A Polari Etymology According to a Diagrammatic by Alfred H Barr (1936)

Jez Dolan (1966 - )

screenprint on paper


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© Jez Dolan

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  • About the work
    Country: UK
    City: London
    Place: Home Office, 2 Marsham Street
    This screenprint presents a diagram mapping the linguistic genealogy and influences of Polari. As described by Jez Dolan:

    'The form of this work uses a diagram created by Alfred H. Barr, founder of MOMA New York, and used for the catalogue cover for the ground-breaking exhibition ‘Cubism & Abstract Art’ in 1936. Barr’s diagram supposedly justifies the predominance of abstract art as a natural and inevitable progression from the late 19th century to the 1930s. At the time, Barr’s ideas were considered as gospel – indeed these ideas continue to dominate some extent, as the first real proponent of the white cube as the space in which to exhibit contemporary art. My personal take on a Polari etymology is, I suspect, as full of mistakes, blind alleys and irrelevancies as Barr’s original.'

    Polari is a British non-standard dialect, made up of Italianate phrases, rhyming language and cant terms, that has its origins in the 18th century. It sprung up as a secret language used by vagrants, itinerant performers, sailors and other marginalised nomadic groups. Many of its words, in fact, derived from the Romany people scattered across Europe. Polari was adopted by the homosexual community in the United Kingdom between the 1920s and 1970s, and was at its height in the years immediately prior to the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales in 1967. This ‘lost language of Gay men’ (which served simultaneously as disguise and identification) has been a recurring theme in Dolan’s work for a number of years.
  • About the artist
    Jez Dolan is a multi-disciplinary artist based in Manchester, working across drawing, installation, printmaking and performance. He has exhibited since 2012, with solo performances and exhibitions including: Bury Art Museum & Sculpture Centre (2014); Victoria & Albert Museum, London (2017); Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (2018); and HOME, Manchester (2018). In 2016, he was commissioned by the UK Parliament to commemorate sixty years since the Wolfenden report, in a translation of a Government document through the transgressive act of queering a cultural artefact into a language of exclusion.
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  • Details
    A Polari Etymology According to a Diagrammatic by Alfred H Barr (1936)
    Number 15 in an edition of 33
    screenprint on paper
    height: 88.7 cm; width: 66.7 cm; depth: 4.8 cm
    Purchased from the artist, November 2019
    Signed by the artist recto, bottom left
    The artist; from whom purchased by UK Government Art Collection, 14 November 2019
    GAC number