Film Screenings: Toxic Queen and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

Toxic Queen, Directed by Fiona Cunningham–Reid (1998)
and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Directed by Stephan Elliott (1994)

Studio Voltaire has partnered with Wandsworth LGBT Forum and Out at Clapham to celebrate the life and work of David McDiarmid, coinciding with the 40th Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

Fiona Cunningham-Reid’s documentary film Toxic Queen is a posthumous portrait of the Australian artist, designer and activist, David McDiarmid (1952–1995) who was recognised for his prominent and sustained artistic engagement in issues relating to queer identity and history. McDiarmid was also a hugely influential Creative Director of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in the late 1980s, creating impressive parade floats as well as all festival posters in 1986, 1988 and 1990.

Toxic Queen takes its title from McDiarmid’s ‘alter-ego’ and 1994 artwork of the same name. The original work was a thirty page spiral-bound book, in which McDiarmid constructed witty political statements with imagined newspaper headlines, queered magazine cuttings and photocopies.

“[It was] like a cultural history of fagdom. It’s also a textbook of nineties attitude… I wanted to move the work out of the art temples and galleries, and into a different, more accessible arena.” David McDiarmid, 1993.

Toxic Queen is narrated by the artist himself, including candid interviews cut alongside artworks, personal photographs and clips of the artist’s poignant 1993 seminar A Short History of Facial Hair. Originally shown on Australian television some twenty years ago, this screening is a rare opportunity to watch this intimate and honest portrayal of the artist within the context of the current re–presented Rainbow Aphorisms series across London.

Oscar-winning film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is a seminal Australian comedy–drama following two drag queens and a transgender woman as they journey across the Australian Outback from Sydney to Alice Springs in a battered old tour bus to put on the show of a lifetime. Their epic journey is a heart–warming story of self–discovery and acceptance.

About the contributor:

Fiona Cunningham–Reid is an Australian film director of documentary and feature films. Now based in London, she was a close friend of David McDiarmid and spent long periods of time with him, including time spent at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Cunningham–Reid made two films with McDiarmid discussing his practice prior to his death. Further films include Feed Them to the Cannibals! (1992) and Crockadyke Dundee (2014).

About the artist:

David McDiarmid (born 1952 Hobart, Tasmania, died 1995 Sydney, Australia) was an artist, designer and political activist, recognised for his prominent and sustained artistic engagement in issues relating to gay male identity and HIV/AIDS.

In the mid–1970s he was known for the exquisite hand–painted textiles he produced for Flamingo Park, the fashion house run by Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson but from 1975 much of his work, was about gay experience. Involved with the Sydney Gay Liberation movement since 1972, his first solo exhibition Secret Love, held at Sydney’s Hogarth Galleries in 1976, featured collages explicitly exploring gay male sexuality, anti–gay legislation and public and private sexual hypocrisies.

McDiarmid lived and worked in New York from 1979 to 1987. After returning to Australia at the end of 1987, he immersed himself in community art projects.