Exhibit explores gay life during Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance As Gay As It Was Black,” a traveling art exhibit at the Pride Center of North Central Florida, explores the life of gay men and women in Harlem during the 1920s and 1930s and profiles artists who may have been gay, lesbian and bisexual.

More than 40 people attended a reception and exhibit opener last Friday at the Pride Center, 3131 NW 13th St. Suite 62. The exhibit celebrates artists, writers, musicians and performers working in Harlem during 1920s and 1930s, aka the Harlem Renaissance. It also profiles leading gay, lesbian and bisexual artists who lived and worked in Harlem during that period.

Held in conjunction with King Celebration 2011, the exhibit, which will run through Feb. 19, is sponsored by the Pride Center and the Human Rights Council of North Central Florida. The exhibit is free and can be viewed from 3-7 p.m. Monday-Friday at the Pride Center.

“I saw it in South Florida and it struck me as extremely important,” said Terry Fleming, president of the Pride Center.

The exhibit notes that New York had laws banning homosexuality in the 1920s and 1930s. It also states that “very few of the artists and writers profiled in this exhibit can be considered “out” or “gay” in any modern sense of the term.”

The exhibit consists of visually stunning posters that take an indepth look at the Harlem Renaissance and features leading artists and celebrities of the period.

Some of those featured are said to be gay, including Alain Locke, a Howard University professor and editor of “The New Negro” anthology; Richard Bruce Nugent, who wrote “Smoke, Lilies, and Jade,” the first published African-American gay short story; the great blues singer, Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, and A’Leila Walker, the daughter of Madame C.J. Walker, who built a fortune on hair-straightening products.

Fleming said the primary purpose of the exhibit is to raise awareness about the Harlem Renaissance and to promote renewed commitment to work in the community to overcome racism and homophobia.

Another purpose, said Fleming, is to educate about the intersection between the gay community and the African-American community, to stimulate dialogue about issues of importance, and to engage the community in programs to combat both racism and homophobia.

“It (Harlem Renaissance era) is an important moment in time that we need to remember,” Fleming said.

Stephanie Gust and Alicia Lewis, both students at the University of Florida, praised the exhibit for exposing them to the Harlem Renaissance and for providing an opportunity to learn about the life of African Americans working in Harlem during that period.

“They were dealing with a double-edge sword — racism and homophobia,” Gust said.

Fleming said he wants people who come to the exhibit to take away an enthusiasm to build bridges recognizing the intersection between the gay community and the African-American community and to work together.

“It’s important we stay involved and make things happen,” Fleming said.

By Aida Mallard
Special to the Guardian

Published: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 9:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 9:27 p.m.

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One thought on “Exhibit explores gay life during Harlem Renaissance

  1. …Museum Kura Hulanda has a continuing program of creating temporary exhibitions as well as importing a variety of temporary exhibitions relevant to our themes and of interest to the public. Some of our past temporary exhibits have included the Henrietta Marie Slave Ship exhibit about archaeology of a 17th century slave ship sunk off the coast of Florida and an exhibit on Harlem Renaissance about African-American cultural florescence and Cotton Club life in Harlem New York during the 1920-30s.

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