Desire Love Identity: Exploring LGBTQ Histories
11 May – 15 October 2017
The museum brings together key objects from its collection that shed light on the history of queer identity.
To commemorate the decriminalisation of male homosexuality in the UK 50 years ago, the British Museum has sought out objects that highlight gay narratives that have often been overlooked or deliberately erased. The book A Little Gay History by Richard Parkinson, a former curator in the ancient Egypt department, inspired the project.
On display are a series of coins, medals and depictions of famous gay figures from across history, including that of the poet Sappho and of the emperor Hadrian, the latter of whom's unprecedented love for his attendant Antinous (it was common for emperors to have a harem of men and women) led him to found a city in his name. One of the oldest items on show is a phallic stone sculpture from the Natufian period (approximately 10,000 years old), which depicts two figures in an intimate embrace.
The museum has created a trail through the permanent galleries highlighting objects that offer further insight into LGBTQ histories to accompany the exhibition. A second display meanwhile focuses on contemporary works, such as David Hockney’s homoerotic illustrations made for CP Cavafy’s poetry.