A major retrospective exhibition has been curated at Manchester Art Gallery to celebrate the life and work of one of the most influential figures of 20th-century British culture - Derek Jarman. The installation exhibits the breadths of Jarman’s work, spanning mediums such as Super-8 film, writing, gardening, and painting.
Much of the work on display focuses on Jarman’s political stances, particularly surrounding the AIDs crisis of the 1980s and UK politics from the same era. As an openly gay man in the 80s, Jarman used his creative practice to address issues surrounding homophobia within the media. Much of his work criticises political figures such as Margaret Thatcher for exacerbating homophobic culture in the UK at the time. This, however, was not the only inspiration behind his work - he also directed many films and music videos, including an adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’.
In conjunction with the display, efforts have been made by Manchester Art Gallery to honour Derek Jarman’s affinity for gardening, which he adopted after moving to Kent in 1986 following his HIV diagnosis. The project, dubbed LGBT (Let’s Get Botanical Together), utilises a strip of land in Manchester city centre to create a space that ‘stimulates all life forms throughout the year’, inspired by Jarman and his activism work. It is engineered to be a multi-sensory experience, with lots of colour, scent and texture; this could allude to the fact that later in his life, Jarman’s sight deteriorated.
Much of the exhibition addressed Jarman’s slogan work, seeing emblematic scrawls of words and phrases, such as ‘MORPHINE’, ‘QUEER’ and ‘F*** THE BLIND’. This kind of bold message is what made Jarman’s work so striking and so effective, with a clear cut message behind all of his creations. Some works even included items such as wedding rings, medication pills, bullets, smashed glass and used condoms - it’s easy to imagine how the reaction to the compositions could have sparked a reaction at the time. And with such status amongst popular culture (having worked with the likes of The Smiths, Pet Shop Boys and David Bowie), Jarman’s work was a turning point for both art and gay rights.
The exhibition runs until 10 April and is free to attend.