The Air Is Electric – David McDiarmid in America

APN AQUA A Day Without Human Rights is Like a Day Without Sunshine photograph by David McDiarmidThe first dedicated exhibition of iconic Australian queer artist David McDiarmid’s photographs from his first trip to America in 1977, the Australian Queer Archives presents The Air Is Electric at the Victorian Pride Centre until 30 June 2024.

In 1977, fresh from his Sydney solo exhibition Secret Love (Dec 1976), the first explicitly gay art exhibition in Australia, David McDiarmid travelled to the United States.

Having experienced the joy of belonging to an identifiable gay community in Sydney and buoyed by the potential that could be unleashed by the gay community, McDiarmid wanted to experience gay life, community, and art in the USA.

McDiarmid travelled across the USA, from San Francisco and Los Angeles to New York, experiencing the pleasures and protests of the burgeoning gay scene. However, it was New York that made the most impact on the artist.

In a letter back to Linda Jackson in Sydney, he observed that “The air is electric, the sidewalks are magic, and the people are crazy crazy crazy.” McDiarmid “absorbed everything he could of Manhattan’s bustling art, fashion, and music scenes.

McDiarmid returned to Sydney in August 1977, wiser, more enlightened and liberated, but also, as the Australian photographer William Yang recalls, with ‘quite a radical sensibility’. It was only a few months before McDiarmid would himself be involved in the 1978 Mardi Gras protest on the streets of Sydney.

McDiarmid’s American photographs highlight his early interest in composition, colour, typography and symmetry that becomes evident in his later designs and artworks for which he became internationally recognised.

During his travels in the United States, McDiarmid was constantly documenting his experiences in correspondence and photographs, and through these we can start to understand the excitement of the liberatory activism and emergent gay community of the late 1970s – ‘the air was electric’ with new possibilities and freedom.

Presented by Australian Queer Archives, The Air Is Electric is co-curated by Nick Henderson and Angela Bailey. The exhibition was previously presented at the Bondi Pavilion Gallery in 2023 as part of Sydney World Pride.

The Air Is Electric – David McDiarmid in America
Pride Gallery – Victorian Pride Centre, 79 – 81 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda
Exhibition continues to 30 June 2024
Free entry

For more information, visit: for details.

Image: A Day Without Human Rights is Like a Day Without Sunshine, Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade, New York 1977 – photo by David McDiarmid | courtesy of Australian Queer Archives