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Taylor Square Public Toilets to Reopen with ‘The Underground’ Exhibition

May 8, 2024

Public toilets, back rooms, private parties, parks and vacant spaces have all been places where Queer culture thrived during times when the laws or morals of the era considered such actions illegal and deviant.

In true Qtopia Sydney fashion, we have revitalised the Taylor Square Toilet Block. We welcome a brand-new, 18+ exhibition, sponsored by 357 Sauna, ‘The Underground’ explores these times through archival material and visual displays.

The men’s underground public toilets in Taylor Square were a popular beat until they were closed to public access in 1988. Alongside The Wall and Green Park on Darlinghurst Road, The Toilet Block was a place for men to find sex and socialise after the gay bars of Oxford Street closed for the night.

Despite the dangerous proximity to the Darlinghurst Police Station, these beats were important sites of Queer culture and political resistance. They were places to cruise and explore sexual desire, as well as to build identity.

Curatorial Director of Qtopia Sydney George Savoulis said, “The Underground charts a snapshot of cruising and beat sex in Sydney during the late 20th Century.

“The exhibition draws on archival visual materials related to key meeting places – including beats, saunas, fetish competitions, performances and club nights – to pay tribute to some of the subcultural icons and creative communities that emerged in Sydney during this time.

“It positions Queer sexual expression as an embodied form of activism that was central to the struggle for LGBTQIA+ rights, including the path to decriminalisation in NSW in 1984, the fight against HIV/AIDS, and the right of women and gender diverse people to assert autonomy over their own bodies,” he added.

Contributing Curator of the exhibition Laura Castagnini said, “The Underground shows the importance of beats in Queer culture and popular imagination. It includes documentary photographs by Ulo Klemmer who worked as a Beats Project Officer at ACON (AIDS Council of New South Wales Inc.) from 1988 to 1993. These photographs show graffiti in toilets as an analogue precursor to Grindr. These messages were a way for gay men to find anonymous sex but also build relationships and community.

“Whilst lesbian and transgender people are traditionally excluded from sex-on premise spaces, which mostly cater to cis gay men, the exhibition highlights the curated spaces that explored Queer desire, SM and fantasy during the 1980s and 1990s. This includes rarely seen footage of Sex Intents performing at the 1993 Ms Wicked competition, an open annual fetish contest organised by the erotic lesbian magazine Wicked Women (1987-1996),” she continued.

“The show also highlights the crucial role that gay saunas played in raising awareness of HIV/AIDS in Australia. The exhibition brings together material related to Ken’s Karate Klub (later Ken’s of Kensington), including original signage as well as safe sex posters by David McDiarmid.

“The exhibitioncelebrates this history, as well as identifying and tracing the ways that it shapes the LGBTQIA+ community today,” she concluded.

Qtopia Sydney invites the media to attend an official opening event on Monday

13 May, from 5:30pm to 6:30pm.

The Toilet Block will officially open to the public on Wednesday 15 May 2024.

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