Inside Lee Price’s photo-story that explores queer Freetown

House of Kings and Queens’ is set to display at the Humber Street Gallery in Pier Street, imaging the daily life of a secret LGBT+ community.

Queer spaces that offer protection and safety were few and far between back in 60s London, let alone in Africa. Freetown, a port city and the capital of Sierra Leone, West Africa, is known for its breezy beaches but not so much for its persecution of LGBT+ individuals.

Launching as part of the Hull UK City of Culture 2017’s LGBT50 programme, international documentary photographer Lee Price was commissioned by Hull 2017 to create a unique photo-story that explores what it means to be queer in Freetown. Launching Thursday 27th July, it marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 that decriminalised homosexual acts in private between two men in England and Wales.

Freetown, Hull’s sister city, imposes a maximum sentence of life imprisonment to those found engaging in homosexual acts. Gay people find their bodies accommodating harassment, eviction, and secrecy. Passing through the pavement, some LGBT+ people must hide who they are to live in safety. To survive the day-to-day.

Whilst Freetown is particularly ‘free’, within its heart lives a young transgender woman. Her house has become a sanctuary for the local LGBT community. The ‘House of Kings and Queens’ provides folks a space to live freely and surrounded by acceptance and liberation.

The photographs capture the liminal lives of the LGBT+ people who call Freetown their home. When we look at photographs, we are dealing with pictures that actively assert the evidence of what they show, but do not allow us to gain further insights. What Price’s photographs do is silently convey their subjects as expressive beings: colourful, full of life, and alive. Yet, the language of these photographs is stuttered by the restrictive environment they were captured in.

Marking the anniversary year of homosexual decriminalisation, the photographs remain an important reminder of the progress that still remains for international gay rights. Through the dim walls and the vivid objects that decorate the house, the Kings and Queens of Sierra Leone demonstrate the defiance and perseverance of the LGBT+ community.

House of Kings and Queens will be on display at Humber Street Gallery’s gallery four in Pier Street from Thursday 27th July until Sunday 24th September.