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Queering Nature at Kew Gardens

Last weekend I visited Kew Gardens’s ‘Queer Nature’ exhibition. In their famous Temperate House, Kew scientists have added to their usual descriptions and information boards. On bright purple boards they have identified the queer and the gender-fucking tendencies of plants and fungi from across the globe.

There are plants who change gender with the seasons and plants who change gender under stress. There are plants who reproduce asexually and mushrooms that have as many as 23,328 distinct mating types.

In the centre of the greenhouse hangs swathes of bright fabrics, an installation called House of Spirits which has been created by New York based artist Jeffrey Gibson. Colour and pattern and words are overlaid, queerness and nature merge. The suspended pieces, moving in the breeze, are visible at all times as I move around the Temperate House, slices of colour between the thick green foliage.

At one end of the building garden designer Patrick Featherstone has created a horticultural display in collaboration with the Kew Youth Forum. The 'Breaking the Binary' exhibition features plant species that challenge the binary language of 'male' and 'female' for plants, and powerfully reimagines plant classification as 'chosen families'. Accompanying illustrations and text remind us that "the living world shows diversity and nuances at every level." At the other end of the building queer activists, writers and horticulturists speak on film, offering their perspectives on what queerness and nature mean to them. The screening space is surrounded by vivid floral wallpaper designed artist and designer Adam Nathaniel Furman.

For the month of October Kew's Temperate House has celebrated the queerness inherent in nature, and with that, queerness itself. In a world whose anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric frequently hinges on the idea of the unnatural, this exhibition says, No. It says, Look around you. Nature, from plants to fungi, is as queer as they come.

'Queer Nature' is on until 29th October at Kew Gardens. Find out more here.

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