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We wanted a character within the narrative who could act as the ultimate female narrator. Sappho is a historically queer character and one of the world's earliest known poets, further venerated because she was female (although, arguably may have identified as non-binary, if such terms has existed.) Known worldwide as a hugely progressive figure within queer history, she took both male and female lovers and wrote about them in her texts; many translations and readings of Sappho's ancient fragments revealing different things about her character and who she was. Unsurprisingly, my preferred translations are the ones by female or non-binary authors, although I do admire the translations by male writer Terence DuQuesne. Speaking of translations, a lot of the language that I am using to articulate who Sappho was here must be considered through a contemporary lens; My words wouldn't necessarily make sense at all to people in the past because historical culture and living was so different from ours. Understanding Sappho and looking at her character knowingly and imaginatively in the present day, I have chosen to use these terms to shows ways in which queer people now can relate to someone who would ostensibly fall into the identity that we might currently describe as 'LGBTQ+' in the past.
The presence of Sappho within Castle specifically is an interesting story. A plaster bust of her head and shoulders is the only cultural female presence within the Great Hall, which is decorated with portraits of male saints and former 'Masters' of University College (Castle.) Lost to Castle years ago, she turned up severely damaged having been 'trophied' by another University, and was eventually restored to her former glory by a professional conservator who had to research her deeply in order to conserve her face, expression and hair in a historically accurate and sympathetic way. Her first conservation was done by someone else, rather poorly, and she turned up to Castle an ashen-blue colour, which was uncovered and can been seen in photographs of the layers of paint stripped away by the conservator.
I find the story of her bust to be an interesting and clear metaphor of Sappho's mistreatment over many years; As a person, she has been subject to mistranslations and mis-handlings of her character, and as an object her bust was also mistreated. She was split apart with a sword, her face pitted where darts were thrown at her, oily residue showing where her breasts were grabbed and handled. Since her return to Castle, she has been situated within the most prominent and well-lit window sill in the Great Hall, surveying the students as they eat. Ultimately, I find her to be the ultimate narrator of the queer, creative female or non-binary experience, as I feel that everyone who idolises Sappho has their own version of her; their own formation of who her character was, is and will be to them for years to come.
Her character here narrates the treatment of the film Messages from the Mouth as well as recounting her character experience, both as an individual, and as the object of the bust, in Sappho-inspired prose. The second half of the film shows visuals that document my creative process of making this work; of being consumed by her character; of becoming her statue.
A Treatment of Women: Sappho, 2019
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