New Exhibition Offers Queer Look at Angela Davis

A new exhibition drawing on rare posters and ephemera from a private collection will highlight the journey of black lesbian activist Angela Davis: from radical scholar, to political prisoner, to revolutionary icon, to public intellectual.

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Angela Davis

Curated by collector Lisbet Tellefsen and historian Amy Sueyoshi, “Angela Davis: OUTspoken” considers some of the roles Davis has played in the American political imaginary and explores the complexity and impact of her life across nearly half a century. The show opens February 9 at the GLBT History Museum in San Francisco.

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“As a black lesbian growing up in the Bay Area, I never really viewed Angela Davis through a specifically queer lens,” says Tellefsen, whose collection of rare Davis materials forms the basis of the exhibition. “However, for as long as I can remember, Angela was always fiercely claimed by the lesbian-of-colour community as one of our own. While we could debate when or what exactly constituted her coming-out statement, what was always crystal clear was her unwavering and vocal support for LGBTQ rights.

“Angela Davis has always been about intersectionality — before the term was even coined,” Tellefsen adds. “She has always explored the connections between race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability and citizenship. She is an African American woman, she is lesbian, she is an ally for oppressed populations throughout the globe and a vocal champion for LGBTQ rights. This is who she is. She is a human rights activist of the highest order.”

"Free Angela and All Political Prisoners" (Oakland, Calif., 1971); poster; artist and publisher unknown. Collection of Lisbet Tellefsen.
“Free Angela and All Political Prisoners” (Oakland, Calif., 1971); poster; artist and publisher unknown. Collection of Lisbet Tellefsen.

Davis first came to public attention in the late 1960s with her dismissal from the faculty of the University of California due to her membership in the Communist Party and with her involvement in the Black Panther Party and her trial on charges of conspiracy, kidnapping and murder for which she was acquitted.

"Libérez Angela Davis" (Paris: Union des Etudiants Communistes de France, 1971); poster; artist unknown. Collection of Lisbet Tellefsen.
“Libérez Angela Davis” (Paris: Union des Etudiants Communistes de France, 1971); poster; artist unknown. Collection of Lisbet Tellefsen.

Her outspoken activism and organising efforts attracted both harsh criticism and strong support, resulting in her becoming a globally recognised symbol of radical resistance. Today, Davis continues her political work, including challenging mainstream LGBTQ movements to see service in the armed forces and participation in marriage with a critical eye.

“It’s especially important now to be reminded of the radical roots of queer activism, particularly through African American women such as Angela Davis,” says Sueyoshi. “My hope is that history will honour the queer women of colour and other activists who came up during times of extreme repression. The graphics displayed in ‘OUTspoken’ not only serve as a visual reminder of the power of speaking out; they also can inspire us to continue working for a world without exploitation.”

“Angela Davis: OUTspoken” opens Friday, February 9, at the GLBT History Museum, 4127 18th St., San Francisco, with a public reception set for 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. The curators will offer introductory remarks, and light refreshments will be served. Admission is $5.00; free for members of the GLBT Historical Society. The exhibition runs through May 20. For more information, visit www.glbthistory.org.

Photo By Nick Wiebe (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons