Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Jade: A Modern Crucifixion

My group exhibition with KUTAC, ‘See’, finished yesterday at the Brighton Fishing Museum. My 2007 portrait of Jade Goody, ‘Jades Mistake’ was quite an attention grabber, with plenty of people laughing aloud at its ludicrous caption (a real quote from the News on The World interview the day after her shameful ejection from Celebrity Big Brother).

One visitor to the show, who stopped by as I happened to be invigilating, had quite a different, hostile response to the piece - and demanded to know why I had wasted my time painting ‘a moron’. Slightly intimidated to be alone in the gallery with such an angry looking chap, I couldn’t really offer an explanation much beyond the fact I’d found Jade ‘intriguing.’ This cut little ice with my interrogator, who insisted on knowing how ignorance and bigotry could ever possibly be intriguing. I shrugged my shoulders and somewhat pathetically conceded that maybe the whole reason I painted it was because I couldn’t really put it all into words.

The picture (done years before her untimely death) came about largely because I was attracted to the hideousness of that News of the World press shot. If anything, it was a record of the cruelty of the media, which had feted Jade (rightly or wrongly) for years as an icon of rags to riches success, yet now wanted to ruin her completely, and (as the quote suggested) mock her ignorance and lack of linguistic subtlety.

In the interview, the hapless Jade was shown a video of her bullying outburst then photographed at close quarters as she wailed and gnashed her teeth for the outraged self-righteous nation. As her face glistened with tears and incomprehension, her blotchy skin matching exactly the scarlet tones of her unflattering top, her hands rising up in a near crucifix pose, the photographer pressed his shutter and preserved it for the readers.

I was intrigued by Jade - I stand by that sentiment. For a start, her story had a small but interesting local significance for me. Jade’s father died of a heroin overdose in the toilets at a branch of KFC near where I lived in Bournemouth. It made the whole thing a little less removed for me - I could imagine the scene better, for all that I’d known the location. Years later, when Celeb Big Bro introduced us to her mother, the damaged, mood-swinging and downright scary Jackiey Budden, it made me wonder how all Jade’s harshest critics might have fared if they’d had the same start in life she had?

Like many people, before the Celebrity Big Brother racism scandal, I quite liked the idea of Jade – the way she’d found an identity in the public eye and seemed to have mellowed into a mildly comic and quirky yet kindly character since her earlier (and none too attractive) discovery on BB3. The media, as we all know, loves a narrative – and the public seemed able to identify with her because she wasn’t a Hollywood celebrity who’d materialized from nowhere, tall and silver spoon-fed with flawless skin and a skinny waist.

In 2007 all that did change, of course. A few days into CBB (which I avidly watched) I began to notice a potential racial undertone to the way some of the girls were picking on Shilpa Shetty. Jade didn’t seem to be the worst offender, of course. Jo and Danielle tugged the strings. Jade had a problem with her temper and I suspected, whether from cruelty or boredom, J & D were egging her on to an inevitable explosion.

The famous ‘Oxo cube row’, when it came, took me entirely by surprise. Jade’s rage was completely disgusting and harrowing, her eyes popping out of her head with pure fury – words of filth leaving her mouth. Shilpa’s graceful calm and silent disbelief only cast a troubling spotlight on Jade’s clear inability to handle her anger and boiling rage. I was shocked and disappointed in her, but couldn’t quite get on board with the loathing the newspapers were suddenly so eager to drum up. Danielle (a far nastier, more insidious offender in my humble opinion) got off relatively scot free because she was young and gorgeous – yet the demented and twisted face of the less classically good-looking Jade in mid-Oxo rant made her, for a while, an easy poster girl for bigotry. The moral outrage quickly got out of hand. Initially cynical, it didn’t take me long to believe very sincerely that Jade was properly sorry. Her genuine tears, for me at least, cut through the galloping charge of media high-horses. She was horrified that people now hated her and thought of her as a racist. To quote Russell Brand in his marvellous summation of Jade “She was a tough girl but utterly lacking in the malice on which true prejudice depends”. Worse still she was, it seemed to me in some of those early post CBB interviews (cf ‘The Wright Stuff’ on C5) actually lacking the very language to describe and intellectualize her own outburst, coming as it did from such a dark, hidden and bruised place within her.

Putting aside this opinion (it’s just an opinion, I never met the lady) – I still think it’s remarkable that so few people are neutral in their opinions towards her. She was human marmite. Several years after her death, in our little KUTAC exhibition, some guy was angered by her very presence on the walls. Surely that alone makes her intriguing? Well doesn’t it?


  1. I agree!

    and it does show that the piece provokes an emotional response within people and highlights important issues!

  2. You don't have to justify your art because of one man's anger. It's art - people take it the wrong way all the time.

  3. I wasn't so much justifying the work (people are free to love or hate what I do) as much as I was musing on the hostility towards the subject of the piece.
    Of course, it was interesting that he expected me to justify my choice of subject, and I wanted to rise to that challenge more than I might usually because I really wanted him to understand her and the context a little better... I'm glad, too, because it made me think more deeply about the work...

  4. I see.. well I hope it'll open his mind to this subject as it opened mine. Anyway your art is great so I hope you don't get discouraged by people like that..