LGTBQIA+ diversity in museums: How it was and how it’s going

Before I begin talking about LGTBQIA+ diversity in museums, I believe it’s important that you understand 1) who I am 2) where I come from. I am a functionally diverse, bisexual person of color coming from an impoverished colony, called Puerto Rico, in the Caribbean. Studied a BA in special education for deaf and hard of hearing children and a minor concentration in special education for children with autism. Currently, I´m working on my MA in LGBTQIA+ studies.

I mention all of this because I consider it´s what informs my point of view and it is through these lenses that I interact with the world. 

Imagine walking into a room filled with paintings and drawings by people from all over the world, but not be able to find anyone like you between the artist. How would you feel? I, for the longest time, haven´t had to use my imagination because finding explicitly LGBTQIA+ art or artist was non-existent.  

LGBTQIA+ is a common abbreviation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Pansexual, Trans, Genderqueer, Queer, Intersexed, Agender,  Asexual, and Ally community. Source

(Not) Saying everything about Frida Kahlo

I remember as a child going on school field trips to museums and being bombarded with centuries of heterosexuality which made me feel like the odd one out. Was sexual diversity something new? It would have appeared so.

I also remember in high school getting very excited when my art teacher mentioned, in passing, that Frida Kahlo had had relations with other women. She didn´t call her bisexual, because in her eyes she came back to men, so it was just a phase. Yet, for me, it was grand. And, for the longest time, she was the only sexually diverse artist I heard people talking about. Heck, she was the only artist I could quote when talking about LGBTQIA+ diversity in art. Sadly, I wouldn´t look into other sexual, gender, and/or affective diverse artists.   

LGTBQIA+ diversity in arts: Frida Kahlo
Magda Pach: Portait of Frida Kahlo, Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.

Talking about Frida Kahlo, you should not forget about the LGTBQIA+ diversity.

Without accepting the LGTBQIA+ diversity, museums will not make us feel invited.

In January of 2017, I walked into the Städel Museum in Frankfort with the mission to find an artist that was part of the community. I cannot tell you why I decided to do so on that specific day or that specific museum. It was just a personal challenge. They have over 3 thousand paintings, 600 sculptures and, 100 thousand drawings and prints. Surely, I would find something, right? Well, after looking at a few exhibitions (and googling a few of the artists I hadn’t heard of prior) I ended up settling for a Frida Kahlo painting and 3 drawings in a temporary exhibition they had. When talking about her life, they mentioned her marriage to Diego and the blue house, and even that she wanted to be a doctor. Nowhere did it mention she was bisexual. 

Städel Museum, Frankfurt

I was heartbroken. 

It made me think about every time I, as a child, looked through the walls in a museum looking for people like me, and how they might have been there all along, just erased. It was this that inspired me to look for 1) sexually diverse artist through history and 2) exhibitions which featured said artist.       

In 2018, I had the opportunity to experience, for the very first time, how it felt to be in a room that seemed curated for me. I walked into an exhibition that not only presented the LGBTQIA+ perspective but also celebrated it. As I strolled through the Prado Museum (where the exhibition was held) I couldn´t help but be in awe. 

Me in a museum.

Some people have made a great job, though.

I felt the electricity rushing through my body. I had a silly smile plastered across my face. My eyes getting wide. Yet, I could not hide or contain my excitement, no matter how much I tried. It was mesmerizing. For, it was the first time I could see a representation of myself on every wall in a museum. It might be stupid for most. But, try to imagine how it would feel like never truly identifying with anyone when going into a museum, or having to search very hard to try and find someone with at least a small semblance to yourself. Then, all the sudden, walking into a room where everyone seemed like you.      

This search also leads me to discover amazing individuals or museums that are doing their best to truly represent sexual diversity in art. We have curators like R. B. Parkinson who´ve established a permanent exhibition of LGBTQIA+ history at the British Museum. There is also the Chrysler Museum of Art which began adapting content and creating curated exhibitions back in 2016. They´re also museums exclusively dedicated to LGTBQIA+ diversity and history like the GLBT History Museum in San Francisco. I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting these, but they are on my bucket list for future visits. 

Looking forward to a more beautiful future

Yet, these examples of the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ narratives in museums are few and far between. I believe museums must start considering the importance of authentic representation of art and artist and the impact those have on the clients. Just like understanding how adding this information can provide a fuller view of the artist and their craft. 

Above all, I encourage museums to think of that scared child searching the walls of museums for someone that looks, feels, and/or acts like them. Help that child feel included. Help everyone feel invited and as if they´re a part of the magical experience too.

Read also: Nikkolas Smith, Afroamerican, Activist, and Artist

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