Liverpool’s fortunate to have a calendar crammed with red-circle events but, for our shilling, none matches Homotopia for its eye-popping blend of high art and high camp, world premiers and deeply personal stories.
From the beguiling and seductive photorealist and photographic work of Mark Wardell (aka Trademark) and Boy George – This Way Out – to the exploration of punk, as seen through a queer eye – England’s Dreaming: the Jon Savage Archive, this festival is never less than paradigm shifting. Take, for example, the intimate and incredibly moving exploration of April Ashley’s journey (Ashley was the first person to undergo gender-reassignment in Britain), at the Museum of Liverpool, or the trashily fabulous masterclass with John Walters at the Phil we’ve all just come down from (and ordered a DVD of Fuego, a Woman On Fire in its wake). The nudge and wink exploration of 1950’s bodybuilding and physique magazines, or the bravery of Nigerian-born Le Gateau Chocolat’s personal exploration of his loves and fears.
Only Homotopia can masterfully pull of this festival’s feast of captivating high drama, cheap glamour, pop art and pride. From Tom of Finland’s bulging pants to explorations of gay life in Africa, it’s always been a that packs a powerful punch.
It’s also particularly poignant to see Hockney’s world view open up – from the angsty, codified hints and whispers of his art school days (where numbers and symbols slyly hint at hopes and desires) to the technicolour, bare-bottomed world of the US west coast. San Francisco, Hockney once said, was like a ‘sunny, naked Europe’ – and the sun, the flesh, and that European thing that happens when the two meet – shows this rake’s progress from subtle hints to a widescreen celebration of his sexualtiy.
This year, its tenth season, is the best yet. Homotopia’s Artistic Director, Gary Everett talks us through the past ten years.
“It felt important to me to contribute something to Liverpool’s cultural landscape that had been missing. Raising the visibility of queer art was paramount for me, and given the city’s richly diverse and queer cultural heritage it felt like the right thing at the perfect time. Art, engagement and participation were, and remain, at the heart of Homotopia.
“I’m immensely proud of the last 10 years, very lucky to have a talented team around me, and eternally thankful that they believe in what we’re doing. The organisation is unique as we also are the only UK gay arts and cultural festival that has a year round participation and social justice programme, reaching over 125,000 younger and inter-generational audiences.
“Homotopia has remained true to its original vision and we’ve never compromised, even though we’re living in uncertain times. Political and religious extremism are becoming stronger forces in some parts of the world and that is having a profoundly negative effect on society.
“I passionately believe that art has the potential for social change. So it’s really important to develop artists and of course art and of course maintain the high quality of our offer. Liverpool to me is fertile ground for queer art and the last 10 years have proved it.
“It would have been so easy for me to have tossed the coin and created a rave, or a party in a park but I wanted to do something more meaningful, connecting to the spirit of the city which resonated beyond any gay ‘scene’.
“So many gay festivals around the UK feel bland, disconnected from the gay community and at worst are commodified and corporate and seem to have lost their way. I hope through our message of art, participation and social justice we connect with gay audiences as well as the wider community. This idea of mainstreaming out of the ghetto and into public spaces is key.
“Curating the year long exhibition of April Ashley has been a truly inspirational and wonderful project. Bringing April’s story back to Liverpool in such an epic way has so much potential for greater understanding, positive change and acceptance for the trans community.”
This year’s highlights, for us, must include Blitz Kids reunited, Boy George and Trademark’s world premiere collaboration ‘This Way Out’ (‘No Money Campbell, by George, pic r), fusing the creative juices of two of our best chroniclers of pop culture. George’s intimate, sensual photographs and Trademark (Mark Wardell’s) day-glo canvasses explore self, identity and performance – specifically the phenomenon of constructed realities often assumed by those living outside the mainstream. But we’ll be checking out the following, too.
Caz’n’Britney’s Mis Les
The inimitable ‘Caz n Britney’ return with a brand new show after their sell out stretch in ‘Scottie Road The Musical’( From Primark to Prison) in this ‘revolution in rollers’.
Hockney Weekend: Beefcakes and Dripping
Walker Art Gallery
A weekend of events which contextualize Hockney’s early works considering aspects of gay life in the 1950s and 1960s. An illuminating talk on male physique photography after the Second World War. A secretive network grew up around the boom in bodybuilding and physique magazines (Joe Dallesandro pic r), which became a covert gay press, supplying British men with erotic images, contacts and a sense of belonging at a time of vicious legal persecution.
to 25 November
Featuring photographs from LJMU’s Special Collections and Archives including England’s Dreaming: the Jon Savage Archive, this exhibition focuses a queer gaze on London’s early punk scene. A transgressive and defiant attitude to gender and sexuality is flaunted and celebrated in these images of Siouxsie Sioux, Billy Idol, the Bromley Contingent, The Clash and many more.
Boy George and Trademark, in conversation
St George’s Hall
The ever candid pop icon, DJ, director & photographer Boy George discusses his life and work. From formative influences as a Bolan and Bowie fan to the Blitz club scene and the emergence of his own internationally successful pop group Culture Club. Since 1982, when George’s androgyny shocked a closeted and homophobic world, he has continued to challenge the conventional and orthodox. Now exploring his creativity in visual media exclusively for Homotopia George will be joined on stage by longtime friend and Wirral born artist TradeMark to discuss their collaborative exhibition This Way Out.
The Piers From Here
December 7 – Feb 9
The exhibition focuses on the area of the Piers in New York City during the mid 1970s, and speaks of the state of abandonment and dilapidation these underwent as a consequence of the oil crisis that reconfigured the geography of the city. Mapping hedonistic displays of flesh, occasional sexual intercourse, corpses that could be mistaken for sleeping squatters (and vice versa) and other traces of humanity hidden amongst the interstices of society.
Ronald Wright in Conversation
Walker Art Gallery
Rupert Smith explores the world of Ronald Wright, spiritualist writer, gay magazine illustrator, celebrity portrait artist, author, artist’s model and psychic medium, Wright contributed to the burgeoning ‘Physique’ and ‘Men’s Interest’ magazine industry. His artwork featured in many of the internationally renowned publications including Imprisoned for being gay in 1959, he was released a year later and began a successful career as artist model, most notably posing as ‘the body’ of Rudolf Nureyev for a Madam Tussaud’s waxwork.
Le Gateau Chocolat Black
14, 15 November
Black is Le Gateau Chocolat’s new show (main pic) : a world premiere for Homotopia: this new solo piece explores Le Gateau’s life, loves and fears. This is an intimate portrait of the Nigerian born singer and his own personal battles. Previously, Le Gateau Chocolat has sung internationally on major stages including Sydney Opera House, Menier Chocolate Factory, Royal Opera House, and Glyndebourne Opera as well as performing all over the world with hit shows La Clique and La Soiree.
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