Symbols’ is the short and apt name for an LGBTQ-themed art installation in London at the moment. It consists of 30 LGBTQ pride flags hung in the interior of Leadenhall Market.
One of the oldest markets in the UK capital, Leadenhall has a history dating back to the 14th century. The current building dates back to 1881 and features a distinctive ornate roof, painted green, maroon and cream, and cobbled floors (it was used as Diagon Alley in the first Harry Potter movie).You’ll find Leadenhall on Gracechurch Street, near Liverpool Street rail station.
‘Symbols’ is by French-American artist Guillaume Vandame. He tells GayCities he specializes in “queer readymade sculptures to homoerotic digital paintings inspired by Rothko and De Kooning.
Vandame assembled ‘Symbols’ over the last couple of years and this is the first time the art piece has been exhibited. It’s part of the 10th edition of Sculpture in the City, an annual celebration of modern art that sees sculpture and installations dotted around the district. It will continue to be on display until spring 2022.
Born in 1991, Vandame is based in London. According to his website, this multi-disciplinary artist is “interested in expanding ideas of language and meaning through a conceptual, queer, and socially engaged aesthetic, especially the subjects of representation, intimacy, and post-gay identity.”
‘Symbols’ spans the original Pride Flag designed by Gilbert Baker in San Francisco in 1978 to its newest iteration by Daniel Quasar in 2018. Vandame says he was shortlisted to exhibit as part of Sculpture in the City in January 2020, but plans had to be put on hold because of the pandemic. This led to him adding further flags, and a renewed sense of mission to the project.
“I wanted to create something defiant and inclusive of all these different community groups,” he said. “It felt even more important with the absence of Pride 2020 alongside the deaths of key figures like Larry Kramer or Aimee Stephens and everyday people from our community. It was almost anti-climactic after celebrating the 50th anniversary of Stonewall only to be made invisible. There was an urgency to be seen and heard.”
Of the flags themselves, Vandame adds, “I think this is the first time all 30 flags have been shown on public display, anywhere in the world. Some of the flags feel of our time and the majority have only come about since the 1990s and 2000s. One of the current global issues for our community is the legal recognition and protection of non-binary and trans people and I feel proud to include the associated flags for Non-binary, Trans, Intersex, Demiboy, Demigirl, Genderqueer and Genderfluid people. I have also included eight flags from the fetish communities (Leather, BDSM, Puppy, Polyamory, Master/Slave, Rubber/Latex, Bear, Twink) and this feels especially important to me. Even if these community groups are not essentially gay, their inclusion helps normalize the idea that it is okay to explore your desires among consenting adults.”
He says that seeing the artwork assembled on-site for the first time was an emotional experience. “I think working on the installation of symbols at Leadenhall Market was one of the spectacular experiences of my life. I worked with a local tailor to help alter all the flags and they were so beautifully clean and perfect when we arrived. It was truly incredible to see the artwork assembled onsite. The work is so colorful and vibrant, it practically glows at all hours of the day. I was able to hang the last two flags and it’s a memory I will never forget”.
“The reception has also been brilliant. It’s one thing to have this idea in your head but to see it come to life and experience the artwork in person is truly remarkable. Throughout this entire process, there was an ongoing joke how most people might know only a third of the flags. Immediately once we finished and everyone had gone home, a teenager suddenly showed up with their family and started gleefully rushing through the space explaining to their parents every single flag and what they mean. It was pure joy.”
The artwork has already become a very popular spot for selfies.
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