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About the Work

Left Panel: What Women Wanted

Right Panel: What Men Wanted

In 1926 the Hollywood star Rudolph Valentino died of Peritonitis at the age of 31. There was worldwide mass hysteria among his female fans and over 100,000 lined the New York streets for his funeral.

His most famous film, The Sheik((1921), would lend its name to any attractive man a woman would openly pursue. Based on a book of the same name by Edith Maude Hull, it depicts a wilful Englishwoman, Lady Diana Mayo who, against advice, involves herself with a sheik called Ahmed, is raped by him more than once, is captured by another sheik who attempts to rape her and is saved just in time by Ahmed with whom she has since fallen in love, and he with her. After Ahmed's fight defending her honour, Diana nurses him back to health.

Although racist, The Sheik is less sexist than it may first appear. Half way through, Ahmed realises he will not possess Diana's heart by possessing her body alone. The Sheik was considered too risqué to be shown in some US states which only added to its draw, even though the rape scenes were only hinted at and Ahmed, to avoid breaching US colour bar laws, was presented as having Caucasian parentage. Remaining in the film was prejudice against Muslims and Arabs, acceptable in the US, then as now.

In Los Angeles' Hollywood Forever, the first cemetery for the stars, I came across a wall of glass boxes displaying urns containing the ashes of those who wished to spend eternity as near as possible to the body of their hero, Rudolph Valentino.Many of the ashes were of men.

What really made Valentino fascinating for me was that here was the earliest demonstration of manufactured global celebrity, a state of affairs that has helped differentiate the west from the east ever since. Also, I felt that the end of Valentino was the first public opportunity for women to express their sexual desire as openly as men, encouraged by a new political climate including the right to vote.

As for those glass boxes, how many of their male interees had clocked that their hero and his most famous film had actually encouraged the sexual emancipation of women?

″I still use the same approach to my work: I get an idea, think of the title and then make the work. So not much has changed since 1964″

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