A few years ago, Paul Harfleet was walking down a street in Manchester, England, when someone shouted “fucking faggot” at him. Then, a little later, it happened again. And again–three times in the same day.
Normally, as many gay men do, he might have tried to forget about it. But he decided he wanted “to mark the experience in some way, as an artist.” So, he went back to the spots, and planted pansy flowers in the nearest available piece of soil. “Roadside memorials were becoming popular at the time, and I liked the way they made you think about what had happened at that location,” he says. “Planting pansies was more gentle and low-key than an actual memorial. I liked the idea of queering the street, in some way.”
Since that first act of guerrilla gardening, Harfleet has planted about 10,000 flowers, marking not just his own experiences, but plenty of other people, including some who have been beaten, and even murdered. In the slideshow above, you can see pictures of some of the places he’s gone, including the U.K., Vienna, New York, Berlin, and Istanbul. “It’s a way of capturing stories. Some of them are really horrific, but some of them are almost comical, because the abuse is so ridiculous,” he says.
Harfleet wants to keep expanding what he calls the Pansy Project, by encouraging people in different places to plant their own flowers and send pictures back to him. He’s currently writing a guide, so that people can follow the way he does it.
“As soon as someone shouts at you, you’re outed in really public way and you’re forced to react. Sometimes I might shout something back, but generally now I look around for somewhere I can plant later. It’s become an internal mechanism to deal with that experience.”