New exhibition explores Brighton & Hove’s LGBTQ+ heritage

Queer The Pier offers a new exhibition of Brighton & Hove’s LGBTQ+ heritage at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, opening on February 22 and running for two years.

Queer The Pier - pic by Shonay
Queer The Pier - pic by Shonay

Spokeswoman Anna Goodman said: “Meticulously researched and curated by residents of Brighton & Hove, this unprecedented exhibition takes Brighton’s renowned pier as a symbol of the city’s ongoing reputation as a place where people of all genders, sexualities, social classes and ethnic and religious backgrounds have come to seek pleasure, liberation and fulfilment. Queer the Pier is a timely reminder that LGBTQ+ people have always been part of Brighton & Hove’s story.

“Queer the Pier allows the visitor to explore selected experiences of LGBTQ+ people in Sussex over the last 200 years, beginning with a blackmail letter written in 1798 from a solicitor to an army captain, accused of propositioning another man on a coach to Dorking.

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“Aubrey Beardsley’s original cover illustration for volume IV of the Yellow Book periodical is also in this exhibition. Beardsley was dismissed as resident artist following the arrest of Oscar Wilde for sodomy - Wilde was carrying the Yellow Book when arrested and as a consequence, another artist and cover was commissioned. The results are on display at Queer The Pier, alongside Beardsley’s original artwork.

“Brighton Museum &Art Gallery’s 2017/8 exhibition of the life and work of artist Gluck was very well attended so it seems fitting to include Gluck’s Fez hat in this new exhibition. Other items belonging to notable locals include a newly acquired print by photographic artist Rotimi Fans Kayode, collaborator of Robert Mapplethorpe and founder of the APB Gallery. By way of contrast, new photographic portraits of members of Brighton QTIPOC (queer, trans, intersex people of colour) have been commissioned in response to Kayode’s work, especially for Queer The Pier.

“Photographs and memorabilia from the lives of two lesbian war heroines documenting their time in the armed forces plus 50 years of their domestic bliss is another key exhibit as are excerpts from the diary of landowner and lesbian Anne Lister, who writes about her visit to Brighton in 1820.

“An original fortune-telling machine featuring newly created ‘fortunes’ by members of the LGBTQ+ Romany, gypsy and traveller communities is facilitated by Delaine Le Bas (Venice Bienale), paying homage to Brighton Pier’s legacy of seaside attractions.

“Donated collections include ephemera from a range of LGBTQ+ community members, including the indictment of John Spershott, the last man to be hanged for buggery in 1835. By way of contrast, a photo of the Sussex Gay Liberation Front, protesting in front of the war memorial in 1973, is displayed alongside a colourful selection of costumes and drag outfits belonging to local performers and activists.

“Other items of interest include film footage of Brighton’s conjoined Hilton Twins.

“Daisy and Violet were born in the Queens Arms in 1908 and immediately put on display. They were taught to dance and play instruments for a life in Variety shows and were very successful, mainly in Australia and the States, once appearing with Bob Hope. plus a cameo in Freaks, Tod Browning’s banned film of the 1930s. They were inevitably exploited and only through their friendship with Houdini did they get money and freedom. Both twins married gay men and it is suggested that Violet was a lesbian. Alf, a Community Curator on Queer The Pier, has spent years researching their lives.

“A single typewriter represents the influential writings of Peter Burton, who lived in Brighton and wrote for Spartacus, the UK’s first gay magazine, published out of a boarding house in Preston Street in the late ‘60s. Peter went on to write for Gay Times and Gay News for 40 years as well as broadsheets, music magazines and more.”

Queer the Pier is part of Brighton Museum & Art Gallery’s Be Bold initiative, supported by Arts Council England, in which members of the city’s LGBTQ+ community have been invited to submit proposals. Queer The Pier will take over from the Museum Of Transology which has attracted widespread international attention, in the museum’s Spotlight Gallery space.