The 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homesexuality has spurred a new exhibition, Refracted, in Bournemouth from 13 May.
To commemorate the 50-year anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England, Bournemouth’s Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum is launching a major new exhibition, Refracted: Collection Highlights, which has been co-curated with members of the local LGBT+ community. The project, funded by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, seeks to mark this significant change in social and cultural attitudes and to celebrate and work with a vibrant section of Bournemouth’s community.
Taking inspiration from the Rainbow Flag, which has been used since the 1970s to symbolise the mixed LGBT+ community, the volunteer curators at the Russell-Cotes have selected paintings and objects from the collection to reflect the colours of the rainbow flag and their associated themes: sexuality, (pink), life (red), healing (orange), sunlight (yellow), nature (green), magic and art, (turquoise), harmony (blue) and spirit (purple/violet). Through these themes, they have refracted the Russell-Cotes Museum’s extraordinary and diverse collection and have created a stunning exhibition which will appeal to all.
Some of the works reflect human LGBT+ experiences over the decades before decriminalisation, and highlights include The Annunciation, 1877 by Simeon Solomon (1840–1905), a Pre-Raphaelite follower who was arrested and imprisoned for sodomy, destroying his promising career. Artist, John Minton (1917–1957) was so conflicted by his homosexuality that he committed suicide and his stunning life-size portrait, Painter and Model, will take centre stage. Other works of art and objects have been chosen for their kitsch and exuberance, for their relevance to the rainbow themes, or merely because of their personal appeal to the individual curators.
In addition, there will be a varied and exciting programme of events which will be running in conjunction with this exhibition, from 13 May to 8 September, and also linking to Bournemouth’s Pride Weekend (1to 2 July). Talks will be given by visiting speakers on topics including Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience teapot (revealing Victorian attitudes to gender and sex) and the Wolfenden Report on decriminalisation. Art workshops and activities will be inspired by the exhibition and its content. Alongside, smaller exhibitions will focus on contemporary gay Bournemouth and artists in the collection.
Judith Richardson, a volunteer co-curator at the exhibition, said, “It’s been fascinating to see and select pieces from the Russell-Cotes’ rich heritage and to share these with the wider community. I found a painting of Rudolf Nureyev particularly fascinating, as it represents the Russell-Cotes’ more recent past, when Nureyev filmed Valentino on location here in the 1970s.”
Nerys Watts, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund South West, said, “Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, we were delighted to support this project, particularly in time to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality. It is wonderful to welcome the opening of this exhibition, the inspiring result of a project which has put the LGBT+ community in charge of ensuring the stories that matter to them can be heard.”
Councillor Lawrence Williams, who sits on the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum’s Management Committee, and is the responsible Bournemouth Borough Council Cabinet member, comments, “It is fantastic to see members of the local LGBT+ community working together with the Russell-Cotes to select the pieces that will be included in this exciting new show. I encourage local residents and visitors to go along to view what promises to be a stimulating and fascinating exhibition in Bournemouth’s beautiful seafront gallery.”