Friday 4 March 2016

Review of Through a Queer Lens: Portraits of LGBTQ Jews at the Jewish Museum London

Through a Queer Lens: Portraits of LGBTQ Jews
Jewish Museum London
11 February – 17 April 2016

LGBT History Month might be over, but there's still time to visit the Jewish Museum in Camden to see a vibrant celebration of LGBTQ Jewish life in the UK.

Through a Queer Lens is a photographic project co-ordinated by trans activist Surat-Shaan Knan and shot by black queer artist Ajamu on his camera, which he affectionately calls Bessie, after the bisexual African-American jazz and blues singer, Bessie Smith. Hanging in the entrance hall, on bright red walls, the 20 striking large format black and white portraits greet everyone, for free, as they queue to buy their tickets.

The individuals featured all identify, in one way or another, as Jewish and LGBTQ. There are activists, artists, rabbis and journalists. Lisa Gornick is there, the writer and director of three feature films, including ‘Do I Love You?’, ‘Tick Tock Lullaby’ and the forthcoming ‘The Book of Gabrielle’; Benjamin Cohen, chief executive of PinkNews and co-founder of the cross-party Out4Marriage campaign group is too; so is Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah, a longstanding campaigner for equal marriage.

Alongside each portrait is a brief statement about who the person is and, in some instances, how they identify and what being LGBTQ and Jewish means to them. Performer Rachel Mars, for example, describes having Judaism “written on her face” without her consent: “I have Jewish face #4 – you might know it. Your cousin/sister/aunt/old school friend is probably rocking it right now too”. She chooses to celebrate her grandmother for her acceptance and support – in her 90s – when she would even help Rachel with partner decisions. “[She] was about fairness, joy, kindness and a bit of muscle when necessary.” Sharing this and so many other anecdotes will hopefully make visitors question their own reactions and responses to family members and friends, when their sexuality perhaps doesn’t fall within the accepted mainstream.

As an accompaniment to the main exhibition, an iPad contains many further photographs (not by Ajamu) and stories from LGBTQ individuals of all different faiths. “If we all had the opportunity to live how we want to live, be who we want to be, have the freedom to express ourselves and follow religion or faith as we are meant to without delving into the negative aspects,” writes Khakan Qureshi, “what would we do? We would LOVE.” It sounds simple – and, really, it is. This exhibition includes just a small cross-section of LGBTQ Jews, but, even so, it is apparent how each individual is just that: an individual. No two subjects identify in the same way. But by accepting this, and loving one another anyway, we can celebrate this diversity and be proud of it. As the voices on these walls cry out: “We're here, we’re queer – and we’re visible!”


Lisa Gornick by Ajamu

Also publish at DIVA online

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