The Shock of the Now Issue 62
Featured Exhibition Text
Bex Massey
‘The truth is out there’ Solo Exhibition
Roman Road
9th November 2022

Grounded by Gillian Anderson’s ever-present Special Agent Scully, and employing The X-Files as an overarching extra-terrestrial allegory for the everyday ‘otherness’ experienced by members of the LGBTQ+ community, Bex Massey‘s series of collaged canvases are intimately autobiographical and instantly engaging. Created over the course of a year, each painting is a precise patchwork of personal, historical and pop-cultural references, with educational insights into queer and art history amalgamated alongside enduring yet outdated societal stigmas and stereotypes, stills from selected X-Files episodes and hand-rendered digital detailing.

Throughout, Section 28 looms large as a spectre of that subconscious subjugation of an entire generation of British youths. The pernicious and thankfully now-repealed piece of legislature that prohibited the 'promotion of homosexuality’ by schools and local authorities was introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government and remained insidiously in place until its long overdue abrogation in 2003. In ‘The truth is out there’ at Roman Road, we witness Sue Lawley startled at her Six O'Clock News desk by protestors who had breached the BBC’s broadcasting house the night before Section 28 came into effect. Elsewhere, we find a painterly portrayal of Sarah Michelle Gellar and Selma Blair’s steamy lip-locking in Cruel Intentions, nods to Heaven (the London LGBTQ+ scene’s premiere superclub) and that groundbreaking ‘Brookside Kiss’ between Beth Jordache (Anna Friel) and Margaret Clemence (Nicola Stephenson), the first female same-sex kiss to be broadcast pre-watershed and a water-cooler moment that was later re-aired as part of a moving montage at the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony. The Pink Triangle is also present, once a badge of shame used to identify gay men in Nazi concentration camps since reclaimed as a symbol of self-identity, pride and protest; as is a physical manifestation of the Kinsey scale, an evaluation introduced by American biologist and sexologist Alfred Kinsey that was the first of it’s kind to acknowledge the fluidity of sexuality, free from the dictatorial dichotomous delineations of heterosexual or homosexual. 

There are thinly-veiled visual references to frequently vitriolic vernacular such as ‘Dyke’, ‘Fairy’ & ‘Camp’, and the inflammatory phrase ‘Ban This Filth!’ is emblazoned across a scenic depiction of countryside camping. That embittered battle cry of Christian conservative activist Mary Whitehouse was used to wage a decades-long campaign against social liberalism in the British media, which she famously dubbed with derision as ‘propaganda of disbelief, doubt and dirt’. In one instance, Whitehouse’s intense ire resulted in the shocking successful private prosecution of the Gay Times on the grounds of blasphemous libel, an offence belatedly abolished in 2008. Massey also addresses some archaic class clichés, especially those associated with women from the North of England, with the inclusion of Viz magazine’s infamous Fat Slags, a bottle of Lambrini and a Byker Grove screengrab of PJ, a pre-&-Dec Ant McPartlin, being blinded by a paintball (although easily mistaken as enjoying a gleefully Geordie golden shower).

Art history is readily represented by Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and John Gibson’s Cupid Wounding Sappho, the former widely acknowledged to have been openly homosexual during his lifetime, while the latter was known to not shy away from portrayals of same-sex passion in his sculptures. And finally, Massey inserts evidence as to her upbringing alongside the advent of the internet, amongst the first generation of truly digital natives well-versed in pop-up windows, Windows 95, pixelated icons, photoshop software and well acquainted with Microsoft Office’s arrogant animated assistant Clippy.