[Skip to content] [Skip to main navigation] [Skip to user navigation] [Skip to global search] [Accessibility information] [Contact us]

A Horniman Rainbow Flag

February is LGBT History Month and as we have just opened our new exhibition Colour: The Rainbow Revealed, what better time to look at the Rainbow Flag, which has been a symbol of LGBTQI pride since the 1970s.

The Rainbow Flag is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. The flag was originally created by artist Gilbert Baker in the 1970s. Baker had been tasked by Harvey Milk to create a symbol of pride for the gay community and the original flag flew in the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day parade in June 1978.

“Flags are about power,” Baker told ABC in 2017, “Flags say something. You put a rainbow flag on your windshield, you’re saying something.”

This original flag contained eight colours but was modified to six in 1979, and we have used this six-colour flag to create our own rainbow from our collections.

Red

The red stripe in the flag symbolises life and the colour evokes blood – a symbol of life. As a colour it is at the end of the visible light spectrum which is why it is the first colour in the rainbow.

This is a wax seal from the mid-1800s. Wax seals are still commonly used to secure the padlocked doors and gates of important cabinets, offices and buildings in India and Pakistan. The inscription gives the name Narsinghadev, an official of an 'emperor' Bhagvant Singha, and dates that are equivalent to AD 1838-39 and 1859-60. 

Orange

The orange stripe represents healing. Orange is considered to be a friendly, cheerful colour combining the energy of red and the happiness of yellow.

This is a clownfish from our Aquarium. Most anemonefish are protandrous hermaphrodites, meaning they alternate between the male and female sexes at some point in their lives.

Yellow

The yellow represents sunlight. It is a warm colour and the association with the sun evokes feelings of optimism and clarity.

This is a painted, carved wooden mask of 'El Tigre' from Mexico and is part of our Handling Collection.

Green

The green represents nature, which is natural when green are the colours we associate with spring, growing and life.

Unsurprisingly we’ve gone outside to the Gardens for this part of our flag for a picture from a sunny day under the trees.

Blue

The blue stripe represents serenity, harmony or peace. Blue is used commonly by brands to evoke trust, as it is the most popular colour for both men and women.

We’ve gone for a Blue Morpho for this part of the flag, because they are just stunning. This specimen is part of our Natural History Collection, but you can also see them in our Butterfly House.

Violet

The final stripe at the opposite end of the light spectrum is violet which represents spirit. According to surveys in Europe and the United States, violet is most often associated with extravagance, individualism and the unconventional, which aligns with spirit well.

This circular embroidered fan case came from China in the early 1900s. It is decorated with an embroidered scene of a young woman dressed in blue in a boat surrounded by lilies. Beside her is an overhanging willow and a bird, probably a crane, flying overhead.

There you have it, a Horniman version of the Rainbow Flag.

As Baker said,

I like to think of those as elements as [being] in every person; everybody shares that.