Paul Harfleet has been planting pansies at the sites of homophobic abuse for the past 15 years. It’s a small act of memorial but it is powerful. His message is one of resistance. The Pansy marks a moment and it remembers a story. The act of planting and recording ensures that what happened is not forgotten.
He recently brought the project to Stavanger as part of the NuArt festival. Working with FRI Rogaland and Stavanger Pride he identified sites where he could commemorate abuse in the city. This time choosing to paint the pansies instead of his preferred method of planting them. The change in approach very much down to the fact that the flowers couldn’t be sourced out of season in Norway.
According to Harfleet, the new challenge this presented him with gave him the opportunity to critically reflect on his progress. He was more able to fully consider how he could work with paint and the city walls to produce his small scale yet large impact pieces. All are memorials of resistance to those targeted by homophobic abuse. Dotted around the city each is given a name and each tells its own story.
Starting the project back in Manchester in 2005 he has been planting his pansies ever since. To date he has planted and documented over 300 flowers. That’s 300 places were he has needed to commemorate an act of homophobic abuse which occured. It all began when he himself, during the course of just one day, experienced abuse on three separate occasions.
Finding the Flower
Finding himself getting angry during subsequent visits to the locations of the attacks, he decided he wanted to change his relationship with the space. “People around me couldn’t believe it still happened” explains Paul in a film he made of the project. “So I felt that I needed to do something to draw attention to the fact that it still did”.
“It took me a while to settle on the right flower” he explains. “But eventually I settled on the Pansy because of its obvious connection to homophobia. I planted them at the site of the attacks and immediately the act of kneeling and planting and documenting, felt like a ritual.” Transforming the way he began to think about the spaces they became less about the attacks and more about the fact that a pansy was now growing there. “I reclaimed the memory of these streets” says Paul.
Many of the pansies that have been planted have dark stories behind them. Some remember verbal abuse, some physical. Others recall attacks which led to the tragic death of a person. In some locations they highlight government sanctioned abuse where homosexuality could result in imprisonment or death. Dotted around the Globe the flowers tell the real lived stories of homophobia.
Paul Harfleet’s Pansy Project was recently brought to the NuArt Festival in Stavanger. He painted five pansies on the walls of the city.