The prison where Oscar Wilde served time for ‘gross indecency’ has re-opened its doors as part of an art exhibition dedicated to him.
The famous playwright and poet, who had a string of male lovers, was famously arrested and sent to Reading Gaol in 1895 for for gross indecency with men, under the UK’s historic anti-gay laws.
Wilde served two years behind bars in Reading Gaol, penned the work ‘De Profundis’ from behind bars.
His time in prison was the basis for his final ever work ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’. a long poem that reflects on the harsh rhythms of his daily prison life.
But more than 120 years after Wilde was sent to the prison, things have changed: and rather than treating him as a criminal because of his sexuality, he is now being celebrated there as an artist.
In one of his final acts as Justice Secretary earlier this year, former Conservative minister Michael Gove gave permission for an art exhibition to be put on at HM Prison Reading, which was closed in 2013.
Opening this week, the exhibition ‘Inside – Artists and Writers in Reading Prison’ will see a number of famous artists and actors celebrate Wilde’s works inside the Gaol.
Through September and October, esteemed performers including Ralph Fiennes, Maxine Peake and Ben Whishaw will pay homage to the prison’s most famous inmate, reading his works in the prison chapel.
Meanwhile. artists including Nan Goldin, Marlene Dumas, and Steve McQueen have submitted works for an exhibition, alongside Contemporary Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei.
Before opening to the public on Sunday (September 5), the prison opened its doors for a private preview today.
The organisers said: “We are excited to be opening up Reading Prison with such a remarkable range of artists, writers and performers responding to the imposing Victorian architecture and the continuing resonance of De Profundis, written by Wilde in his cell as Prisoner C.3.3.
“Inside – Artists and Writers in Reading Prison will offer the public an opportunity to reflect, in a particularly powerful place, on the implications for the individual when separated from society by the state.
“HM Prison Reading opens for the first time to the public as artists, writers and performers respond to its most notorious inmate, Oscar Wilde.
“At this resonant site, the penal regime Wilde suffered is explored through archive material and the installation of new works by artists such as Nan Goldin, Marlene Dumas, and Steve McQueen.”