Jane Bowles (1917-1973)

Cementerio de San Miguel - Malaga, Spain, 2019

Limping from affluence in Long Island to the vanguard scene of Greenwich Village in the late ’30s, you charmed everyone you met, including your future “fellow traveler” husband, Paul. Living a bohemian life around the world you opened up the marriage to new people and experiences. While in Mexico you met your long term on-again-off-again lover, Helvetia Perkins. Your only published novel “Two Serious Ladies” didn’t match the success of your husband’s career but was celebrated by your peers. On advice from Gertrude Stein, you and Paul moved to Tangier, Morocco where you mingled with the artistic elite. You became entwined with a local grain seller, Cherifa, who always carried a switchblade to threaten castration to any male who got to close to you. A life of overindulging led to a stroke at forty, marking the rest of your life with pain and unfulfilled talent. Going to Spain for redemption failed after dancing too wildly at a birthday party ended it all. 

 

Lucía Sánchez Saornil (1895-1970)

Cementerio de Valencia- Valencia, Spain, 2019

Raised by your poverty-stricken father you turned to the written form to express the frustration of your lived experiences. A male pen name let you secretly convey your desire for female companionship. Working as an underpaid telephone operator you took part in a union strike, which ignited your passion for social justice and led you to dedicate the rest of your life to social revolution. Joining the anarchist organisation Confederación Nacional del Trabajo as editor of their journal you wrote fervently about gender roles in Spain, rejecting motherhood and subserviency as the foundation of female identity. Disappointed by the chauvinistic attitudes of your fellow Republicans you co-founded Mujeres Libres (free women), to aid and empower working-class women to overthrow their oppressors. During the chaos of the civil war, you met your life long partner, America Barroso. As the Republic ended you fled to Paris together. With fascism spreading across Europe you returned to Spain despite your fear of retributions for your politics and lifestyle and lived out your days quietly with America.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898)

Cimetiere du Trabuquet - Menton, France, 2019

Illustrating your way to infamy by being a foppish dandy artist who satirised Victorian morality, you once proclaimed, “If I’m not grotesque I’m nothing”. Becoming entwined with the British Decadents, Wilde saw you as a ‘kindred spirit’. Your big break came when he commissioned you to illustrate Salome. When Wilde went down for being a sodomite, guilt by association resulted in losing your job and standing. Rumours about your personal life were numerous, including an incestuous relationship with your sister Mabel, who became pregnant then miscarried. With tuberculosis taking hold you converted to Roman Catholicism and moved to Menton with your mother. On your deathbed, she might have forged a letter trying to destroy your obscene legacy but your publisher thought better saving your work as you passed away under the hill. 

 

Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935)

Cimetière de Caucade - Nice, France, 2019

Born into a Jewish medical family, you followed the family profession. Traveling after medical school, seeking out homosexual subcultures you where struck by the similarities in different parts of the world, developing your theory of universal queerness. Greatly affected by the trial of Oscar Wilde and because many of your gay patients killed themselves you became an outspoken advocate for sexual minorities, founding the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, the first group for advocacy of homosexual and transgender rights. You made your name trying to repeal Paragraph 175, managing to get Einstein, Mann and Tolstoy to sign your petitions. You also felt a solidarity with the women’s rights movement, taking up the fight for abortion law reform.Testifying in court by outing a Prince and a General you had hoped that exposing high ranking gay individuals would help advance your cause, but instead it caused public outrage.  Incurring anti-semitic and homophobic attacks that eventually resulted in near-death beating by a group of völkisch activists. After the war, in a more liberal atmosphere, you opened the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft in Berlin where your life-partner Karl Giese became known as it’s ‘woman of the house’.  Later that year you co-wrote and acted in the film, Different from Others, the first to have a leading homosexual character. But the open times didn’t last long and just months after the Nazi’s rise to power, the SA stormed the Institut attacking your staff and burning your research, leading you to exile to Paris. While touring in China you met Li Shiu Tong and brought him back to Europe, settling in the South of France with Karl in an uneasy ménage à trois until Karl got deported for public promiscuity. You worked until the end, dying on your birthday still as an outsider to both society and the academy.

 

Chantal Akerman (1950 - 2015)

Père Lachaise Cemetery - Paris, France, 2019

Escaping your parent’s past you embraced the celluloid reality of motherly enmeshment. You documented the stifling conditions of daily domestic life of the female existence. Rejecting both critics and societies assumed agenda you created your own slow lens. A year after your mother passed there were no more home movies to be made.

 

Vaslav Nijinsky (1889 - 1950)

Montmartre Cemetery - Paris, France, 2019

Escaping your mind into your vocation got you out of Russia. You gave Sergei your body and he made you a star. Your sexual gestures in Spring caused riots in Paris. While trapped on a boat you married your stalker, despite not sharing a language. Retiring before 30, schizophrenia and heterosexuality stole your last years.

 

Hilda Gobbi (1913 - 1988)

Farkasréti cemetery - Budapest, Hungary, 2018

A resistor of the authoritarians. An actor against the norms. Revolutionary before it was legal, you were a lover of Hédi then of Erzsébet. The epitome of the artistic elderly; drinker, smoker, rebel. “I’m such a guy.”

 

Karl-Maria Kertbeny (1824 - 1882)

Kerepesi cemetery - Budapest, Hungary, 2018

A memoirist and translator with friends in high places. The love of your departed friend inspired you to coin the term ‘homosexual’ and use it to try and change society for the better. You spent your life campaigning for gay rights, but it wasn’t enough to fully open your closet door. 

 

Iolanda Balaș (1936 - 2016)

Ghencea Cemetery - Bucharest, Romania, 2018

Jumping to heights that no woman had ever been to, you dominated your field. Reluctantly representing Romania you won gold in Rome and Tokyo. At the height of your career they brought in gender testing and that was one bar you couldn’t rise to.

 

Anita Berber (1899 - 1928)

St. Thomas-Kirchhof - Berlin, Germany, 2018

Your debauched life captivated Weimar Berlin. With your erotic moves and golden showers you titillated everyone, even Dix. The party couldn’t last forever - the poppy took too much.

 

The Grave Project (Excerpts)