What Walsall for All can learn from 'Here and Queer' exhibition.
LGBTQ+ Pride Month is celebrated each year in June to honour the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan. The civil movement for gay rights that had been brewing for a long time culminated with the riots in June that year. Its significance should not be underestimated as it started a long journey of liberation from reforming the homophobic legal systems around the world to changes in day to day lives and attitudes, allowing gay communities to live more open and fulfilling lives. We are reminded every year that we are still on that journey. It's a time to reflect, celebrate and hear stories of our neighbours, residents and colleagues who are part of the LGBTQ+ communities in Walsall.
One way to do this is to visit the New Art Gallery in Walsall who put on the Here and Queer display from the Garman Ryan Collections. The display was coproduced with members of the LGBTQ+ communities alongside an independent consultant Jon Sleigh. Walsall for All team visited their preview and guided tour on 4 June 2022.
In Walsall for All, we believe in constantly challenging ourselves about perceptions, bias and prejudice and never stop learning about diversity. We are very much aware that during the 3 years of Walsall for All programme, LGBTQ+ communities have not always been influential or visible. Walsall-based civil society has not yet gained the space for the LGBTQ+ cause that it deserves. This is why it was important for our team to visit the exhibition and 'listen'.
This blog certainly does not give justice to what we have experienced, learned and seen from the art pieces on display. Suffices to say, two female staff were blown away by the guided tour with the coproduction panel drawn from the Walsall College LGBT Society and Wolverhampton-based grassroots organisation LGBT + Sparkle.
We felt that complexities of human body with all its fears, relationships, beauty and anxieties is being celebrated throughout the exhibition and we got an insight into the lives of Garman and Ryan families too. We saw a fair bit of nostalgia, grief and pain, particularly when different points of view have been shared from the residents about growing up in Walsall town when it hasn't always been friendly. As the notes in the visitor's book testified: Walsall has been a site of much queer pain for me, so seeing queer communities + joy brings me hope” or “I have never felt as much at home in my hometown than I did today”
We talk a lot about intersectionality and identity but you must really see exhibitions like these and hear lived experiences to really understand what it means. We felt privileged for having an opportunity to do so (on the day of the Queen Platinum Jubilee as it happens!) We really do hope that supporters or Walsall for All and wider population of Walsall visit this inspiring space and walk away with greater sense of empathy and better understanding of how our lives are and have always been inter-connected with those of LGBTQ+ communities.