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FLOWER POWER

Drawing on his experiences of homophobia, artist Paul Harfleet is on a mission to reclaim the pansy from being a weapon used against us and instead make it a symbol of empowerment for gay people the world over. His new book, Pansy Boy, is the latest offshoot of the wider Pansy Project, and has proved a surprisingly cathartic experience

“On one day, I experienced three separate instances of homophobia — people shouting at me in the street,” says 41-year-old Paul Harfleet, explaining the catalyst behind his ongoing art initiative, The Pansy Project. Now in its 12th year, and still largely a one-man operation, Paul plants pansies at sites of homophobic abuse in the UK (where he’s based) and around the world. Once planted, each pansy is photographed, and posted online with locations and provocative titles such as ‘Poof!’, ‘I bet you like it in the back door!’ and ‘I’m gonna slit your throats… Die of Aids!’, referencing the specific incidents.

Growing up in the Seventies and Eighties, Paul experienced frequent teasing about his appearance (“I looked quite like a girl”), and homophobic taunts were a fact of life. Having grown up in the suburbs of southwest London, when he was 14, his mum remarried and they moved to Edinburgh. “Homophobia was worse in Edinburgh, or my experience of it was worse,” he recalls. “Before that, I’d gone to primary school and middle school with the same people, so they’d gotten used to me and knew who I was. In Scotland, I was that stereotypical English gay boy, and that meant the homophobia was more visceral.”

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