February marks LGBTQ+ History Month, an annual month-long observance of LGBTQ+ identity and communities. It provides an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the contributions of LGBTQ+ individuals throughout history. Here, we highlight 10 exhibitions, festivals and books to discover that focus on topics of gender, representation, resistance and liberation. From photography shows by Zanele Muholi and Paul Mpagi Sepuya to solo displays by Jen Everett and Turner Prize nominee Sin Wai Kin, scroll through and discover the creatives that are redefining the boundaries of contemporary art today.
Paul Mpagi Sepuya is best known for intimate studio portraits that explore the relationships between camera, subject and viewer. They depict friends, lovers and members of the artist’s queer and creative communities, but are also “images about the making of images.” Sepuya is often present in his work, with glimpses of his body appearing in reflections or from outside the frame. The exhibition plays on questions of visibility and invisibility – from unseen moments of queer intimacy, to the traces people leave behind.
“Throughout history, the act of sharing artistic practices has been a vital bonding agent for the queer community. Creative cultural events have drawn queer folk together in spaces ranging from pubs to carnivals and in more recent years, into museums,” says E-J Scott, Curator of Museum of Transology. The result is a digital exhibition that shows 20 works chosen by public vote, including seminal pieces such as Derek Jarman’s film Blue, Nan Goldin’s street photography and Yves Klein’s monochrome paintings.
About Face surveys the work of LGBTQ+ artists exploring gender and sexual identity at the time of and since the Stonewall riots in June 1969. The book contains 350 pieces from over 40 LGBTQ+ international artists including Carlos Alfonzo, Joan E. BIiren and Shimon Attie. Activist, art historian and curator Jonathan D. Katz collates this volume, enriching the images with essays by artists and scholars. He explains, “every work selected for inclusion in About Face sought to push the viewer out of the familiar, to offer a series of imaginative journeys into other realities beyond the categorical imperatives we know.
London-based QueerCircle have commissioned Mexican artist Teresa Margolles to create a work to be installed at Trafalgar Square. The commission, entitled 850 Improntas will be made of plaster cast molds of the faces of 850 transgender people. The casts will be created in collaboration with trans people living in London and around the world. Pasted around a plinth, the work is inspired by prehispanic reliefs like Tzompantli, creating an installation that serves as a powerful visual record of existence and identity.
In 2022, Sin Wai Kin was nominated for the Turner Prize, becoming the first ever non-binary artist nominated for the award. Their work draws on speculative fiction and storytelling to create multilayered performances and moving image works. In their first US solo exhibition, the artist presents the films The Breaking Story (2022) and Dreaming the End (2023). Using makeup and costumes derived from drag performance and Cantonese and Peking opera, the artist addresses themes of belonging and multiplicity.
Photography has long been used by Zanele Muholi for social change. In 2006, South Africa became the first African country to legalise same-sex marriage. Nevertheless, hate crimes and discrimination continue to limit the freedom of LGBTQ+ people. Muholi started the ongoing series Faces and Phases in the same year as the Civil Union Act. It is a living archive that now comprises over 500 greyscale portraits. Eye Me is an opportunity to experience the work Muholi has done to make celebrate the Black queer community.
This annual event brings together LGBTQ+ artists, filmmakers and performers to celebrate a month of queer joy. Queerfest hosts Interrupt, an exhibition showcasing photography, ceramics and zines, curated by multidisciplinary artist and producer Sakib Khan. Highlights also include a Queerfest – a live show and selection of monologues curated by Mark Gatiss and directed by Michelle Hutchings, as well as a film night that navigates topics of gender dysphoria, mental health and supporting creative communities.
As part of the International Festival of Photography, Queer Photo Festival hosts a series of exhibitions, large-scale outdoor artworks and interactive public performances. The event unites 17 LGBTQIA+ artists including Clifford Prince King, Sunil Gupta and Lilah Benetti. There is also a focus on Australian Aboriginal visual work, in particular following the photographs of actor and director Derik Lynch. The exhibition looks at intersections across gender, performance, western culture and the Anangu community.
Artist and educator Jen Everett collects everyday photographs of Black life, using digital and analog mediums to reconfigure images across collage. In her solo museum exhibition, Queer Cosmologies explores Black lesbians and queer presence in Black vernacular archives. The artist revisits childhood photographs to ruminate on queer media portrayals from the 1980s to present, seeking moments where freedom and love thrive. She invokes Audre Lorde’s assertion that “there is no place to go, except what you make.”
Maniqueer | The Finnish Museum of Photography, Helsinki | Until 31 March
Phan Nguyen’s exhibition is about the experiences of queer people living in the diaspora. It is the product of an ongoing one-on-one performance by Nguyen, set in the context of a nail salon where they offer individuals a manicure session and the possibility of a self-portraiture. The idea: “to create an archive of queer folks from the diaspora in Helsinki.” Maniqueer navigates questions around dual identity, belonging and ethno-cultural roots, with a particular focus on what it is like to experience connection across borders.
1. Lilah Benetti, from the series Black and Blur, 2024. Courtesy the artist.
2. Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Dark Room Studio Mirror (0X5A3797), 2022. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich, Paris
3. Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Daylight Studio with Garden Cuttings (_DSF0334), 2022 . Courtesy the artist and Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich, Paris.
4. Derek Jarman, Blue (1993).Tate. © Basilisk Communications Ltd, 1993
5. Joan E Biren (JEB), Mychelle and Lee with Zach, the dog, Cornwall-on-Hudson, NY, 1972.
6. Teresa Margolles, Aproximación al lugar de los hechos, 2020 – Exhibition view, Biennale of Sydney, 2020.
7. Sin Wai Kin, Dreaming the End (film still), 2023 © the artist. Courtesy the artist and Fondazione Memmo, Rome.
8 Zanele Muholi, Zazi I & II, Boston, 2019; Bader + Simon Collection; © Zanele Muholi
9. Queerfest Norwich 2023 © Anastazia Smith
10. Derik Lynch & Matthew Thorne. Courtesy the artists.
11. Jen Everett, Untitled, 2023. Digital collage.
12. Phan Nguyen: ManiQueer, 2023.