Tag Archives: Oscar Wilde

Everybody’s looking for something

At a recent re-union with my two close friends, I went through my archive to find photographs from our collective past, remember photographs? Actual hard copies, actual physical images? I had a suitcase-full from the University days in Aberystwyth: theatre projects, pantomime and holidays, all shared histories. At the time we looked so fresh, yet were stacked with insecurities. It was striking how visually we had changed, faces, bodies, the core of the physical.

One of the funniest – yet lamest at the same time – cracker jokes I had this year was about Santa having to discipline his staff, as productivity on toy production was down in his factories. This was due to the Elves taking Elfies. Indeed, if you think about it, 2014 was the year of the selfie.

Nowadays, everybody airbrushes, changes, edits, deletes! We all do it, we all modify our digital life experiences promoting the fun times and the happy memories. We are all self-aware to a degree, but only projecting what we want the world to see. We are all Public Relations agents. Some admittedly are better than others.

It made me extremely happy to see a musician I have admired, Ms. Annie Lennox in a portrait that did not iron out her life lines or laughter marks. An image that did not tone and gloss her face to resemble an alabaster porcelain doll. To be raw, to be unaltered, to be authentic.

annie lennox

It reminded me of an anecdote I heard about Audrey Hepburn, who was appearing on the front of Vogue. One assistant, when showing her copy from the shoot, told her not to worry about the wrinkles as they would airbrush them out of the picture. To which this dignified actress said,

Don’t you dare! Leave them all in. I have earned every single one of them.

The recent picture of the Eurythmic legend was accompanied by a telling quote about our society on the Purple Clover Facebook page,

There’s this youth culture that is really, really powerful and really, really strong, but what it does is it really discards other people once they reach a certain age.

I actually think that people are so powerful and interesting – women especially – when they reach my age. We’ve got so much to say, but popular culture is so reductive that we just talk about whether we’ve got wrinkles, or whether we’ve put weight on, or lost weight, or whether we’ve changed our hair style. I just find that so shallow.

Perhaps we all should be made to read Oscar Wilde’s, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Perhaps we all could do with a reminder of what happens when you try and remain youthful for eternity. Perhaps it’s time to delete that picture in the attic or re-examine the profile image of our digital selves?

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Sleeping with the Dead

After alighting at the Metro station Gambetta, I walked through a hill garden to gain entrance to the cemetery. Along one of the walls there was a figurine with arms spread out, pushing back the wall, faces surreptitiously appearing, almost fading away. Keeping the souls encased.

Cemetery Figure

An old phrase my Nan used to say came immediately to the forefront of my mind,

You should never fear the dead, it’s the living you should be afraid of.

I’d bought four blue iris flowers with a lick of yellow in the centre, a fragrant tongue. The rain came down forever, wet arrows bouncing off my grey wool suit. I walked through a narrow entrance in the wall and was totally mesmerised. Death done with panache. Gothic miniature chapels. Stone crafted sculptures. Ancient tree trunks with branches dramatically stabbing the sky. A calm within the core of the City of Light.

Cemetery shrines

The graves were so decrepit and battered by the ages that at times I had to remind myself that these were authentic graves and not fabricated. Four ravens appeared and for a moment I’d assumed I was really in Universal Studios, Florida and not the 20th Arondissement in France’s Capital City.

Oscar Wilde 2

Oscar Wilde’s grave had an Egyptian-like quality, a mini shrine. The tomb had been encased in glass, as admirers had for years glazed it with lipstick. This had not prohibited the ritual. For all over the surface, lipstick-stained kisses re-decorated it. One bold visitor had even puckered a smooch onto the lips of the Sphinx’s head. I placed the flowers on an arm-like ledge and waited for a moment. The rain, birds and stillness added to the atmosphere.

Thinking about the roll call of people buried in this site, I thought imagine what it would be like when the gates are locked at the end of the day. Sleeping with the dead, the site of numerous French luminaries – writers, artists and musicians:

Moliere
Marie Callas
Sarah Bernhardt
Isadora Duncan
Amedeo Modigliani
Edith Piaf
Gertrude Stein
Oscar Wilde
Colette
Frederic Chopin
Eugene Delacroix
Max Ernst
Jim Morrison
Marcel Proust
Marcel Marceau

Imagine the party the spirits could have. Now that would be one big Bohemian Kiki indeed! I guess in the way a Catholic pays homage to their faith by going on a pilgrimage to Rome, a pagan to Stonehenge, a writer or lover of the written word chooses to show their respects to the literary gods.

