We are opening Wednesday 21st September – Saturday 8 October (closed Mondays) The exhibition is open from 12:30pm to 7pm Tuesday – Saturday. Sequin Sunday opening hours are 12:30pm – 3:30pm
Stories from the lost gay bars of Lewisham haunt this pop-up LGBTQ+ space that will be taking over the We Are Lewisham shop in September. Part exhibition and part LGBTQ+ community space; a place to take part in workshops and discussions, to learn polari or watch the reading of a ‘lost’ play from the radical gay theatre of the 1970s. We will be sharing stories from the gay community and asking the question, “Where to, now the sequins have gone?”
The space will be designed by Kleanthis Kyriakou, who is responding to the ephemeral nature of many gay spaces, creating a memorial to the lost gay bars of Lewisham, which will greet visitors as they approach the space. Inside he has created a place for the sharing of stories, a repository for memories of the communities that congregated in the pubs. Recognising that stories from LGBTQ+ communities have often been marginalised and undocumented, the installation has a nomadic feel, suggestive of the need to carry these stories with us for the future. But, its camp aesthetic also celebrates the progress made by the community.
“The title of the exhibition: Where to now the sequins have gone? is reinterpreted as a funeral wreath, inspired by East End funerary traditions. Reading the title in this format, pushes visitors to think about the loss of Lewisham’s LGBTQ+ venues, in a direct and intimate way as if they are mourning the loss of someone close to them. By commemorating and memorialising Lewisham’s lost LGBTQ+ spaces, this artwork aims to mobilise the current and future generations to take collective action against the erasure of LGBTQ+ spaces of congregation in their neighbourhoods and beyond.” – Kleanthis Kyriakou
The Archive Tent
A large pink bell tent will be installed inside the space to hold the archival material from the research on the lost LGBTQ+ spaces of Lewisham and the oral histories collected so far. The display inside references the Lewisham Archives and visitors will have the chance to learn more about the spaces and people that shaped Lewisham’s queer community by going though memorabilia, printed or recorded stories, and photographs found inside the archival boxes. The floor of the tent will be covered in a soft furry fabric that will allow visitors to have an intimate connection with the archive, by opening up a box and laying down to view its content- as if they are in one’s bed.
The tent itself is a testament to the nomadic nature of queer spaces in Lewisham and of London at large. Societal changes, gentrification, and the rise of online dating apps are some of the factors that led to the demise of so many LGBTQ+ spaces in recent years. The venues, or parties that do survive are often pushed out of the city centre, seeking more affordable rents at the edges of London. Therefore, the question arises: Where do we go next?
It seems that WE- as queers in this city- constantly find ourselves in a state of limbo, living inside ‘imaginary tents’, waiting for a new venue to open up in order to reinstate our sense of community and allow us perform our identities with each other. Why can’t we claim a permanence in the city, that other cultural or religious groups enjoy? The rocks, that serve as weights for the installation of the tent, symbolise that need for permanence in the built environment.
The tent, as an artistic statement and a provocation, responds directly to the title of the exhibition: Where to now the sequins are gone?
As well as sharing stories we will also be collecting memories from visitors through a new interactive artwork by London based artistic duo, Alexandros Xenophontos and Ben Holland, who produce work occupying intersections between technology, critical storytelling and art practice. Formed in 2022, they explore, through research and personal experience, narratives of cultural, political and social critique. Occupying the junction between humour, camp and a more serious commentary, their multimedia practice produces a variety of outputs including installation, animation, spatial design, sculpture and film.
For this exhibition they have created:
Inspired by the experience of smoking area confessions, this installation will actively collect and archive oral histories using new storytelling methods to encourage conversation and reminiscences of Lewisham’s lost gay spaces and the people that inhabited them. The installation explores the spatial and social nature of gay Lewisham’s past, birthing a new commentary existing between the past, present and future. At the end of each day, the transcripts are used as the inspiration for the artist duo to extract descriptive signifiers to produce an abstracted space, containing visual hints to lost LGBTQ+ venues whilst simultaneously forming new hybrid spaces which never existed.
Where to, now the sequins have gone? will also act as a drop-in community space where visitors can take part in workshops, share their stories, explore the archives and come together for one of the Sequin Sundays. The exhibition is a celebration of the gay community but, in reflecting the gay experience, does touch on issues that some may find upsetting.
We acknowledge that the use of the term ‘queer’ can be a contentious issue. The word has been reclaimed by many younger people whilst still being considered derogatory by some older people. Its usage in the exhibition reflects the need for inter-generational dialogue, something we hope to facilitate in the exhibition through the exploration of memory and oral history. The exhibition is part of In Living Memory, a programme to celebrate Lewisham’s history and diversity, led by Goldsmiths, University of London with funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Smoking Area has been developed with funding from the Mayor of London’s Untold Stories Fund part of his Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm and is part of our exploration into unique and innovative ways of collecting and sharing oral histories.
Where to, now the sequins have gone
We Are Lewisham, Unit 17
Lewisham Shopping Centre