New 'Protest' exhibition portrays Irish LGBTQ+ history through photography

Curator Brendan Maher tells us about Protest at the Gallery of Photography.

Black and white photograph of a protest march. In the foreground of the picture is a butch woman with her back to the camera. She is wearing a cape which reads
Image: Wally Cassidy via Gallery of Photography

The Gallery of Photography in Dublin has just launched an exciting new exhibition, ‘PROTEST – Photography, Activism and Social Change in Ireland’. The show includes some beautiful recollections of Ireland’s LGBTQ+ past. Co-curator Brendan Maher tells us a bit about the show and his selection for the LGBTQ+ strand of the show.

The ‘PROTEST’ exhibition looks at the vital role photography has played in recording and making visible the struggle for equality, diversity and inclusion in Ireland. Over recent decades we have witnessed an unprecedented change with systemic inequalities challenged and, in some cases, overcome.

This social revolution has encompassed a broad spectrum of local and national issues, from civil rights, political struggle and conflict, women’s rights, LGBTQ+, institutional abuse, social and economic issues, Travellers’ rights, through to international movements for change, including anti-war, climate change, Black Lives Matter and #MeToo.

Outlining a broad range of photographic practices from the late 1960s to the present day, ‘PROTEST!’  features work by Irish and international photojournalists, social documentary photographers, socially-engaged artists, citizen journalists, and activists together with photographs from leading newspapers and NGOs, many exhibited for the first time. Dramatic images of conflict shown alongside photographs documenting individual actions and collective protests combine to reflect different vantage points and perspectives, giving an insight into the often protracted nature of resistance.

The LGBTQ+ strand of the exhibition outlines a brief chronology of the queer movement. This section features images from the first demonstration organised by the Sexual Liberation Movement for Homosexual Law Reform in June 1974.

Photographs of early Pride events including the Cork Gay Collective leafleting outside the English Market during Cork Pride Week, 1981 are shown alongside Wally Cassidy’s images of Dublin Pride from 1992 and Christopher Robson’s personal colour photographs from the collection of the National Library of Ireland of Dublin Pride Marches from 1993 onwards.

Works by social documentary photographers Derek Speirs and Tom Grace record pivotal events including the Fairview Park March 1983, which was organised in response to the suspended sentences handed down to the 5 youths responsible for the ‘gay bashing’ and subsequent death of Declan Flynn (31) in September 1982. 

Sean Gilmartin’s candid photographs offer a rare glimpse into Dublin’s LGBTQ+ nightclub scene. Taken at the Flikkers 6th Annual Halloween Ball, 1987, these images are an important record of a social space where LGBTQ+ patrons were unburdened by the homophobia shown in other venues at that time.  More recent photographs offer similar views of club culture but from the perspective of LGBTQ+ photographers.

The exhibition concludes with a selection of artworks by exciting contemporary LGBTQ+ artists investigating gender, queer bodies and queer culture, featured in the ‘Come To My Window Belfast’ project which was excited during Pride in 2020.

Brendan Maher is an Independent curator specialising in photography.  He is currently the lead researcher and a member of the curatorial team on the Gallery of Photography’s ‘In Our Own Image’ programme: a history of photography in Ireland,1839 to the present.

As part of the Bealtaine Festival, Brendan will be in conversation with LGBTQ+ activist, DJ and journalist Tonie Walsh on Thursday, May 12, 2022, at 1.15. To book a free place for this in-person event click here. A recording of the conversation will also be available on GCN TV the following week.

‘Protest – Photography, Activism and Social Change in Ireland’ is co-curated by Brendan Maher, Kate Horgan, Pauline Vermare and Trish Lambe and is on view at the Gallery of Photography, Meeting House Square until June 4, 2022. To find out more click here.

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