Cemetery sculpture

Later on in the evening, I danced like an idiot in the Marais. I thought about how laid back the attitude is in Paris. As I saw my sister in the midst of a cluster of bald, bearded bears, an adult version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, perhaps, it made me smile and I said inwardly, ‘Thanks, Oscar!’

Cemetery Panoramic

Pere Lachaise Cemetery is the largest in Paris (44 hectares/110 acres). It was the first garden cemetery in the capital and contains 3 World War Murals. It opened on 21st May 1804.

Photographs courtesy of Liam Maguire

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Whistler at The Bluecoat

The Bluecoat’s offering for this year’s Biennial is an exhibition celebrating one of the most influential figures in the arts of the 19th century, James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903). A crammed collection of paintings, sketches, letters and notes. It’s like entering the head space of this outspoken, argumentative and maverick creator.

James McNeill Whistler

Whistler dressed in his black patent shoes and with a white plume of hair coiffured against black waves, cultivated a charismatic public persona who challenged the art community and elicited the mocking attention of the popular press. He had famous spats with Oscar Wilde and his one-time friend and benefactor F.R. Leyland.

His work was hung well-spaced out – on the line – marking a radical change from conventional salon style, which saw pictures cover the walls. He described his works as symphonies, arrangements, harmonies, nocturnes. The deathly marks of industrialisation are captured in his watercolour paintings Nocturne in Grey and Gold, Piccadilly (1881-83). The thick fog – or pea soupers, as they were known – seeps off the canvas.

nocturne

His Venice etchings were presented in 1883 at an exhibition at the Society of British Artists, titled Arrangement in White and Yellow. Whistler wanted the event to be more than just an exhibition; he wanted to give his guests an experience. The walls were decorated in different shades of white with the skirting boards, yellow. The attendants wore yellow clothes to match. A final detail for favoured guests, he designed yellow butterflies to wear at the launch. The press cruelly labelled the spectacle, The Poached Egg. One critic commented on the etchings The Piazetta, The Palaces and The Two Doorways,

He has been content to show us what his eyes can see, and not what his hand can do.

Etchings on paper, fabulous depictions of Speke Hall in Number 1 (1870) and the billiard room indicate his connection to Liverpool. A notable piece in this exhibition is his caricature of F.R. Leyland, The Gold Scab: Eruption in Filthy Lucre (The Creditor) (1879), crafted at the time of his bankruptcy.

The Gold Scab

It is one of three paintings intended as a prank for his creditors to discover when they arrived to make an inventory of his possessions. It depicts Leyland as a rich peacock wearing a favourite frilled shirt sitting on a piano stool that is the White House (the artist’s Chelsea home) which was on the verge of repossession.

It is interesting to see the evolution of his Butterfly trademark. Proof of Six Butterflies is printed on proof paper (1890), loosely based on the initials JW, a butterfly signature often had a sting in its tail, the point directed at his enemies.

Whistler’s involvement with the Aesthetic movement is illustrated throughout this expansive collection. The movement consisted of Rossetti, William Morris and Wilde, a bohemian group of artists, writers and designers who favoured beauty and form over sociopolitical content: art for art’s sake.

The press (like that of today with celebrity culture) were fascinated by the group’s ostentatious style, dress and lavish lifestyles. This exhibition is one of the highlights of the Biennial and I feel that the setting (the historical Bluecoat) really adds to the whole essence of the experience. Whistler would indeed approve!

Recently, the Merseyside Civic Society celebrated the fact that the Heaps Rice Mill, in the Baltic Triangle, has been categorised as a Grade II listed building by the government following an inspection by English Heritage.
Not to be developed into yet another series of apartment blocks to remain empty, owned by an off shore property conglomerate in the Seychelles! We need to see the old buildings re-claimed and used for the people of Liverpool by the people of Liverpool. Projects like Opera for Chinatown by THE SOUND AGENTS and the recent use of the Old Blind School as part of this year’s Biennial are exemplary. Let’s pimp up the old architecture lying barren in this city with similar innovative offerings!

