EXILE – 18 September – 12 November, Kingston Lacy, Dorset
A bold new installation at the National Trust’s Kingston Lacy in Dorset marks fifty years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality.
It examines the exile of former owner William John Bankes and reveals both its significance for understanding the house that is seen today and its relationship to the ongoing challenges faced by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LBGTQ) community.
William John Bankes, explorer, scholar and art collector, inherited Kingston Lacy in 1834 and set about transforming the house into a Venetian Renaissance palazzo.
In 1841 he was caught with a soldier in ‘an indecent act’ at a time when intimate relationships between men could be punishable by death.
Bankes had narrowly escaped prosecution for a similar incident a few years earlier, so on this second occasion he felt he had no choice but to leave the home he loved for exile in France and later Italy.
From abroad, however, he continued to commission and collect art and other treasures to send back to Kingston Lacy with instructions on how they were to be displayed and with designs for decorative schemes.
EXILE will enable visitors to learn more about Bankes’ exile and his contribution to the house and its decoration from afar, and also consider his extraordinary story within a broader context of intolerance and persecution of LGBTQ lives from Henry VIII to modern times.
EXILE features three distinct installations, linked by a series of new interpretive panels. As visitors enter the house, they will encounter ‘In Memoriam’, a tribute to the 51 men who were hanged under laws that criminalised same-sex acts during Bankes’ lifetime. It is a reminder of the brutality of the times and the context of his actions.
Further into the house, the second installation – ‘Displaced’ – uses projection and sound to make connections between Bankes’ story and the ongoing persecution of LGBTQ people, drawing on contemporary experiences of those forced to leave their homes in the UK and abroad.
The final installation – ‘Prejudice, Persecution, Pride’ – sets Bankes’ story within a global history that examines how the law has shaped – and continues to shape – LGBTQ lives. Facsimile copies of legal documents from the Parliamentary Archives will be exhibited alongside a timeline that reveals familiar and surprising stories of persecution and intolerance, liberation and equality.
The installation at Kingston Lacy is part of the National Trust’s ‘Prejudice & Pride’ programme which is celebrating the stories of LGBTQ people at a number of its places and acknowledging the contributions they have made to history and society.
The programme has been researched and developed by the University of Leicester’s Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (RCMG) in collaboration with the National Trust and with support from Stonewall.
John Orna-Ornstein, National Trust Director of Curation & Experience says: “Kingston Lacy holds a story that deserves to be known more widely – as with all those we have researched and shared through our ‘Prejudice & Pride’ programme. These stories show how deeply and widely LGBTQ heritage goes back into our shared history and how this resonates with our lives today.”
Professor Richard Sandell of the University of Leicester’s Research Centre for Museums and Galleries says: “Historic sites hold enormous potential to tell stories that not only illuminate our understanding of the past but which also offer us opportunities to look differently at the world today. Our collective aim in researching and developing EXILE has been to offer visitors an enhanced appreciation of the house and its beautiful collections but also the chance to reflect on how that history is entwined with a bigger, ongoing story about the law and LGBTQ equality.”
The rainbow flag will be flown at Kingston Lacy from 18 September, the day that William John Bankes went into exile, until 12 November.
Visitors can see EXILE at Kingston Lacy from 18 September to 12 November. Entry is by timed entry tickets. For opening times, booking information and further details www.nationaltrust.org.uk/kingston-lacy or phone on 0344 249 1895.