The British Museum has gathered a collection of objects associated with LGBTQ history, including the world’s oldest known depiction of a same-sex couple having sex — an 11,000-year-old carved calcite pebble — to be sent on a national tour. The show, titled “Desire, Love, Identity: Exploring LGBTQ Histories,” will tour the United Kingdom, making stop in cities Oxford, Nottingham, Bolton and Norwich.
The pebble, called the Ain Sakhri, possibly depicts gay sex, as the figures portrayed in it are ambiguous. The ancient sculpture depicts two faceless, genderless individuals caught in the act. According to the British Museum website, “The arms of one [individual] hug the shoulders of the other and its knees are bent up underneath those of the slightly smaller figure. The image is also phallic.”
Other items which may go on tour include a silver cup buried near Jerusalem in the 1st century AD showing men having sex, a bust of Antinous — a lover of the Roman emperor Hadrian — as well as a set of porcelain cups belonging to an 18th century female couple, nicknamed the “two most celebrated virgins in Europe.”
The museum has created an audio tour of the objects in London and will send a number of them out on a four-venue tour of England from September. Fiona Shaw and Simon Russell Beale narrated the audio tour and said people would be surprised by the number of objects in the museum with LGBTQ connections.
“Many might even have seen some of them on display without knowing how they relate to queer history,” Beale said. “I’m thrilled that thanks to this new audio tour these stories will now take pride of place. Same sex desire has existed in all societies and it is really important that the British Museum is highlighting this. I hope many people stream or download the tour to enjoy on their visit.”
The national touring exhibition, “Desire, Love, Identity: Exploring LGBTQ Histories,” will visit the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (Sept. 25 – Dec. 2, 2018), the National Justice Museum, Nottingham (Dec. 14 2018 – March 3, 2019), Bolton Library & Museum Service (March 14 – May 26, 2019), and Norwich Millennium Library (June 8 – Aug. 31, 2019).