A House of Kings and Queens ©

Lee Price

Through a thought-provoking photography exhibition at Hull’s Humber Street Gallery, photographer Lee Price shines a light on the lives of Sierra Leone’s LGBT+ community.

The show, titled The House Of Kings And Queens, was part of an ongoing partnership with Hull’s twin city of Freetown, Sierra Leone, and took place earlier this year to mark the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967, which brought into motion the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK.

The title of the exhibition references a home belonging to a young transgender woman that has become a sanctuary for the LGBT+ community in Freetown, where homosexuality remains illegal. Lee Price’s powerful images offer a glimpse into The House, where inhabitants can live without oppression, and shed light on what it means to be gay in Freetown.

In this interview, Price tells us how he put the exhibition together.

How did you find out about the house in Freetown?

I had a fixer during my time in Freetown, a local whose job it was to help me find subjects, show me where things are, how things are done, and to act as an interpreter for conversations with people who didn’t speak English. He happened to know of a transgender woman, and on my first night in Freetown he took me to watch her compete in a transgender beauty pageant. These competitions are very much a part of the gay culture in Freetown, and some attract a fairly large crowd from the gay community despite them being held in secret.

The following day we went to see her at her home, and it was then that I discovered that she uses her home as a sanctuary for members of the LGBT+ community who need a safe place to go. I knew almost instantly that I wanted to base the work around this house, and so I started spending every day there, learning about its importance and what it means to the people that live there.

What was the reaction to the project from members of the house?

A few were a little wary at first, and I could understand why. Most of them were used to living quite secretive lives and not being open with strangers about their sexuality, so I think the idea of someone they didn’t know coming to their home with a camera was a little unsettling initially. After I explained that no faces would be shown within any of the imagery and that I was there to shed light on their situation, as well as that of the Sierra Leone gay community as a whole, they quickly became comfortable with the camera and welcomed the project as a way to show the world what work needs to be done with regards to gay rights in Africa.

What can you tell us about the lives of the members of the house?

Life is difficult for the LGBT+ community of Freetown, and Sierra Leone as a whole. They’re often refused health care or turned away from shops in fear of their money bringing bad luck. They’re under threat of physical and verbal abuse, made to feel like outcasts on a daily basis and, for some, it can be difficult to remain positive about their situation.

The House of Kings and Queens | Installation shot  ©

Tom Arran

The House of Kings and Queens | Installation shot  ©

Tom Arran

The House of Kings and Queens | Installation shot  ©

Tom Arran

The House of Kings and Queens | Installation shot  ©

Tom Arran

The House of Kings and Queens | Installation shot  ©

Tom Arran

Did anything shock or surprise you about the house or the people for whom it acts as a sanctuary?

Having spent time in Uganda exploring what life there is like for the LGBT+ community, I wasn’t really surprised by the difficulties sexual minorities face in Sierra Leone. Most African nations hold the opinion that homosexuality is ‘un-African’ and prejudice towards the LGBT+ community is common throughout the continent.

But what did surprise me was the resilience I experienced from members of the house and the community as a whole. Although they’re very aware of the threat they’re under from people who disagree with their way of life, they stay true to their identity, and don’t let their daily struggles get them down – or at least not too much. They’re grateful for the freedom and security the house provides, and for the love and support they have from the people around them.

Your work predominantly focuses on the topic of sexuality. Did you find this project was different to your previous work?

Unlike my previous work, this project was more of a celebration of defiance and togetherness. Of course, I wanted to highlight the difficulties these people face in everyday life – you can’t really talk about being gay in Sierra Leone without discussing the hostility they’re up against – but I didn’t want that to be the main message. Instead, I wanted to focus on the courage of people from the gay community and the solidarity the house provides.

What questions do you hope to spark from this project?

This year we’re celebrating 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK, and the progress we’ve made since then with regards to British gay rights. That’s not to say there’s no more work to be done – even here, prejudice is still very much alive and we shouldn’t feel too much gratitude until it no longer exists.

We can, however, appreciate that our situation in the UK is a far reach from that of LGBT+ communities in places like Sierra Leone. Here, and in many other parts of the world, a lot of progress still needs to be made, and I hope this project helps to shed more light on this international human rights issue, as well as raise debates around the ill-treatment of people because of their sexuality – not just overseas, but at home too.


You can read the original article by Nicola Taylor in full on the Humber Street Gallery website.

See also

External links