run like veins through the heart and soul of the queer community. Self-doubt morphs into self-expression and the way we see ourselves and others changes right before our eyes. This room contains personal works by a selection of young people from today’s scene, exploring ourselves and each other in the sanctuaries we’ve created.
It was nice to love you for a little while,
completely by chance,
like a hamburger wrapper which had blown across your path,
catching the front of your shoe.
It was nice to feel like I wasn’t,
to not be,
but rather that I had succeeded in being,
and being something you desired,
I also desired to be.
How often does that happen?
Not defined by my lack,
not summoned into being by what I was without,
not mauled and pandered to,
not something sacred or wicked or needing to be dealt with,
Just organic matter that twitched in its very own manner.
And loved for it,
completely by chance.
Room 4: Back to the Future
What does the Future hold for queer culture in London? Answer the phone to get to the party, share your memories with us and join us for our accompanying events exploring queer London and its future. The conversation starts here and this room is full of stuff to get us going.
Our Light After Dark zine explores issues surrounding today’s scene with articles from Ben Walters, Fenella Hitchcock, Angel Rose, Gina Tonic, Otamere Guobadia, and Lyall Hakaraia.
Ongoing campaigns to save queer venues that you can get involved with include:
RVT Futures: www.rvt.community
The Joiners Arms: www.thejoinersliveson.org.uk
The Black Cap: www.weareblackcap.com
Please leave comments in our guestbook and join the conversation online lightafterdark2017.wordpress.com