Leigh Bowery at Taboo nightclub
Leigh Bowery at Taboo nightclub

Tell Them I’ve Gone to Papua New Guinea: The Fitzrovia Chapel hosts new Leigh Bowery retrospective

10 Jan 2022 | Updated on: 27 Sep 2022 |By Ellie Goodman

Leigh Bowery: Tell Them I’ve Gone to Papua New Guinea celebrates the life and work of the renowned performance artist, featuring interviews from close friends and collaborators

When someone says the word ‘church’, gimp suits and platforms don’t usually spring to mind. Quite the opposite, in fact. But now, on Mortimer Street, set against the stained glass, marble walls and gold mosaic ceiling of the Fitzrovia Chapel, is an arresting display of work by legendary performance artist Leigh Bowery.

Curated in collaboration with the Leigh Bowery Estate, Leigh Bowery: Tell Them I’ve Gone to Papua New Guinea celebrates Bowery’s life and work, and features seven of his ubiquitous looks – including Angel Wings, Crewel and Dalmation. Guests will also have the opportunity to view a selection of his portraits, as well as a short film featuring interviews with some of his closest friends and colleagues, including Boy George, Sue Tilley and Les Child.

Leigh Bowery in ‘Dalmation’, 1988, Fergus Greer
Leigh Bowery and Boy George, 1986, Brendan Beirne

Charles Atlas’ film The Legend of Leigh Bowery will also be shown among Bowery’s costumes, and Dr Rob Miller – now a trustee of the chapel – who cared for Bowery in his final days, has also been interviewed. Poignantly, the Fitzrovia Chapel is the last remaining building of the Middlesex Hospital where Bowery sadly passed away from AIDS-related complications on New Year’s Eve 1994, shortly after his final performance at the Freedom Cafe in Soho and his on-stage – but very real – marriage to his assistant and good friend Nicola Bateman.

Leigh Bowery and Nicola Bateman at Leigh’s East London home, Martin Gardner

First arriving in London from Melbourne in 1980, Bowery became a mainstay of the city’s legendary queer nightlife scene, with his provocative costumery and ground-breaking art spanning fashion, music, dance and clubbing. A famous muse and close friend of Lucien Freud, Bowery sat for several years for the acclaimed painter, becoming central in the artist’s nude series – his large, bald naked body becoming as recognisable as the facekinis and exaggerated silhouettes of his own artistic creations.

Leigh Bowery, Le Privilège, Paris 1988, Jean Claude Lagrèze

Throughout the 1980s and early ‘90s, Bowery’s art morphed into outlandish and boundary-destroying performance, and his costumery has acted as inspiration for both drag acts and contemporary fashion designers, including Richard Quinn, Alexander McQueen and Charles Jeffrey. Just as shocking and thrilling today as they were over 30 years ago, Bowery’s expertly-constructed, ornate, larger-than-life costumes and creations continue to inspire wonder and delight.

Leigh Bowery and his cat, Angus, 1994, Mike Owen

Leigh Bowery: Tell Them I’ve Gone to Papua New Guinea is on display at The Fitzrovia Chapel until 7th February, book your free ticket here.

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