A former Brighton resident for 25 years, artist and poet Vince Laws is returning to launch a new festival, coinciding with the national LGBT History Month.
The B. Right. On Festival began after Laws tried to exhibit some of his art and poetry in a Kemp Town cafe where he used to work.
“The chap really liked it, but said it was too political and wouldn’t be good for business,” says Laws (pictured right) from his home just outside Norwich, where he is the city’s Pride Poet Laureate.
“It spurred me on to ask at other venues. I was offered space at Jubilee Library and Brighton Town Hall and it just snowballed from there.”
Having organised a similar show in Folkestone last year, Laws has been awarded a £7,625 Arts Council England grant towards displaying his work and developing the festival.
This weekend sees Laws launch his main contribution to the festival – an exhibition of his work at Jubilee Library, entitled I Am A Poem – and the display of a giant HIV hankie quilt in Brighton Town Hall.
“The Hankie Quilt has been made by a group in Brighton, who only started last April,” he says of the 55ft-long project which was first displayed as part of this year’s Pride. “It represents the 482 people who have died of HIV in Brighton.”
The quilt is made up of 12in by 12in hankies or panels submitted by individuals, which all feature personal messages. It was inspired by a similar AIDS Memorial Quilt which was created in San Francisco 25 years ago.
Laws has collaborated with fellow HIV Positive artist Mandy Webb to create a set of ankle chains to represent the 1,895 people in Brighton still living with HIV today.
“I love her work, so she was an obvious choice,” says Laws.
Another collaboration with Norwich-based community film-maker Shelly Telly will form part of the display at Jubilee Library. OUT140 collected coming out stories condensed down to the length of a Twitter posting as part of Norwich Pride 2012, which were then compiled into a book. Laws has selected some of the most powerful and turned them into speech bubbles to adorn a rainbow model.
Examples include: “Mother said I’d rather you were a prostitute than a lesbian,” and “I told my parents I was bisexual when I was 16. They said ‘Go to your room.’”
It will join a selection of Laws’s work, including My Mental Helmet – a motorcycle crash helmet decorated with a poem about mental health (pictured right).
Visitors to the library will be greeted with the word “banned”, appearing to be painted across the glass doors.
The statement, made up of PVC stickers, will be accompanied by books selected by library staff including works by Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, which have been censored for their content. The library will also be showing films during the month following the same “banned” theme.
The Jubilee Library launch tonight at 7pm (see highlights right) features performances, including Laws reading from his own poetry, a display of some of his more controversial works and music from the Hullabaloo Community Quire and “queer calypso” singer Caspar James.
Laws will also be asking for volunteers to take part in 76 Faces – an art project where 76 volunteers will have the name of a country where homosexuality is illegal painted on their face.
“We do sometimes get complacent here because we have got a lot of rights,” says Laws. “There are a lot of countries where you can’t have a celebration like this, where people can’t be themselves.”
The B. Right. On Festival takes place across Brighton and Hove, from Friday, February 1, to Thursday, February 28. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/events/155902317891774