Derek Jarman’s Blue: Negating the Visual

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Responding to Derek Jarman’s (1942–1994) film Blue (1994) and written text Chroma: A Book of Colour – June ’93 (1994), this article argues that colour serves as the subject through which notions of visual perception are interrogated and reconsidered. Diagnosed as HIV positive in December 1986, Jarman’s encroaching blindness from retinal disease and eventual death in 1994 frames such discourse on the visual within the political and social landscape of the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s. For Jarman, his sight literally failed him; but sensory impairment also comes to mirror that cultural ‘blindness’ surrounding the (desired) closeting of gay sexuality and the suffering of those caught up within the epidemic. In particular, Jarman’s film Blue reveals the limitations of language – both spoken and visual – to effectively articulate suffering and pain. Art, too, has its limits when attempting to deal with such concerns. Jarman turns to the complexities of colour in an attempt express, and to make sense of, the senseless loss and tumultuous emotions that punctuated these decades.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)295-307
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Applied Arts & Health
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013


  • AIDS; Derek Jarman; Joseph Grigely; Neil Harbisson; blue; colour; memory; sensory perception


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