First published on 12 Jan 2010. Updated on 15 Mar 2010.
If Mardi Gras is about asserting identity, then few figures in Sydney's history deserve a festival slot more than Eugenia Falleni, the subject of an art exhibition opening at Hyde Park Barracks this weekend.
Artists Dominique Hindmarsh and Susannah Thorne - aka Mills & Morte - took a break from Mardi Gras preparations to bring some light to one of Sydney's most sensational characters.
Eugenia Falleni was born in Florence, Italy in 1881. After growing up in New Zealand, she ran away from home, arrived in Newcastle and gave birth to a daughter. But in 1899 she started a new life in Sydney as "Harry Crawford" and married twice.
In 1920 s/he was arrested for the murder of her first wife. A sensational trial focused on her transgender identity. Convicted of murder, she was sentenced to death, but released after 11 years in prison. Living the last seven years of her life as Jean Ford, she was killed by an automobile on Oxford Street in 1938.
How did you find this astonishing character and how did she come to feature in Mardi Gras 2010?
Mills & Morte An interest in love, and death, and the complex relationship between the two led us to Eugenia. We were fascinated by her determination to live out her identity as a transgender, and a husband, in 1930s Sydney. It seemed the perfect subject for Mardi Gras, a festival that continues the fight for individuals' rights, some 70 years later.
An art exhibition in a prison cell at Hyde Park Barracks... Why this location?
M&M We wanted a public space that would suit such a gritty subject. For us, the dirty, claustrophobic environment of the prison cell is a much better home for the mixed-media, painting, sewing and found objects that will bring Eugenia - and Harry - to life.
Eugenia was convicted of murder at Darlinghurst Court House... we're not exactly talking ‘positive role-model' here, are we?
M&M A murder conviction doesn't look great on a hero or heroine's resume, no! But we like to think she was a victim as well as a villain. The press trashed her as a "man/woman monster", and prison life back then would have broken anyone's spirit.
So, should we be celebrating Eugenia as a hero, or dissing her as a villain?
M&M Erm... we're not going to answer that question! You'll have to come along and decide for yourself. Calum Scott
20 Feb–6 Mar, Hyde Park Barracks Museum.
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