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Review: The Rebel Dykes Art & Archive Show

Updated: Sep 14, 2021

The door frames an oil painting of a person in a striped suit. They have red lipstick on their lips, thick eyebrows and they are thrusting their fist through their flies towards us (Venus Envy, 1994, Sadie Lee). This is the entrance to The Rebel Dykes Art & Archive Show, which is running at Space Station Sixty-Five in Kennington until September 17th. The London Rebel Dykes was formed in the 1980s, to bring together communities of lesbians who were all outsiders: the bikers, kinksters, gender outlaws, squatters and more. This show, curated by Atalanta Kernick and Kat Hudson with Siobhan Fahey as Creative Producer, is full of art created by, for and about this community, from the 1980s to today.

A heavy component of the exhibition is photography. There are photos of groups of dykes, in matching leather jackets, hair shaved around their ears, or crossing a road in dungarees. Photos of community, friendships. There are photos of dykes fucking, lips around a nipple, black dildos prostrate. Some photos are about sex and some photos are about love and some photos are about both. The photos are full of freedom, of people looking how they want to look, fucking how they want to fuck, loving how they want to love. There are portrait photos of dykes, queers and drag kings, including the likes of Benjamin Butch, Frankie Sinatra and Prinx Silver (photographed by Darren Evans) who can be seen in the queer clubs of London today. This is not just a look backwards, but a reminder that we are all still here today, remaking the rules around gender and sex and community every time we come together. One photo depicts Rene Matić pulling a top over their head to reveal the words ‘Born British Die British’ tattooed onto their back, connoting the “unique reality of hailing from the Black British diaspora” and the “historical violence enacted on Black and Brown bodies in the name of ‘Great’ Britain, both historically and today."

Credits: Above photographs taken by Laney Shimmin, Phyllis Christopher and Dixie Thomas

Around the space, monitors play different films. ‘Butch/Femme’ by Emma Hindley is a series of interviews with butch and femme people about these roles, this dynamic, the intricacies of it and the possibilities. I could’ve watched it over and over again. On another monitor plays the film ‘Pout # queervideozine, 1992’ which features Tessa Boffin encouraging people to practise safe sex via a short erotic performance complete with a seductively dripping tap and fast paced country music in the background.

Sarah Jane Moon’s 2018 oil painting of Sadie Lee, colourful and striking, sits under a leather jacket hanging from the ceiling which belongs to Cool Dad, a “fictional non-binary leather daddy alter-ego” created and performed by Katayoun Jalilipour. A pastel coloured quilt has chain and dildo wearing dykes embroidered onto it in ‘Chain Reactions’ by Sarah-Joy Ford. A leather banner created by Emily Witham, reads ‘Descendant of a Rebel Dyke’ and reminds us that we are in a room full of our ancestors and our siblings.

The exhibition is a testament to the joys of queerness: to the way that queers live, to the way that queers love, and to the way that queers create. It is a chance to remember the people who paved the way for us to live as we do, a journey through dyke history. And it is also a call, to continue this journey, to keep making space for everyone that dyke and queer and LGBQTIA+ holds, to keep loving and creating and subverting.

By Amelia Brown

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