Women on Screens: A Place for Pride

Photographer Gonul Zeki (1960 – 2016). From the archive of Gonul Zeki.

This is our final post in our series exploring the history of the radical visual imagery created at the Lenthall Road Workshop in Haggerston from the 1970s – 1990s. These images were made collectively and tell stories of activism, skill sharing and empowerment.

A New Chapter

During the 1990s the workshop became a one-woman enterprise celebrating the Lesbian and Gay community.

Photographer Gonul Zeki had run a fully functioning darkroom at the workshop, and taught classes teaching people how to develop their own photographs. While there she began to experiment with screen-printing.

During the Conservative led government (1975-1990) funding for non-profit making, radical community projects like the Lenthall Road Workshop was reduced and eventually withdrawn.

Gonul was the one who had the first T-shirts out that said ‘I think my girlfriend’s a lesbian’ for instance which you see all over the place. ‘I can’t even think straight’ is another one.

But the whole process was to make people laugh. What she liked was to be able to see people coming up to the stall and either be slightly taken aback or to just be laughing at what she’d put on there.

Debbie Brixey

Colour photograph of two women (one is Gonul Zeki) posing in a market stall decorated with rainbow flags selling t-shirts with LGBTQI+ slogans
Gonul Zeki selling merchandise at a Pride event, 1990s. From the archive of Gonul Zeki. Hackney Museum 2022.91.

Power of Slogans

The Lesbian and Gay movement in Britain had been growing as campaigners in the 1980s and early 1990s came together to fight different forms of homophobia.​ At the same time, a new commercial culture of fashionable queer bars and shops was emerging, especially in London’s Soho.

Gonul used the workshop to print on items like T-shirts for this developing culture, in particular for lesbians who were less catered for. Though now a commercial enterprise, the workshop continued with the aim to empower and represent marginalised groups.

Gonul’s unique brand of irreverent humour and slogans became popular and far reaching. T-shirts she printed at the workshop could be seen on the covers of leading LGBTQI+ magazines and being worn by celebrities such as Eddie Izzard.

Some of the T-shirts which were really popular was ‘Dyke: just do it’. ‘Queer is the real thing’ using the word queer to basically look like Coke. Within two days we got the letter from Nike’s solicitor. It gave us an ultimatum, take them off immediately and don’t sell them anywhere else and we won’t prosecute. So we took them out of that shop.

We didn’t stop selling them! But we had to be careful, so we were selling the t-shirts by mail order.

Jacquee Bruce
Front cover of the magazine 'Diva: Lesbian life & style.' A model is shown wearing  a black t-shirt with the slogan 'Girls Who Do Girls'.
Diva magazine for lesbian and bisexual women, May 1998. The model is wearing a T-shirt from The Workshop.
Hackney Museum 2022.92.
The Workshop and Pride Festivals

Trading under her company Shrinking Violet, Gonul’s signature T-shirts and mugs became a regular feature at Pride festivals around Britain.

I bumped into somebody on a Pride march last year who had bought her T-shirt from Gonul at the age of 16 and who wears it to every single Pride. Every single one of them! And she’s very proud of this, she’s like “this is my Pride T-shirt, I always wear it, and this is where I bought it.” And it’s lovely because you do see people, and I have people coming to the stall, who buy a t-shirt from Shrinking Violet every single Pride.

Gonul was a great supporter of Pride events. Particularly the smaller Prides and the very community focused Prides, which is why she was one of the original people that came and ran a stall at Oxford Pride and offered to print the volunteer T-shirts. And then she did that every year. She’s so respected by so many Pride organisers that have worked with her and she’s helped support their events for decades.

Debbie Brixey
Photograph of a teddy bear wearing a t-shirt made by the Lenthall Road Workshop with the slogan 'Hetrosexuality Is Not Normal, It's Just Common'.
Teddy Bear wearing the T-shirt ‘Heterosexuality Is Not Normal, It’s Just Common’. Hackney Museum 2022.93.

Content for this blog has been created in collaboration with former Lenthall Road workers: Claudette Johnson, Ingrid Pollard, Nicole Superville, Barbara Tombs, Rebecca Wilson with Jess Baines of See Red.

It featured in the exhibition ‘Women on Screens: Printmaking, photography and community activism at Lenthall Road Workshop 1970s–1990s’ at Hackney Museum 14 May – 31 August 2019.