The August Bank holiday saw the culmination of Manchester Pride’s celebration of LGBT life – ‘the Big Weekend’. During the preceding week Manchester City Art Gallery hosted the Pride Art Trail – a whistle-stop tour of a series of selected artworks chosen and interpreted by members of Manchester’s LGBT community specifically for Pride, accompanied by a guide leaflet for gallery visitors.
Having arrived slightly late to the event I skipped through the galleries with the help of alert and accommodating staff who quickly located the group for me to join. Throughout the hour-long session people in the galleries floated fluidly into and out of the group, lending the event a relaxed and enquiring atmosphere.
The journey through the ages, expertly facilitated by Meg Parnell, Curator of Lifelong Learning at the Manchester Art Gallery, brought up key themes of public perception, legislative developments and the move away from repression to openness for LGBT people, amongst many other topics
The chosen artworks were interpreted in a highly personal way by individuals, which really highlighted the validity of private and intimate readings and acted as encouragement for us to engage in a personal way with art.
Evident from the readings of the artworks were the remarkable changes that have occurred during the last sixty years in particular, changing the face of LGBT life in Manchester forever. The miscellany of readings explored at the event created a hugely lively and fun experience and, rather than arousing discord, culminated in the broad judgment that art develops multiple layers of interpretation – a palimpsest of LGBT history, which whilst not erasing the previous reading, gathers more meaning through time. Essentially, however, the event posed more questions than it answered leaving an appetite for more.
Attended by some 25 people, a handful of which were women and the remainder men, the size of the event fostered an atmosphere that valued personal contributions. What resonated from the start to the end was the absence of a female discourse. Whether this is due to the lack of pertinent women’s work being held by the gallery or the choices of a male dominated LGBT group, is unclear. With this set aside, however, the event was highly informative in respect of presenting an incredibly personal evolution of life experiences for GBT men in Manchester.
In counterpoint to the male dominated content of this event, I sought and found respite in The Curated Place’s ‘The modern Lesbian’, exhibition at 52 Princess Street, supported by local businesses The Sweet Tooth Cupcakery and The Nip and Tipple amongst others. The exhibition unwrapped some of the multiple identities of women within the LGBT community in Manchester through the graphical visual representation of the paintings, alongside a text description. The images offer the beginnings of a challenge to conventional stereotypes about LGBT women, who are a series of individual minorities within the overarching LGBT grouping, which is so often overshadowed by male interests. It was a great concept – to chart individuals and make a personal response from a uniquely female standpoint.
Ultimately however, the presence of the two exhibitions could not have been further apart, with the women’s event taking place in a low profile venue much further from the city centre with discrete footfall and far fewer opportunities for mainstream viewings from the public, indicative of the marginalisation of women in general and expressly lesbian and bisexual women in context of the male dominated gay culture of canal street. Perhaps a development from this could see interventions at the fantastic People’s History Museum and the City Art Gallery during next year’s Pride to bring LGBT women’s art critique and practise in line with men’s.