Arts, LGBT History Month

The hidden history of LGBTQ+ art

Arts, LGBT History Month

The hidden history of LGBTQ+ art

8 months ago
By Sonakshi Sharma

In recent decades, art historians have contextualized images of homosexuality and homoeroticism that appear throughout the history of art and visual culture, revising and expanding our understanding of representations of same sex desire, romance, and companionship.

A global survey of queer art would include art from Greece, Rome, China, Peru, India, Mexico, as well as the medieval, Renaissance, and early modern periods.

Gay liberation promoted visibility by encouraging people to “come out” as LGBTQ+, this ethos was manifested in art as well as art history. Artists became emboldened to make art about their sexual identity, and LGBTQ+ art historians began to recuperate the work of LGBTQ+ artists that went unnoticed, had been censored, or written out of history books.

The Ancient Greeks produced one of the earliest well-developed examples of queer art. Unlike in other ancient cultures, the Greeks considered free adult male sexual attraction to be both normal and natural. 

Vivid images were often painted on black figure vases, hundreds of which survive today. While the Ancient Greeks understood sexuality in radically different ways than we do today, their art serves as a reminder of a time when same-sex attraction was accepted and even celebrated.

The pulp novels from the 50s and 60s featured lurid cover art, with colourful visual innuendos which are now important pop culture representations of LGBTQ+ in art.

Recently, the British Museum announced that it will host an exhibition on May this year to mark 50 years since homosexuality was partially decriminalised in England and Wales. The display provides glimpses into LGBTQ+ experience through the ages and across the world, pulling together a range of pieces from the British Museum’s collection.
The oldest art piece dates back to 9000BC. The British Museum also has a new LGBTQ+ themed trail that goes through the permanent galleries, highlighting relevant paintings and artefacts. It includes 10-15 key objects, allowing the LGBTQ+ aspects of these artefacts to be explored in their historical and cultural context.