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"Diversifying the narrative": an interview with Lisa Beauchamp, curator of ‘Coming Out' @ Brum Museum & Art Gallery

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For the opening of the Coming Out: Sexuality, Gender and Identity exhibition in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, I spoke with Lisa Beauchamp the Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art.

The exhibition marks the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexual acts in England and Wales, hosting more than 80 contemporary artworks by renowned artists from Andy Warhol to Francis Bacon. The gallery elaborates saying that by, “taking 1967 as a starting point” they aim to “reveal new research into LGBT history”.

Lisa explained that the gallery has applied for a three-year partnership with the arts council collection, the biggest loan collection of British Modern and Contemporary Art in the UK, which allows such exhibitions to take place. Originally conceived in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, the exhibition has been reimagined by Beauchamp for further exploration into areas of gender, with the inclusion of new loans such as Grayson Perry’s Claire’s Coming Out Dress, and Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) representation through the addition of works from Birmingham’s own collections.

Breaking free from the stiff, static stereotype of gallery work, Lisa and her team have collaborated with other organisations, including Shout Festival, Birmingham LGBT, and Aging Better, with the goal of creating events and workshops surrounding the exhibition as well as opening a dialogue so more voices can be heard through the means of the works. Some of the many events include soap sculpting, inspired by Hadrian Pigott’s featured Boy, ?, Girl, to Polite Polari for everyday use which provides an introduction into the coded, slang language once used by gay subcultures and which is run by featured artist Jez Dolan.

Lisa described her aim for the exhibition as wanting to make viewers “feel welcomed in the space” as well as wanting to open up a dialogue. Having studied for a Masters focusing around topics of feminist art, gender, and identify politics, Lisa described that she’s very conscious of “diversifying the narrative” from the origins of many UK museums that were founded in the late 1800s by wealthy, male industrialists. Instead, the exhibition challenges the idea of a western cannon and reflects a modern Birmingham and a contemporary audience with works intended to “surprise people…to make them think”.

The actual layout of the exhibition moves away from the standard “white cube silent space”, as Lisa refers to it, instead injecting some, “sound in the space” and trying to, “[have] colour…trying to create an atmosphere”. Indeed, whilst speaking with Lisa, we were serenaded by the distant sounds of the featured Isaac Julien film, The Long Road to Mazatlán, which Lisa mentioned was “one of [her] favourite works in the show”. As for colour, the vibrant turquoise, orange, and violet walls refer to the original Gilbert-Baker Pride flag for Magic, Healing, and Spirit which Lisa reminds are “all things we hope [the viewer] can experience at the show”.  With this open-space layout, she described giving the pieces, “space to breathe” and to think “more creatively about how we hang the works”.

Finally, I asked Lisa what she believed was the key to success in both an exhibition and a career in the arts world. She spoke in detail of the importance of bringing both energy and enthusiasm to her team and how that pays off as, “If you create that buzz, if you create that enthusiasm, that commitment to a subject…then hopefully visitors will feel that”. Moreover, in terms of advice from her own career, her message was simple: “Perseverance…just being enthusiastic about what you do… hopefully artists who see these works can connect with them and feel inspired…feel validated in what their trying to communicate”.

Lisa is next working on the New Art West Midlands show for emerging artists in February followed by a touring exhibition in June on “everyday objects in art…[looking] at art transforming the everyday into the extraordinary” as a continuation of this three-year partnership with the Arts Council Collection.

The Coming Out: Sexuality, Gender and Identity exhibition is free and open to the public until 15th April in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, details of which are available here.

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