16-Nov-2010

Outburst!

I have just returned from Belfast where I attended Outburst Queer Arts Festival, I was there planting pansies at the site of homophobic abuse, as usual my presence garnered a flutter of local attention. I was pleased to work with UNITE and The Rainbow Project in bringing pansies to Belfast and handed hundreds of pansies to passersby outside Belfast City Hall on Saturday and I was pleasantly surprised by the reaction of the audience who were touched and inspired by The Pansy Project; a boisterous group of teenagers gathered round my makeshift table of free pansies and they generously spread the word of the project to the their peers who happily galloped over to obtain their free pansy. Aware of the complexities of Belfast’s political history I was sensitive to the potential for challenging reactions to the nature of my work but as usual the reaction was completely positive. “Jesus loves you, no matter who you are” one man commented as he happily packed his free pansy into his bag.

Belfast’s complex history was revealed to me by the people I spoke with; stories of closeted work places, unsympathetic schools and tales of veiled threat and violent attack were garnered by The Rainbow Project’s ENOUGH campaign that asked participants to share their stories to help shed light onto the continuing experience of homophobia that has been demoted to footnote under the political regime in Northern Ireland, a situation so frequently true in complex urban contexts.

I also planted pansies at the site of abuse, thirteen in all, perhaps one of the most politically significant was the pansy I planted outside the BBC to mark the comments made by Iris Robinson; wife of the First Minister. The pansy entitled “There can be no viler act, apart from homosexuality and sodomy, than sexually abusing innocent children” (top) was made whilst Mrs Robinson appeared on a radio show at the BBC in 2008 the comments led to local and international outrage. Significantly many of the plantings and locations I garnered through various channels were anonymous, whether this reflects the experience of gay people in Belfast remains to be seen but there were certainly more people who wished to retain their anonymity in Belfast than I have previously experienced. However The Pansy Project is an artwork, it is not an exact science so conclusions should not be drawn regarding the gay experience of Belfastians compared to other cities.

Another personally and politically significant pansy I planted was at Stormont in the shadow of the Edward Carson statue entitled “For Oscar Wilde” (above). Edward Carson was the Q.C. Involved in the Oscar Wilde trial and was also a descendant of my step-mother. Edward Carson cross-examined Oscar Wilde at the famous trial, a transcript of which can be found here. Though Carson’s importance has more political significance hence his statue being placed in front of the Northern Irish parliament building, you can read more on that here.

Despite the plantings and stories of abuse I heard in Belfast I am left with a sense that the city is mending, that Outburst is a catalyst for this healing; Outburst is bringing together a previously socially and politically fractured city to challenge the unnoticed homophobia that has occurred over the years and is demanding attention from Belfast to help repair the damage created in a conflicted city. The Beautiful friendliness of Belfastians masks the troubles that the city has become used to though Outburst Queer Arts Festival and the people of Belfast appear determined to address all forms of hatred whatever the motivation.

I heartily thank Outburst for inviting me to Belfast and for all the lovely people I met during my stay, you all made me feel so very welcome as did the weather that was perfectly dry, bright and crisp.

As ever my research continues.

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