Homotopia 2014: LGBT in the limelight

Polly Checkland Harding

Homotopia Festival returns for another year, bringing Andy Warhol and talking flowers to Liverpool.

In 80 countries around the world, it’s still illegal to be gay. 40 of these countries are in the Commonwealth. These figures – both disturbing and sadly familiar – come to me from Gary Everett, Artistic Director of the Homotopia Festival in Liverpool. “People have realised there are lots of minority communities being persecuted – that gay and lesbian people are still fighting battles,” he argues, but adds that “Britain has a lot of work to do.” Homotopia, Liverpool’s annual celebration of LGBT art and culture, sits at what Everett calls the “intersection of art and activism”; this year’s festival uses everything from Andy Warhol and a Honky Tonky Mass to talking metal flowers as a way of bringing marginalised experiences back into focus.

“We aim to have a mainstream presence, which is not underground,” says Everett, pointing to Homotopia’s collaborations with venues like Tate Liverpool and the Walker Gallery. The opening of Tate Liverpool’s major new exhibition Transmitting Andy Warhol comes as part of the festival; with over 100 artworks including the famous Marilyn Diptych and Warhol’s stage-set for the Velvet Underground, the show will explore how the artist’s work has influenced how we consume culture today. Over at the Walker Gallery, meanwhile, is a showcase of photographs by renowned American artist Catherine Opie. Opie’s portraits of her friends from the LGBT community have never before been shown in the UK outside London.

This annual celebration of LGBT art & culture sits at the “intersection of art and activism”

It’s a programme that loosely explores the conflict between faith and homosexuality, with Terence Davies discussing the theme in conversation. This is a rare appearance from the Liverpool-born director of The House of Mirth and The Deep Blue Sea this autumn; Everett told me that Davies’ next film, Sunset Song, is currently in post-production. Equally thoughtful is an exhibition of paintings by performer and artist David Hoyle at Fall Out Factory; Hoyle reflects on his own life experiences in the works, which explore addiction, gay culture and mental health. John by DV8, meanwhile – a dance-theatre piece inspired by 50 interviews with gay men – is “the big thing for us this year, I suppose,” according to Everett.

That’s not to say that the festival lacks smaller, more quirky offerings: Rainbow Jews at the Unity Theatre Foyer is an archive project exploring the LGBT-Jewish cross section, while Speaking Through Flowers at Liverpool Central Library includes those talkative metal blooms I mentioned earlier. “We’re producing a lot of work by gay, lesbian and transgender artists who are themselves on the margins,” Everett observes, “It’s those hidden stories that have been ignored by cultural establishments across the country.” Such stories include the so-called “corrective” rape of lesbians, explored by performer and playwright Mijisola Adebayo in extracts from her work, including the powerful I Stand Corrected, while Bambi, the Winner of the Best Documentary Film at the Berlin International Film awards, focusses on transgender Parisian showgirl Mari-Pierre Pruvot over at FACT.

Returning in expanded form for this year’s festival is Black by classically trained opera baritone and cabaret sensation Le Gateau Chocolat; after a successful run at London’s Soho Theatre, this sung performance now has a full orchestra. Le Gateau Chocolat will also be joining actress Fenella Fielding onstage for My Scouse Voice, where Fielding reads poems by Gerry Potter, who will also be there. Finally, it’s worth going down to the April Ashley exhibition at the Museum of Liverpool; Ashley was a model and actress whose transgender status sadly affected her career when it became public. She has since campaigned successfully for legal change and was awarded an MBE in 2012. All in all, Homotopia’s range seems pretty exceptional: using art, dance, theatre, history, music, writing and film, this year’s festival puts the margin back into the middle.

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