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Queer British Art

This research group, established by the Walker Art Gallery, National Museums Liverpool, provides a forum for the discussion and dissemination of knowledge related to Queer British Art. It nurtures relationships between academics, curators, educators and artists to support queer programming within institutions and to enhance understanding of the richness of queer British art history.

The 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act (1967) in 2017 saw an unprecedented level of visibility for LGBT+ and queer artists and themes in exhibitions, publications and other media. This revealed the significant number of curators and scholars working in this area and the public appetite for programming of this kind. This research group seeks to bring together the informal networks and conversations that developed that year between curators, scholars and artists to maintain this visibility and advocate for greater research and programming in this area.

The research group focuses on both historic and contemporary art, including notable artists whose work reflected or was influenced by their sexuality or gender identity, and the networks that developed between them. The group is committed to exploring how queerness intersects with other aspects of identity, and to addressing the underrepresentation of those too often marginalised within art, art history and the queer community, including people of colour, transgender and disabled people. We seek to explore these issues through collaboration and engagement with other British Art Network research groups and other partners.

The group lead is Charlotte Keenen McDonald (Lead Curator of Fine Art, National Museums Liverpool), with Dominic Bilton as deputy lead (Doctoral Researcher at the University of Leeds).

a graphic work with the words 'Crafted with Pride' with the letters apparently hand-cut in capitals, each letter in a range of different colours

Credit: Dr Daniel Fountain, Crafted with Pride, 2021.

Activity in 2021

The Queer British Art (QBA) group’s research and programme for 2020-21 was established through a series of developmental sessions with members in late 2020. Many members, including both QBA research leads, are interested in participatory practice, and a fundamental question for was ‘how can a collaborative approach to research develop within our group, and how will that look?’ Early sessions helped re-establish members areas of expertise and active research and enabled identify shared aims and interests for the group to explore together.

It was agreed that the group’s research should focus on aspects of queer art history that have received less mainstream attention, beginning initially by exploring queer craft. The group’s interest in looking beyond the recently established queer canon also led members to question how that canon had developed, particularly through exhibitions since 1967. The group resolved to address these questions through two study days. These study days were convened by the QBA leads in collaboration with group members with expertise on these topics. Daniel Fountain worked with the leads on the study day ‘Crafted with Pride’ to explore the role craft has played within queer activism in Britain, directly linked to Fountain’s research. Laura Castagnini co-convened the second event, ‘Documenting LGBT+ Art Exhibitions’.

Both study days saw artists, scholars, curators and activists share exciting new research and insights which helped answer our questions but also led to new ones. For example, contributions to ‘Documenting LGBT+ Art Exhibitions’ focused exclusively on the 1980s, 90s and 00s, highlighting the need for further consideration of the 60s and 70s.

Both study days platformed outstanding contributors but highlights included the artist Mumtaz Karimjee in conversation with Laura Castagnini as part of ‘Documenting LGBT+ Art Exhibitions’ and roundtable discussion ‘Oral Histories of the UK AIDS Memorial Quilt’, chaired by Fountain with Karina Thompson and Graeme Lavery for ‘Crafted with Pride’. A significant research output and highlight for the group has also been the online publication of our collectively created Wikipedia entry British LGBT+ Art Exhibitions, the first published chronology of its kind.

QBA has provided an important forum not just for research but for members to network, and that it has led to new creative collaborations and opportunities outside of the group. The collaborative event ‘Crafted with Pride’ was the catalyst for the forthcoming publication Daniel Fountain in editing, ‘Crafted with Pride: Queer Craft and Contemporary Activism’ (Intellect, 2022), which will include contributions from several members and speakers at the original event.

Charlotte Keenan and Dominic Bilton, January 2022