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Peter Tatchell Flagship lecture: the unfinished battle for LGBT equality

The University of Liverpool continued its celebrated Flagship public lecture series in May with ‘The Unfinished Battle for LGBT Equality: The flaws of same-sex marriage law and other inequalities that remain to be overturned.’

LGBT Flagship logoThe event was hosted by The School of Law and Social Justice. The talk was given by the exemplary activist, Peter Tatchell. Tatchell last visited Liverpool in 1984. A very different social and political landscape.

Peter Tatchell

Peter was born in 1952 in Melbourne, Australia, and has been campaigning since 1967 on issues of human rights, democracy, civil liberties, LGBT equality and global justice.

In an interview with ten minutes hate after his lecture, Peter Tatchell discussed his years of campaigning and the influences that have shaped his outlook:

Parliament has usually been the last place to get the message. It’s taken extra parliamentary action to push MPs to legislate equality and civil rights. My inspirations are people like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, they pioneered non-violent direct action as a way of pushing human rights issues onto the public and political agenda. Their strategy was very effective, the strategy I sought to pursue pushing forward LGBT rights.

10mh: Can you discuss your early campaign work with OutRage! and  its impact on LGBT rights?

With a protest every other week, it helped normalise LGBT issues, raising public awareness about the scale of discrimination, putting political leaders under pressure to change their policies.

10mh: UKIP and other far right parties are gaining votes due to public disenchantment with mainstream political parties. What would your advice be to non-voters?

Support for more conservative right-wing parties is still significant, a worrying trend if that is sustained over an extended period of time. The support UKIP is getting is a protest vote, people disaffected by the main parties.

My response is if people are disaffected by the main parties, why not vote for a more progressive party like the Greens? It is worrying that people who are disenchanted by the political system choose to gravitate towards a party that certainly has a lot of prejudiced members, even if their policies are not avowedly negative.

10mh: The T in LGBT is sometimes overlooked, what are your views on this?

Transgender rights are the new frontier, the new front line: gender identity, not just for Trans people, for everyone. ‘Behave a certain way because you are a man, because you are a woman’ impacts on the spontaneous nature that we may have.

People should be free to express their gender and sexuality in whatever way they see appropriate, we need to break down masculine/feminine – it inhibits people from fulfilling their true potential.

10mh: Some Universities have allowed far right Islamist preachers, or hate clerics, into campuses to provide lectures on the grounds that they can talk but cannot preach hate crime. Is this acceptable?

These organisations have a right to hold their own meetings in their own premises or to hire a hotel but they certainly should not be given publicly funded premises like Universities.

Those who host meetings and insist women are segregated from men, extremist preachers who advocate killing gay people should not be allowed to speak. The Federation for Student Islamic Societies is not doing enough to block those speakers and not practice gender segregation.

Universities are supposed to be places of enlightenment and equality. It clearly sends the wrong signal – making LGBT people feel under threat in some universities.  Some of these extreme groups advocate punishment for women who have sex out of marriage who are not veiled, also preach that Muslims who turn away from their faith should be killed.  These kinds of reactionary views need to be challenged and blocked from taking place on campus.

Hate preachers should not be given any platform, no place at a university. Organisations like the BNP, Nick Griffin, given his past record, even if he was going to talk about his love of flower arranging.

Fascism has no place in a University. Free speech does not include inciting hatred and violence to other human beings.

The lecture looked at the significant legal LGBT changes in the last decade. Celebrating victories that have been won only by a collective effort and illustrating the work that still needs to be done.

Peter Tatchell 2

It is assumed that the United Kingdom has always been at the forefront of positive change; however, it was alarming to note that most aspects of gay life remained criminal until recent years. Tatchell highlighted how in 1999 the UK had the most anti-gay laws in the world. The Draconian law that imprisoned Oscar Wilde in 1895 for gross indecency was only repealed in 2003. A law against buggery that was drawn up in 1533 was only repealed eleven years ago, under the term ‘unnatural offences’. Even the very language of the law was bigoted.

