Guerrilla Gardener Plants Human Rights Statements
April 1, 2013 by Robin Plaskoff Horton
In the past week while the US Supreme Court debated the future of same-sex marriage, 2.7 million Facebook users exchanged their profile avatars for the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) pink-on-red equal sign. This morning I received a Tweet from a UK artist, alerting me to the human rights commentary he makes through his very poignant personal acts of guerrilla gardening.
Although today is April Fool’s Day, human rights of any kind is no joking matter.
Driven by a string of homophobic abuse he and others had experienced, artist Paul Harfleet started The Pansy Project, planting pansies around the world at locations where such incidents occurred, naming each after the particular event.
On a patch of soil closest to where the actions took place, Harfleet leaves a mementa mori to the incident: one unmarked pansy. He photographs each statement and posts it on his website as part of his mission to plant such memorials in the collective consciousness and around the world. With the help of friends, Harfleet has planted these commentaries in London and throughout the UK, in Austria, Berlin, Istanbul, and in the US in Brooklyn, Jackson Heights, and the East Village of Manhattan.
Sadly and most disturbing, The Pansy Project also marks locations where people have been killed in homophobic attacks, including one for 18 year old Michael Causer who was murdered in Liverpool in 2008.
One photograph of a planting on Euston Road, above, shows police in the background who are out of focus, which Harfleet says represents the distance from the homophobic experiences and the victim’s inability to do anything about “these often flippant throw away crimes, despite the willingness of the police to combat homophobia.”
Over the last seven years, The Pansy Project has evolved beyond its small scale unmarked individual plantings. Harfleet occasionally speaks to passersby, offering a free pansy and a some literature about the project. He’s also created installations with thousands of plants at the sites of homophobia and has exhibited his photographs. The Pansy Project has been featured in festivals and exhibitions around the world and in 2010 won a Gold Medal at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.
Referring to the Supreme Court’s current same-sex marriage case, Harfleet commented in an email to me, “As an artist, activist and frequent contributor to the discussions surrounding homophobia, I believe that any kind of legislation that supports equal gay rights has to be a positive development in the struggle against homophobia. If our governments openly protect and support gay rights then one hopes that this position will trickle down to everyone in society.”
Harfleet continues, “Most sensibly minded people believe in equal rights for all, this has to include the right to marry the person you love. In the UK we have legalised same-sex ‘civil partnerships’ which has been a positive thing, our government and church are still discussing the semantics and legal issues surrounding the term of marriage. The most important thing for me is that this conversation is had. It’s important for our young people to see that this fundamental unfairness is being discussed, it’s simply illogical for there to be any legal difference between loving relationships in the twenty first century.”
About the Human Rights Campaign avatar, Harfleet says that in the UK it has “generated an exciting, moving and occasionally amusing rise in creativity on these social media channels. I believe ‘limitation can be stimulation’ and the simple format of a red background with a white equals sign has enabled anyone who is willing to visually explore with the motivation of supporting what many people believe to be a fundamental human right: to declare a commitment to the person you love, publicly. I’m still working on my own version of the white equals sign against a red background.”
Harfleet describes his action as a gesture of quiet resistance–some of the pansies he says flourish while others wilt in urban hedgerows.