On 7 January, a new exhibition celebrating renowned designer and artist Leigh Bowery will open to the public. Offering an “intimate view of some of his iconic looks,” the exhibit will be presented by The Fitzrovia Chapel in London, the only remaining building of the Middlesex Hospital, where Leigh died from AIDS on New Year’s Eve in 1994.
Titled Tell Them I’ve Gone to Papua New Guinea – something Leigh Bowery used to tell people to say instead of sharing that he was ill in hospital – the exhibition includes a short film with interviews from Bowery’s friends and collaborators: Nicola Bateman, Sue Tilley, Boy George, Les Child, Richard Torry, David Holah and Lee Benjamin. The Fitzrovia Chapel has also worked with the Leigh Bowery Estate, particularly with Nicola Bateman, whom he married shortly before his death in an art performance, to exhibit Leigh’s costumes against the chapel’s gold mosaic ceiling and marble walls.
For fashion, art, performance and Drag Race fans, the chapel will be showing a total of seven garments, including Dalmation and one of his more structural pieces: Fraggle Rock, which will be displayed in the organ loft. Hannah Watson, exhibit curator and chair of trustees at The Fitzrovia Chapel, tells It’s Nice That: “We have chosen looks that will match the twinkly bling [of the chapel], so lots of sequins and embellishments and drama. Leigh’s costumes are known for their amazing and often outlandish design but also they are all technically excellent... They were all looks he would wear out to clubs and dance around in so some of them have a bit of ‘disco dirt’ on them, which only adds to their iconic provenance.”
In the 80s and 90s, Leigh Bowery built a legendary reputation throughout the underground club scene in New York and London for his groundbreaking designs and weekly club night, Taboo, for which he once said of the dress code: “Dress as though your life depends on it or don’t bother.” He was one of Lucian Freud’s most famous models and known for his performance art pieces – the last of which saw Leigh Bowery give birth to his assistant and close friend Nicola Bateman on stage, with Freud, Alexander Mcqueen and Sue Tilley in the front row.
“Leigh is such a big influence for so many people,” states Hannah Watson, “from people who remember him from the 80s and 90s, to young people and fashion and design students today. We want to give people a very special exhibition that is in the very beautiful environment of the chapel with its special history, and an intimate view of some of his iconic looks, and a sense of him as a person. He had such a huge presence it will be hard but if anywhere can give his OTT sequins a run for their money it’s the chapel!”
Tell Them I’ve Gone to Papua New Guinea will be on display from 6 January – 6 February. Admission is free, booking is required via Eventbrite.
Dave Swindells: Leigh Bowery at Taboo (Copyright © Dave Swindells, 1986)
About the Author
Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating from the University of Bristol, they worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, Indie magazine and design studio Evermade.