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For Derek Jarman (1942-1994)


Derek Jarman (31 January 1942 – 19 February 1994)

Today I went to see ‘Brutal Beauty’ – the Derek Jarman exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in London.  One part of the exhibition is showing his last film ‘Blue’ – I sat and watched/listened to the entire piece today and I found it quite emotional to revisit the final thoughts of someone facing his own death from AIDS. I came away wanting to acknowledge the impact Derek had on my life and decided this was the place to do it.

I knew very little about Derek Jarman until he came out publicly about being HIV positive in 1990. His artistic work, film making and writing had barely registered with me; I was probably a bit too conservative at the time! HIV was not on my radar either at that point, and as a young, white heterosexual woman I never expected it to become part of my reality.

In June 1991 after my partner Ian had told me he was HIV positive I remember feeling so alone, afraid and uncertain of the future. A couple of months later I heard an interview with Derek on Radio 4 and his words helped me such a great deal that I wrote him a letter to say thanks for giving me the strength to face whatever might be coming when I got tested the following month. To my utter surprise I got a handwritten postcard back from Derek acknowledging my letter and its contents.

Five weeks after I tested positive I met Derek in person for the first time after a special preview of his film Edward II; he was utterly charming; charismatic and generous  - he gave me a free signed copy of his ‘Modern Nature’ journal as I couldn't afford to buy a copy on my meagre unemployment benefit. We subsequently met on a couple of other occasions and exchanged a few more letters and postcards as I started to adjust to a life with HIV.

His death in February 1994, coming just three weeks after my flatmate Pros, was particularly difficult for me as it felt that I was losing everyone that had provided me with hope in those early years of living with HIV.

I am extremely fortunate to have one of Derek's original paintings on my living room wall so his artistic and creative energy has continued to be a presence in my daily life ever since.

I will forever be thankful that Derek was willing to talk publicly about his HIV status as he gave me strength and inspiration from day one of my diagnosis.

Thanks for sharing the special time you got to spend with Derek.  It is people like him that can give us all the get up and go we need. Do remember you are never alone!  :-*

Thank you for reminding me of Jarman. A truly extraordinary man. In addition to all his other talents, not least as a film director, he was also a prominent gay rights activist - his understated and dignified approach was always a great inspiration to me during the early 90s.

I have 'Blue' on CD - a gift from his producer while Jarman was still alive. I have listened to it many times and always found it a very beautiful, if also very sad and haunting, piece of work. Just realised I haven't actually listened to it since I tested positive. Perhaps it has just been too much to contemplate? I think it is probably time to sit down and listen to it again.

Still remember the moment in 94 when I heard on the radio that he had died and how saddended I felt by those news.

Matty the Damned:
Ah Derek. Who gave Edward II such a gorgeous new life.

For the record the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence declared him posthumously to be St Derek of the Order of the Celluloid Knights. :)



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