In 2005, artist Paul Harfleet
founded The Pansy Project
after witnessing three homophobic incidents in a single day.
Since then, Harfleet has planted over 300 pansies on patches of soil near the sites of anti-LGBTQ+ attacks around the world, photographing each flower to memorialize the abuse and raise awareness about homophobia
, and the images are archived on the project's website.
“When I started the project 16 years ago, I hoped the need for it would fade,” Harfleet told Stardia this week, “but cases continue, and the LGBTQ+ experience is still a challenging one to varying degrees all over the world.”
Harfleet chose pansies because of their “obvious connection with homophobia,” he explained. “Being called a ‘big pansy’ as a child
was common for me, and it references being weak, gay, or ‘like a girl.’”
He planted the first in his hometown of Manchester, England
, soon after being the victim of three homophobic incidents in a row.
The third incident involved “a bizarre and unsettling confrontation with a man who called us ‘ladies’ under his breath” and involved construction workers shouting at Harfleet and this then-boyfriend, “It’s about time we went gay-bashing again isn’t it?”
were shocked that this had happened to me, but I was not,” Harfleet recalled. “I felt that this could be explored as an artwork.”
Harfleet has now planted pansies throughout the United Kingdom
, the United States
, and Canada
, typically while visiting cities to speak about the project at art festivals and exhibitions.
He gets his ideas for what incidents to mark from online callouts.
He receives hundreds of ideas at times, but only a few at other times. He then chooses specific locations for planting based on the amount of media
coverage the attack received, its potential cultural impact, and the context in which it occurred.
“I don’t feel it’s my job to mark every location of hate crime
; that would be impossible,” Harfleet said, adding that “the way some experiences haunt people draw me to them, and I feel a sense of duty to mark their experiences. It’s a very intuitive process that differs in every town and country I visit.”
Each pansy's photography
can be a laborious process in and of itself.
“I lie on the ground to do this, so people sometimes think I’m drunk or have fallen over,” Harfleet explained. “When I was in Kansas
with the Spencer Museum of Art, I was lying on the side of the road photographing a pansy and several people reported a ‘dead body
’ on the side of the road as I was so still taking the pictures. The police
arrived to make sure I wasn’t dead.”
“Of course, the irony is not lost on me,” he continued. “Sometimes I’m planting pansies to mark a homophobically motivated murder
. I can be lying exactly where they fell when they were attacked, which adds to the poignancy of the work.”
lockdown rules in the United Kingdom effectively forcing Harfleet to pause the project for parts of the last year, he turned to drawing birds he saw from his window in an effort to provide “an alternative to the growing horrors of the pandemic
,” he told the Spencer Museum of Art.
restrictions loosen, he plans to plant his pansies on patches of soil in Bristol
, England, as part of the upcoming “Vanguard” street art
Some will also be planted during an October walking tour.
“This is always a lovely thing to do, as people can come together to talk about their experiences. My job is to give a purpose and occasionally nudge the conversation as I plant,” he explained. “It’s a slightly absurd yet beautiful thing to do (and see) as people follow me planting random pansies on the street.
What about those who want to grow their own pansies?
Harfleet describes them as “welcome to [and have] planted [pansies] to mark their own experiences of homophobia and transphobia.”
“Part of the wonder of the idea is that it is democratic
and open to all.”
Visit The Pansy Project's website, Instagram
, and Facebook
to learn more.
The exhibition “Vanguard presents ‘Bristol Street Art: The Evolution
of a Global Movement” opens on June 26 at the M Shed museum in Bristol, England, and runs through October.