Artangel – Reading Gaol, a short reprieve


Oscar Wilde’s cell door

A great cultural event is going on in Reading, in a prison of all places. The New County Gaol was opened in 1844 as a prototype and partly based by on the design of Pentonville Prison in London. The architect was George Gilbert Scott who was later to achieve fame for his iconic design of the Midland Hotel at St. Pancras and the Albert Memorial. He was followed by architect sons and grandsons, notably Sir Giles Gilbert Scott to whom we owe the K2 red telephone box and Liverpool Cathedral. This venue is fascinating in itself and there is much to learn about prison life, the inmates, the public hangings, the exercise wheel, and the Chapel where no prisoner could see another.

Oscar Wilde brought fame to Reading Gaol for reasons that are almost unimaginable today. But this major art event is not only about him, his writings such as De Profundis (letters to Bosie), it is also about others who were homosexual, incarcerated, trapped, abused, rejected and so on. I was greatly moved by a letter from Binyavanga Wainaina to his dead mother, in which he reveals his love for another man; he could not say this while he was a live. It’s wrong I suppose to pick on a couple of people that touched me but I had never heard of Marlene Dumas. She conveys intense emotions through slightly awkward portraits of people such as Jean Genet with minimal colour. These are haunting images.

When I went yesterday a film-maker was a making a video to transmit in Brazil News. This is a worldwide event and must be seen if you can. It was due to end shortly but it has proved to be so popular that it will continue until 4th December 2016. Click on Artangel Reading for more information all necessary contacts.