11-Nov-2009

Flower Power

Marc Riboud

It is November 11th a day when the symbolism of the poppy suggests that we all remember the fallen of two world wars. This well known Icon of remembrance is an evocative symbol which encourages the thoughtful to question the wisdom of war. I of course recognise the similarity with The Pansy Project and believe this adds to its strength as an artwork.

The difference however is that those young men and women who have and will die during global conflicts do so knowing the risks of their chosen career. This does not diminish the tragedy of such loss of life but simply reminds us how barbaric humanity still can be when ideologies clash. In my ongoing project I utilise the pansy as a marker of violence aimed at those simply going about their business. Over recent weeks there have been at least two 'high profile' homophobically motivated attacks a reality that still shocks the gay community. Ian Baynham was brutally attacked in Trafalgar Square in London and died as result of his injuries, a vigil was attended by four thousand people last week, a powerful symbolic show of solidarity. In Liverpool James Parkes an off duty trainee policeman was also badly beaten by a large group though thankfully appears to be on the mend.

Additionally statistics released by the police seem to indicate that reported homophobically motivated crime is on the rise, whether this is due to increased awareness due to the work the police are doing to encourage reporting or whether there is in fact an actual increase remains unclear. Some commentators have suggested that the economic downturn has had some effect, flailing economies it is suggested inflame the likelihood of crime due to the increased stress on society. Gay people it seems are just one of the groups that seem to anger the desperate and disenfranchised. Whatever the reality my forthcoming inclusion in the Shout Festival in Birmingham seems all the more relevant given the current climate of homophobia that apparently exists.

Despite my continuing interest in the peculiar nature of homophobia I am keen not to perpetuate the notion that violent homophobia is ubiquitous, I am just as interested in the complexities of social interaction generally as I am in the nature of homophobia, The Pansy Project simply reflects my own view point and experience. What has begun to interest me is that the welcome democracy of social networking sites like Face-Book and Twitter. Though potentially this could lead a casual observer to having a warped view of how prevalent violent homophobia is. Exploration of any Face-Book group that deals with homophobia, (mine included) could give the impression that all gay people are constantly battling violence from homophobes as soon as they open their front door.

Over the last few weeks with the increased publicity given to homophobia from the death of Stephen Gately and the reaction to it in The Daily Mail, the comments made by Nick Griffin on 'Question Time', not to mention the above brutal attacks I have noticed a subtle increase in my own caution and anxiety whilst navigating the city. It is this insidious perception that can become a debilitating state of being, the notion that the world is made up of violent homophobes is patently untrue. Subtle institutional and societal homophobia may be ubiquitous but I believe that the wider public's view on gayness ranges from reluctant tolerance to complete and total acceptance with violence and hatred still thankfully very much the minority.

So on this day of remembrance of those fallen at war I am considering the amazing complexity of the symbolism of a humble flower and it's ability to evoke thought and contemplation on a vast array of subjects from war to remembrance to homophobia. The above image appeared in today's Guardian Newspaper and seemed to sum up the often twee reference some have made regarding the 'Flower Power' of The Pansy Project though perhaps in today's context it makes perfect sense.

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