Brave new world: Homotopia 2013

Phoebe Hurst

The festival celebrates queer culture with a programme of international premieres, new art exhibitions and film screenings.

Homotopia festival celebrates its tenth anniversary this year. The fact that the annual programme of LGBT art, film and theatre events in Liverpool has lasted for a decade is impressive enough, but doubly so when you consider that Homotopia is more than just a yearly arts event. Established as part of the city’s European Capital of Culture bid in 2004, the organisation works to “regenerate communities through the production, promotion and commissioning of great art for everyone” and runs education projects tackling Hate Crime in the UK and abroad. In the face of arts budget cuts and prevailing homophobic attitudes, Homotopia has not only survived, but flourished, and now counts Sir Ian McKellen among its supporters.

Running until the end of November, Homotopia 2013 hosts a number of LGBT pioneers including Sandi Toksvig and Boy George, who stages an exhibition of portraits at Camp and Furnace. This year’s festival centres on the story of April Ashley, the Liverpool-born Vogue model and actress who became one of the first people to undergo gender reassignment surgery in 1960. Celebrating her continued campaign for LGBT equality, the Museum of Liverpool stages an exhibition that explores transgender history, including pieces from Ashley’s personal archive. The museum also screens Michiel van Erp’s I Am A Woman, a documentary studying gender reassignment “miracle doctor” Georges Burou and his patients.

Further film highlights include the regional premiere of the Jeffrey Schwarz documentary, I Am Divine and John Water’s This Filthy World. The Hairspray creator brings his one man vaudeville show to Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, exploring exploitation films, the contemporary art world and – unsurprisingly from the man once dubbed “The Pope of Trash” by William Burroughs – filth.

Homotopia has not only survived, but flourished. Sir Ian McKellen is among its supporters

The Walker Art Gallery offers a counterpoint to Water’s filth with an exhibition of early David Hockney paintings. The artist created the reflective works when living in L.A. during the 1970s, and while they have little in common with Water’s provocative performance, the nude figures and vibrant swimming pools they depict glimmer with a similar kind of hedonism. Peter Getting out of Nick’s Pool, for which Hockney won the John Moores Painting Prize in 1967, is among the exhibition highlights and features alongside pieces from the Arts Council and the gallery’s own collection. The Piers From Here at Open Eye Gallery also explores the changing sexual landscape of the 1970s. Gordon Matta-Clark photographed the Piers in New York, an area that underwent a significant urban regeneration during the decade. The artist, who pioneered the “building cuts” form of photography, captures the liberation and anxiety of the sexual revolution, as told by those on the edge of society.

Running for nearly three months and taking over venues across the city, Homotopia is difficult to analogise with a single event. If you did want to, though, you could do much worse than to choose Le Gateau Chocolat. The Nigerian-born baritone singer and drag queen has performed at the Royal Opera House and comes to the Unity Theatre for this year’s festival. Le Gateau Chocolat’s Lycra stage outfits and false eyelashes may be unavoidably linked to ideas about gender identity but the singer’s voice powerfully transcends sexuality, race, age… not to mention any preconceptions about opera. This universality and unstuffy celebration of the arts has become a defining feature of the ten-year-old Homotopia festival – and long may it last.

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