Sydney's Mardi Gras Museum and the Rise of Queer Art

Sydney's Mardi Gras Museum and the Rise of Queer Art

An exhibition celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Sydney Mardi Gras festival has been launched in Sydney in conjunction with the opening of the pop-up Mardi Gras Museum on Oxford Street in Darlinghurst. Drawing on a diverse array of archival material from public and private collections, the exhibition covers the key themes, events, and wonderful personalities that have helped shape the world-famous festival into what it is today.

Through photographs, letters, scrapbooks, costumes, banners, and audio-visual material, the exhibition explores the turbulent history of the Mardi Gras parade and the development of the gay and lesbian community in Australia. As well as being a celebration of the gay and lesbian culture, the exhibition also recognises negative events of the past such as gay hate crimes, violent confrontations with police, and the criminalisation of homosexuality.

Although many of the issues facing the gay and lesbian community have been resolved throughout the last 35 years, there is still plenty of progress to be made – something that is reflected in the exhibition. According to Museum Curator Nick Henderson, “it is important to recognise that the gay and lesbian community still experiences discrimination, animosity, and misunderstanding – particularly gay and lesbian youth living in regional areas.”

The original idea for the museum came from the Facebook group Lost Gay Sydney – a space dedicated to sharing images relating to the gay and lesbian life in Sydney.  Interest in taking the online archive beyond the confines of the internet led to the development of a committee tasked with investigating the creation of a museum space. However, shortly after the committee was established, Nick Henderson, committee member of the Australian Lesbian & Gay Archives, saw that it was not making any progress so he volunteered to curate the museum himself. His experience and access to relevant materials made him the right man for the job.

Although the museum is only temporary, there is a growing movement calling for the development of a permanent exhibition space. The case for a permanent museum is made stronger by the increased recognition of the artistic expression of the gay and transgender community through art, music, fashion, and performance. Evidence of this trend can be seen all over the world from the exhibition celebrating Australian-born queer performance artist Leigh Bowery that was recently held at the Kunsthalle Wien in Vienna, to the time-lapse video of an Australian transgender artist undergoing a three-year male to female transformation that received more than four million views on YouTube. Whether you like it or not, queer art is coming.

The Mardi Gras Museum will be at the Cnr Oxford & Palmer Streets, Darlinghurst until 3 March 2013