A collaboration with Dr Rohit K. Dasgupta


All photos by Simon Mooney, © National Portrait Gallery.

About the performance

As 50 years of partial decriminalisation is celebrated in Great Britain, homophobic laws instated by the British are still on the books in 32 countries that were former British colonies.

The startling link between the National Portrait Gallery and the British colonial laws which outlawed queer sex is largely unknown. Performer Bird la Bird and theorist Doctor Rohit K. Dasgupta bring this hidden history to the foreground by exploring the NPG’s founding fathers, portraits and their relationship to Empire and colonisation.

Thomas Babington Macaulay was a historian and British statesman who wrote the Indian Penal Code which included Section 377, the notorious outlawing of queer sex. Macaulay was also one of the founders of the National Portrait Gallery. Bird and Rohit take the audience on an emotional journey exploring the colonisation of India and how section 377 impacted the subcontinent. The life and possible motivations of Thomas Babington Macaulay are explored via paintings in the collection.

The piece ends with a performative demonstration using images and slogans from the global day of rage against 377 in 2013. The audience marched through the galleries to the entrance underneath the bust of Macaulay and the other founding fathers.