GoMA’s queer timɘs school prints showcases decades of LGBT+ history and community

21 February 2019

Photograph: Ana Lorang

“It’s only been thirty-nine years ago since it was illegal to be gay in Scotland. So essentially, the idea for us is to show the lengths that we have come,” said Jade Mulholland, Museums Galleries Scotland Intern and queer timɘs school participant.

Gallery three on the third floor of the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) is currently exhibiting queer timɘs school prints. The exhibition, as the name suggests, references Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Polysexual, Queer, Intersex + Allies (LGBTPQI+A) histories and experiences in Scotland over the past 50 years. It features a painted mural, display cases, a library, ten prints and a small screening-room at the back. The exhibition started on the 1st December and ends on the 10th March 2019.

The question that arises is: how well-documented was queer life in Scotland? Is there a lack of information when it comes to LGBT life?

It all started three years ago when Glasgow Museums commissioned queer artist, curator and lecturer at the University of Gothenburg, Jason E. Bowman, for ten educational prints on LGBT history. This turned into a community project of determining what the prints should be about. However, Bowman had to incorporate three important LGBT+ anniversaries: namely, the introduction of Section 28, the end of the partial criminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales, and the beginning of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Scotland.

The community projects were called queer timɘs school: assemblies held across schools, libraries, museums and other venues in Glasgow last summer. The aim was to get citizens to talk about their experience as a queer person in Scotland starting from 1967 until the present day. These discussions, then, served to determine the themes of the prints and the recurring ones were: education, health and wellbeing, the state and legislation as well as evicted and erased histories.

As a first-hand participant, Mulholland recalled that it was a long process. “There had to be a temporary school that had to be called, there had to be participants that were genuine members of the public, there had to be discussions and deliberations to come to these themes. When it came to artist commissioning, the participants had to decide the criteria that the artist would have to meet.”

The criteria was that artists had to be of non-conforming gender and sexualities, with a strong relationship to Scotland as well as not being represented in Glasgow Museums Collections before. The selection of artists was the most important aspect as it represents the project as a whole. Mulholland added that: “The idea is that with this exhibition, we take all the power away from Glasgow Museums.”

THE MURAL, DISPLAY CASES AND THE LIBRARY

The first thing you see when entering Gallery Three at GoMA, are massive black words written on a white wall.

It takes a while to read all of the text but the message is clear: it depicts how it all started and how queer timɘs school led to queer timɘs school prints. The exhibition is a culmination of that work: a citizen-project that had been made into an art gallery. For Mulholland, the exhibition, for all it is worth, represents only the tip of the iceberg. She said: “There is so much information that is not available after what you see here. For example all the speakers at the assemblies told beautiful stories and gave us incredible information about their lives and what was going on at the time. And only tiny bits of that testimony will trickle down into the exhibition.” Which in her eyes “is the sad part about this exhibition.”

THE MURAL:

Photograph: Ana Lorang

Moving on from that wall, the display case is hard to miss as it is right in the middle of the room. The content is made of archive material issued from various LGBT organisations in Scotland. During the run of the exhibition, there has been three changeovers of some of the material. HIV and Aids was the first theme, which in hindsight relates to some of the prints in the other room. For the following month it was Section 28 including material from the Glasgow Women’s Library, the Manchester Marches, and We Have Rather Been Invaded by Ed Webb-Ingall, a film about Section 28.

THE CURRENT DISPLAY CASE:

Photograph: Ana Lorang

Currently, the vitrine’s theme is “queer presents and futures.” The idea is that this is where the LGBT history has led. Mulholland does not like the word history in relation to LGBT+ issues. “We don’t really talk about the history, we get people to inspire people and find out more about it.”

The display case is a form of capturing the present day and the changes that are currently happening all around Scotland. Mulholland named the example of the TIE campaign: “Nineteen years after the removal of Section 28 from law, we’re only just having LGBT education pushed in schools. So the TIE campaign was essentially born of the inaction that followed Section 28 and it’s quite impressive.”

While the previous display cases are mainly text-based, this one is more “ephemeral.”

Photograph: Ana Lorang

THE LIBRARY

The library is made of three shelves displaying various books about art and queer artists, for example How to Survive a Plague, which is a documentation of Aids activist groups in the 80s and 90s. It also showcases books about politics such as Gendertroubles by Judith Butler and educational flyers from various LGBT+ organisations such as LGBT Scotland and Scottish Trans Alliance.

Mulholland emphasised many of the origin of the books. “A lot of these books came from ‘Category Is Books’ in the Southside, ‘a fiercely independent’ queer bookstore.” To which she added: “We were very keen to make sure we got lots of our books from them because we really wanted the funds from this to go to support them as much as possible.”

THE PRINTS – THE STARS OF THE SHOW

Moving on from the first room to the next one, there is a slight change of atmosphere. Whereas the first room is bright and light-flooded, room number two is dimly lit. Essentially, it is a culmination of three years of work focusing around ten or rather nine prints, as Jason E. Bowman’s is currently not available for display, but that is another story.

I did have an expectation of what the prints would look like but they could not be more different from each other. It is impressive how each artist has interpreted the themes that they had to work with as they were not directly told what to do. There are, nonetheless, themes that run throughout the exhibition which are reflected in some of the prints, such as Section 28, queer presents and futures and the theme of erasure and noticeability. Most of the prints are digital art or photographs.

The one that caught my eye the most was Angelic Conversation by Michelle Hannah, which focuses around the queer futures theme. There is also a relationship to Derek Jarman’s film which bears the same title. She used “fragments, cut-outs and collage to re-activate the past.” She also took inspiration from queer author Oscar Wilde’s favourite colour: green or the green incarnation to “trace back the pathways of these mould breakers and culture originators.”

Angelic Conversation – Michelle Hannah. Photograph: Ana Lorang

Camara Taylor’s print, conversations with M [and J, D, M, A, K, N, S, Z, R, T, C and I as in them, her, him, as in we. ], catches the attention because of its darkness.

The print was made with a variety of techniques: collage, cut outs and digital imagery. It addresses the theme of erasure and black queer experience. Mulholland said: “All of these prints are formally acquired by Glasgow Museums Collections and will be ours until the end of museums.” She added: “That’s really something because Camara Taylor and Hamish Chapman are very recent University of Glasgow graduates. So to be brought into the collection now is impressive.”

conversations with M [and J, D, M, A, K, N, S, Z, R, T, C and I as in them, her, him, as in we. ] – Camara Taylor. Photograph: Ana Lorang

EDUCATING THE MASSES

 When I asked Mulholland about the educational aspect of this exhibition or rather the prints themselves, she told me that there are two sets of prints: the original set is owned by Glasgow Museums and the other is a set of fifty flexible prints, to be used in schools all over Glasgow. The schools must take all ten prints at once and lead a discussion on them, following a lesson plan. These lesson plans were developed by David Dick in order to facilitate class-discussions.

Lastly, Mulholland hopes that queer timɘs school prints opens up the dialogue on LGBT+ issues, experiences and history. She invites people to come and see the exhibition with their own eyes because “you will probably need to wait ten years for Glasgow Museums to do another LGBT oriented exhibition.”

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