Surprisingly, the 1949 Marriage Act was the UK’s main marriage law. It does not stipulate that marriage partners have to be male and female.  In the early 1970s, there was no ban on same-sex marriage: it was de facto legal. The prohibition was introduced in response to the emergence of the gay liberation movement and the fear that a lack of legal impediment would allow transgender and same-sex couples to marry. Marriage between two people of the same gender was outlawed under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.

Realistically it would have made perfect sense for the government to just revert the seventies law, instead of creating a new one. So-called ‘Gay Marriage laws’ still have discriminative elements attached. With regards to pension schemes, the bill does not grant LGBT married couples the same entitlements as married heterosexuals. It allows companies to limit surviving same-sex spouses’ pension payouts to post-2005 accrual only, even if the deceased partner had been paying into their pension since 1970. This perpetuates pension inequalities enshrined in civil partnership law.

The talk underlined campaigning that still needs to be undertaken.
Schools should be a safe environment. All forms of prejudice need to be challenged. Bullying in schools needs to be tackled, specifically addressing LGBT. Children are not born bigoted, they become bigoted and this should be challenged. Lessons in equality and diversity should be required by law in primary schools onwards. Tatchell proposed that equality and diversity need to be exam subjects and put into school reports, as important as core subjects. Sex and relationship education should be a mandatory requirement.

Training is the key and it has to come from the top, Michael Gove, it’s not fair for teachers to just know.

The speaker also highlighted the mistreatment of LGBT refugees in asylum detention centres, with just 14 days to fast track their asylum case. A process which ignores the time it takes to collate evidence. The aim seems to be to fail as many refugees as possible to appease The Daily Mail. It is a sad indictment of our society and values that questions are proposed to asylum seekers like ‘do you read GT magazine?’ or ‘Do you go to Heaven nightclub?’ Stereotypes being crassly applied.

The assumption that you can tell a person’s sexuality on the grounds of how somebody looks is ridiculous. Comments like, ‘she doesn’t look like a lesbian!’ or ‘We don’t believe you are gay’. It is a horrifying factor that people are photographing and or filming themselves having sex to prove that they are of a certain sexual orientation. Some of the cultures are very private and nudity is inappropriate.

The coalition government promised it would end some of the injustices but have only conducted some home office training on equality. This needs to change.

Then there is the work to be done with football. The Football Association is not using its power and wealth in an exemplary way. Positive ways forward could include putting adverts with anti-homophobic slogans in programmes. A video needs to be made with famous footballers talking about homophobia.

Homophobic hate crimes still exist 1 in 3 people have been subjected to insults, abuse or threats. In London in the last year there were over 100 homophobic attacks and that’s just the ones that were actually reported. So it is still a major problem. All hate crime should be unacceptable in a democratic civilised society.

To help combat these battles, he urges people to vote for LGBT friendly candidates to wipe out the vicious behaviour of the likes of UKIP and the BNP.

The young LGBT are growing up in a Britain worlds apart from the one of the past. A world where there was hardly any LGBT visibility and no out public gay figures. So essentially we have moved mountains but there are still a few hills. Tatchell encourages solidarity and community activism as the way forward:

I am one, we are many.

The Peter Tatchell Foundation (PTF) seeks to promote and protect the human rights of individuals, communities and nations, in the UK and internationally, in accordance with established national and international human rights law.

Meriel Box, Peter Tatchell and John Maguire

Peter Tatchell is a pioneer and a distinctive voice in British politics. His portfolio of campaigning includes opposing Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988,the controversial addition of Section 2A to the Local Government Act 1986 (affecting England, Wales and Scotland and Northern Ireland), enacted on 24 May 1988.

The amendment stated that a local authority ‘shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality’ or ‘promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’. It was repealed on 21 June 2000 in Scotland as one of the first pieces of legislation enacted by the new Scottish Parliament, and on 18 November 2003 in the rest of Great Britain by section 122 of the Local Government Act 2003.

Tatchell has boosted tolerance and understanding, a human rights approach to personal but political beliefs.

