'Coming Out' Exhibition at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

‘Coming Out’ Exhibition at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Culture Critic Frankie Scott reviews the unmissable 'Coming Out' exhibition open at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

‘Coming Out’ is an exhibition commemorating the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexual acts in Britain, following the 1967 Sexual Offences Act. The exhibition encompasses art from 1967 to the present day, with a wide variety of artists including Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon, David Hockney and Tracey Emin. Celebrating sexuality, gender, love, sex, and the freedom for people to be unapologetically themselves, the exhibition was a moving experience.

Most of the art in the exhibition celebrates or reflects on the struggle of being yourself in a world that doesn’t always accept you and your sexual preferences or gender identity. Although it features work from some famous names, the exhibition includes less well known artists and artists local to Birmingham. Similarly, the exhibition can be commended for its diversity, as it doesn’t rely on the experiences of white middle class gay men, such as Andy Warhol, to examine sexuality and gender. For example, New Delhi born artist Sunil Gupta’s photographs are an attempt to recapture what it means to be Indian, as a gay man living in the West. His pieces show different men in New Delhi embracing, and talking, with quotes underneath the photographs referencing what it means to be a gay man in India. His work has been recognised as pivotal in documenting LGBTQ+ experiences and stories. 

It is this blend of triumphant assertions of self-love, with such a wide variety of queer art and explorations of gender that make this exhibition so powerful

Likewise, Steve McQueen’s film piece exploring black male masculinity is moody, silent and dramatic. Shown in a pitch-black room on a large screen, it provides for a fully immersive experience and hypnotic viewing. Undeniably one of the most striking pieces in the exhibition is Tracey Emin’s neon sign that reads ‘When I Think about Sex I Think about Men – Women, Dogs, Lions, Group Sex (And I Love you all)’. The neon blue scrawling writing, glowing above Warhol’s screen-print ‘Marilyn’, is one of the first works you see walking into the exhibition. It sets the tone for the rest of the exhibition, with its refusal to define sexuality, paired with an acceptance of all kinds of sex and love.

An inspired touch to the exhibition are the quotes printed onto the walls to do with sexuality and gender, including ‘Feminism is for everybody’ (Bell Hooks), and ‘We’re here. We’re Queer. Get used to it’, as popularised by Queer Nation, an American Activist Group. It is this blend of triumphant assertions of self-love, with such a wide variety of queer art and explorations of gender that make this exhibition so powerful. There is also an area for visitors to write and display their own stories and experiences - although fair warning, the messages are both heart-wrenching and beautiful, and will probably leave you feeling very emotional. 

This exhibition is unmissable

I truly believe this exhibition is unmissable. Everyone and anyone should visit regardless of your gender, sexuality or background, and I assure anyone reading this that you will not regret it.

The ‘Coming Out’ exhibition is on display until 15 April 2018 at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, for more information visit: http://www.birminghammuseums.org.uk/bmag/whats-on/coming-out-sexuality-gender-and-identity.



3rd March 2018 at 9:00 am

Images from

Elliot Brown