Going Down – Queer Convicts at Tate Britain

Bird holding forth on a podium in a large space in Tate Britain. She is wearing her Queer Communards red and blue outfit and is surrounded by the audience.

 

Using the Queer and Now exhibition backdrop of the decriminalisation of male homosexuality as a starting point, Bird explores Millbank Prison which once stood on the site that is now Tate Britain uncovering stories of the queer dispossessed working class and colonised peoples.

Between 1843 and the end of transportation in the 1850s, Milbank Prison was once the hub from which convicts were transported to Australia and Van Diemens Land. The piece uncovers the lives of queer convicts including:

  • Present day LGBTQI asylum seekers being held by the British state in Victorian gaols used to house convicts in the nineteenth century.
  • Henry Johnson, the first recorded queer Black Briton and how he was transported to Australia.
  • Transmasculine and queer lesbian working class firestarters of the female factories of Van Dieman’s land.
  • A remarkable love letter sent by a queer convict to his lover, both were held on Devil’s Island one of the most oppressive penal colonies in the British Empire.

The performance culminates with a performative ritual to honour queer convicts at the convict memorial on Milbank.

Details

  • Commissioned by Tate Britain for Queer and Now exhibition in June 2017.
  • 30/45 minute duration