  • In 2009, he co-proposed a UN Global Human Rights Index, to measure and rank the human rights record of every country – with the aim of creating a human rights league table to highlight the best and worst countries and thereby incentivise governments to clean up their record and improve their human rights ranking.
  • He coordinated the Equal Love campaign from 2010, in a bid to challenge the UK’s twin legal bans on same-sex civil marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships. The following year, he organised four gay couples and four heterosexual couples to file a case in the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that sexual orientation discrimination in civil marriage and civil partnership law is unlawful under Articles 8, 12 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
  • He has proposed an internationally binding UN Human Rights Convention enforceable through both national courts and the International Criminal Court; a permanent rapid-reaction UN peace-keeping force with the authority to intervene to stop genocide and war crimes; and a global agreement to cut military spending by 10 percent to fund the eradication of hunger, disease, illiteracy, unemployment and homelessness in the developing world.

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An accidental tourist

I’m leaving because the weather is too good.  I hate London when it’s not raining

-Groucho Marx

This morning, after a most enjoyable Full English (exquisite black pudding, sorry veggies), I left the Aged Relatives at the station and wondered what to do with the rest of a beautifully sunny Sunday on which I had no further plans for the day.  Deciding upon a big long walk was the easy option.  A quick look at Google Maps on the phone and I was off as quickly as my hungover legs could carry me.

It wasn’t long before I stumbled across blogging gold, in the form of probably the most inappropriately named block of flats in the universe (click on the thumbnail for more detail):

House

Aesthete and purveyor of fine wit, Noel Coward, numbers among his many triumphs a note-perfect performance in The Italian Job as the patriotic gang boss Mr. Bridger.  Aesthete and purveyor of fine drawings, Aubrey Beardsley, created beautifully erotic illustrations for a number of  the most notorious publications of the Art Nouveau period, including Oscar Wilde’s Salome. That noise you can hear as you gaze at the signs affixed to these particular examples of concrete brutalism is the sound of two meticulous men spinning like turbines in their respective graves.  At least, I think that and I like brutalist architecture.

Wandering on I came across this scene:

River

… containing plenty for me to muse upon, the odd but strangely mesmirising MI6 building – star of nearly as many Bond films as Judi Dench – it appears to be the kind of Art Deco palace a 30s Hollywood mogul would have had built, but is really an 80s pastiche.  It is just possible to see the exposed remains of the huge mudflats which Charles Dickens would have known before the Embankment was built to reclaim some of the riverside.  That provided extra space for the new-build flats seen in the background, with the cranes suggesting yet more are being added, because London has next to no yuppie flats, of course.

There were parts of this walk which were very familiar, both from pictures and previous wanderings, but next up was a part of town which was a beautiful surprise even for a cynical and embittered Londoner like myself.  Victoria Tower Gardens has it all: plenty of space for reclining on the lawn, river views and fresh air, as well as interesting sculptures and statues to break up the sense of monotony that a town-dweller can feel on looking at a wide expanse of grass.  First up was an elaborate bit of Gothic masonry – which on closer inspection turned out to be the Buxton Memorial Fountain – built to commemorate the abolition of the slave trade.  One of the original castings of Rodin’s sculpture of The Burghers of Calais is also located in the park, having been bought for us by the British Government.  See, they don’t always spend our money on tat!

This stroll through the park brought me somewhere I hadn’t visited since a distant school trip, or walked to since the ill-fated 2003 Iraq War protest march: my Nation’s Parliament.  Naturally no troughing MPs in view, as it was a Sunday and they are also on recess for a little while longer.  Perhaps taking inspiration from this statue of Richard I, who spent less than six months of his ten-year reign in England?

Richard

And then we come to my favourite view of London, the dome of St Paul’s as seen from the South Bank:

View

Here it is looking picture-postcard perfect, glinting in the sunshine as if impersonating Wren’s source of inspiration, St Peter’s in Rome.  There are more stunning images here, including another of my favourites (if you scroll down a bit): the dome enveloped in cloud and lit up by searchlights during the blitz of 1941.

By now the urge to sleep off my breakfast was winning out over any desire for further wanderings, so it was time to hop onto the bus for home.  Things learnt were many and it was heart-warming to act like a new arrival to this city I have called home for most of the last decade.  All for the price of two bus fares and a bottle of water.  Sometimes the best holidays are those spent on familiar territory.

So now off to snooze while agreeing with that other cheerleader for the old metropolis, Samuel Johnson:

By seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can show

All photographs taken by Julia

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