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.