As a teenager, the rebellious Jean Genet was one of my favourite writers. The son of a prostitute, he grew up in poverty and ended up in jail for petty crimes. He turned to writing while in prison – and later became the darling of the French art world and the toast of well-known figures such as Jean Cocteau, Picasso and Jean-Paul Sartre.
But it is Genet’s association with social and political activism in the 1950s and 1960s that was the dominant theme at Nottingham Contemporary‘s new exhibition Act One & Two which opened on Friday. The break down of the exhibition into two acts was extremely effective. Act One is a solo exhibition by Marc Camille Chaimowicz (featuring five other artists) – and here we see an exploration of the personal realm. There are rooms strewn with personal objects and naked bodies which stand vulnerable yet defiant.
Act Two examines the political life of Genet, particularly his association with the Black Panther movement in America and his campaigns against colonialism. The pairing of the personal and the political is an apt reflection of Genet’s life. He was punished for something personal (his sexuality) – but the struggles he faced and the norms that he subverted in his literature came to represent the struggles faced by many other groups during this era and came at a time when the civil rights and the feminist movements were taking off.
This exhibition was launched alongside the Contemporary’s Summer Party which was a great night of music, dancing and drinks on the terrace.
This Thursday, I am also looking forward to a talk by art historian Sarah Wilson entitled Genet: From the Existential to the Post Colonial. For tickets, click here.