50 LGBTQI+ who changed the world, is a new book which pays tribute in 50 portraits to the activists, personalities, writers and artists who have advanced the LGBTQI+ movement and celebrates those who have fought to create a more inclusive and tolerant world.
The book accompanies a new exhibition by the same name, which launched this weekend and runs to 30th June 2023 at Strawberry Hill House, Twickenham and then tours for several months around various art spaces in and around London.
Florent Manelli, the illustrator and author behind the book, writes here about what inspired them to create 50 LGBTQI+ who changed the world.
In 2017, I discovered the existence of LGBTQ+ History Month, celebrated in the United Kingdom in February each year. This event does not exist in France; I wanted to educate myself on the history of my community, its issues, the state of LGBTQI + rights in certain countries, the figures who founded the movement and our important dates. At the same time, I realized that many people around me were unaware of the history of the LGBTQI+ community.
All this pushed me to immerse myself in these lives, and this rich history, to research, draw, and imagine this book and this exhibition; to make LGBTQI+ people and others aware of these issues. I have spent several years writing and drawing the two French books from which the pages of this English edition and the exhibition are taken, and I am delighted with this translation.
I am an illustrator and author, so it was obvious that I used drawing and collage to convey political messages. I am convinced that visual art makes it easier to overcome the barriers of thought, to enter through the door of the heart to access the realm of the mind. During my meetings, exhibitions and talks organized in France, several people came to talk to me just because they had been attracted by the drawings and the visuals that they found bright and colourful. It is a sensitive gateway to tackling subjects that are often considered complex.
With this book, I also want to highlight a diversity of personalities who have been active at different times and in other countries, being artists, sportspeople, politicians or activists. For example, I find it moving to read the biography of a committed, young, openly gay singer like Olly Alexander in the same book as Bayard Rustin, a black American activist, now deceased.
I use the portrait and the individual story to approach LGBTQI+ subjects, but I reiterate that all these fights and advances are the effort of a group, of a collective, and that it is not the result of one person.
This exhibition and this book have an undeniable political dimension, and I am particularly proud and happy to amplify these inspiring lives. There are still so many battles to fight, and this project is necessary today as the attacks, insults, discrimination, and murder of LGBTQI+ people in the United Kingdom and the rest of the world continue to take place.
This work also addresses the need to preserve, conserve, share, and publish the history of the LGBTQI+ community. In France, we still need an LGBTQI+ archive centre. For some French activists, it is still difficult today to find information on specific periods of our history or important figures. It is infinitely sad because this is our collective memory that is dying.
With LGBTQI+ history, we can better understand our political issues by forming and exploring an archive. The system in which we live and its institutions remove a whole part of our history and our culture, and we must organize ourselves to celebrate this part of ourselves. Every day our history is written, and it is necessary to ensure that it is preserved and passed on in the future.
– Florent Manelli –
Booking link for the exhibition https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/50-lgbtqi-who-changed-the-world-exhibition-talk-tour-tickets-631420314157
Visitors just wanting to see the exhibition will need to book a slot on Eventbrite. Separate from this, people with a general admission Strawberry Hill House ticket will be able to visit the exhibition at any time as part of their ticket
There is also a special performance taking place on the evening of 28th June to accompany the exhibition – more information on the Eventbrite page.