Late last year I was commissioned to produce a visual piece based on my poem 'Human'. I had no idea what the end result would be. I was told to do what I wanted.
I started by re-reading the poem with the commission in mind. The commissioner had said how he liked the way my work contains layers, and how the phrase 'human first and foremost' resonated.
I was struck by how well another phrase from the poem, 'such a fuck off fabulous host' suited the commissioner. He likes good food and drink, both as a host and out dining. The Biblical meaning of 'host' combined with the profanity of 'fuck off', appealed to me.
I have part of my poem 'Diagnosed' written on a large mirror in dripping blood: 'If I believe in fate I can't cheat it' and for a while I thought about putting 'Human' on top of that. I have another canvas 6 foot wide, 2 foot high, which hangs above my fireplace, it is a constant 'work in progress', and I considered using that. I cut out empty medication boxes and sprayed through them. I tried this onto a roller blind too.
Eventually I hit upon using a piece which was dark and gloomy, called 'I just stopped taking my medication', which I had made specifically to fill an ornate frame I'd bought at auction. It was hanging above the stairs. I took it down. I turned it 180 degrees and re-made it. It slowly developed. I added collage. Tintoretto's 'Adam & Eve' got painted over. So did lots of other stuff. It slowly grew. It went white. It went orange, yellow, and purple. I used household paints,and then acrylics. Finally I got to red and green. I wanted it to have vitality. I wanted it to have the human touch. Mistakes. Vs. Dust.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus, H.I.V.
Human first and foremost,
A maker of mistakes.
The mistake I made,
Was to fall in love.
Make sure it doesn’t happen to you.
I is Immunodeficient -
I catch more germs than most,
Of course I prefer to think germs think me
Such a fuck-off, fabulous host!
V is for Virus,
It contains both I and Us.
We’re all human first and foremost,
And in the end, all dust.
I was telling a disabled woman I know, let’s call her Tina, that I was about to perform at Disability Pride.
“I don’t get it,” she said, with a frown. “What have we got to be proud of?”
I was a bit taken aback. Maybe it’s easier for me to understand as a gay man because I’ve grown up with Gay Pride events. These events have given the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) community visibility, strength in numbers, a chance to educate the wider world, and yes, a chance to party.
There are still people out there who think it’s acceptable to hurl abuse at queers. Only last week I heard about a man being homophobically abused on a bus in Norwich because he got out his knitting. It would funny if it wasn’t so tragic; that man is now worried about travelling on public transport.
“Oh well I understand that,” said Tina. “I get people following me and doing my limp, like it’s a big joke.”
So why is Pride important?
Let me tell you why.
The bird that lives life in a cage,
Lives no life at all.
The bird that never sees the sky,
Never feels the sun -
Is like the caged canary
That only knows one song.
Imagine! Setting that bird free
Letting it be the best canary it could ever be.
That’s why Pride’s important
And it belongs to everyone,
Because we all deserve to be our best
To see the sky, the sun.
Norwich, once you were canaries,
But now that you have Pride
I can see your eagles soar
Across a rainbow sky.