LGBT+ History Month
February is LGBT+ History Month in the UK, a month-long annual celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and non-binary history. This year’s theme centres on ‘Politics in Art’ and aims to bring the intersection of the political and personal, and the public and private to the fore. Five artists (one each to represent the L, G, B, T and ‘+’ of the community) who used their talents for ‘political’ ends or expressed their orientation through their work, are being spotlighted in 2022. How familiar are you with this year’s five faces?
First up is the American pop artist Keith Haring (1958-1990). Part of the legendary New York art scene during the 1980s, his graffiti-inspired ‘subway drawings’ (characterised by their rapid rhythmic lines and Haring’s frequent use of white chalk) informed and involved the public, highlighting urgent political and social issues, including the growing AIDS crisis.
Haring was close friends with the second artist selected this year – the painter Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988). His hectic and arresting works, marrying text and image, abstraction and figuration, explored his experiences in the Black community and attacked systems of racism. The nature of the relationship between his “very rich multichromatic sexuality” (as described later by his girlfriend) and his creative output is open to debate.
Artist number three is the British modernist painter and printmaker Doris Brabham Hatt (1890-1969), who is now emerging out of the shadows cast by her male peers. A committed feminist, socialist and forward thinker who exhibited prolifically, Hatt was influenced by Cubism, Purism, abstraction, and the works of Cézanne and Picasso. She developed a distinctive style, showing a bold use of colour and daring manipulation of shapes and perspective, her mantra being “to simplify and at the same time intensify”.
This year’s fourth ‘face’ is the Italian sculptor Fiore de Henriquez (1921-2004), whose experience of being intersex found expression in her work. Declaring herself “proud to be hermaphrodite” and “two people inside one body”, androgyny, ambiguous creatures and conjoined figures were all recurring motifs in her sculpture. Technically, her pieces are often ambitious, and range from personal smaller pieces and portrait busts to religious scenes.
The fifth and final figure in focus is the American transfeminine multidisciplinary artist Mark Aguhar (1987-2012). Known as the ‘Call Out Queen’, Aguhar’s visual art (including drawings, watercolours, collage and photography), videos and Tumblr posts challenged normative beauty standards, called out racism, misogyny and fatphobia, expanded conventional understandings of femininity, and claimed space for people existing outside the gender binary.
Among the exhibitions and events demonstrating how art can be a powerful tool for change in the context of LGBT+ inclusion, there is the Phyllis Christopher: Contacts show at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead (until 20 March). Via Christopher’s powerful archive, visitors can explore the role photography plays in making visible lesbian lives. It is also worth checking out Derek Jarman: Protest! at Manchester Art Gallery (until 10 April). This retrospective of the iconoclast filmmaker, artist and activist, who was a powerful voice in the campaign for gay rights, features his ‘slogan paintings’, early self-portraits, films and driftwood sculptures.
LGBT+ History Month is all about recognising progress, but the tagline for this year’s anniversary is ‘the arc is long’, from Martin Luther King Jnr’s quote “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. Art spells this out – the journey towards full equality is winding and far from over.