Performance, Protest and Politics: Exhibition Explores Art and Advocacy of Rainbow-Flag Creator Gilbert Baker

A new exhibition at the GLBT Historical Society Museum uses textiles, costumes, photographs and ephemera to paint a complex portrait of artist Gilbert Baker

First displayed at the 1978 San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade, the flag has transcended its humble, hand-sewn origins to become an internationally recognized symbol of the LGBTQ community.

Yet the success of this design has in some ways overshadowed the larger story of its creator and his exceptional creative work.

A new exhibition at the GLBT Historical Society Museum uses textiles, costumes, photographs and ephemera to paint a complex portrait of artist Gilbert Baker (1951–2017), who designed the iconic rainbow flag. 

“Performance, Protest and Politics” examines how Baker blurred the lines between artist and activist, protester and performer, emphasizing his intuitive understanding of the ways art can serve as a powerful means to address political and social issues.

Over the course of four decades, Baker melded his artistic gifts with his devotion to justice, employing a range of media and approaches — including sewing, painting, design and performance — to advocate for positive social change.

The exhibition has been co-curated by Jeremy Prince, who has curated and overseen numerous exhibitions at the GLBT Historical Society Museum; and Joanna Black, the archivist who oversaw the donation of the Gilbert Baker Collection to the GLBT Historical Society’s archives in 2017.

From Betsy Ross to Pink Jesus

Gilbert Baker (center) as Pink Jesus in the 1990 International Lesbian and Gay Freedom Day Parade; photograph by Robert Pruzan, collection of the GLBT Historical Society.

Referring to the many extravagant costumes on display, Prince notes that Baker employed drag “as a vehicle to critique injustice and express outrage. From Betsy Ross to Pink Jesus, from Lady Liberty to the uniform of a concentration-camp prisoner, Baker’s drag wardrobe and personas represent the intersection of patriotism, discrimination and social justice.”

By exploring the less well known dimensions of Baker’s wide-ranging oeuvre, the exhibition places the rainbow flag back into the unexpected and evocative context of his exceptional life as an activist and artist.

“We highlight some of the political flashpoints of Baker’s life and how his creative responses at those moments reveal a multilayered character — a man intent on being publicly seen and using his visibility as a declaration,” says Black.

Performance, Protest and Politics: The Art of Gilbert Baker

Opens Friday 1st November 2019

LGLBT Historical Society Museum,
4127 18th St., San Francisco.
7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

$5.00; free for members of the GLBT Historical Society.
Tickets are available online at