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On show: the art of a couple with nothing to hide

She lives with ‘quiet monster’ of a cancer that’s left her deaf; he has revealed his transvestism

14 September, 2017 — By Tom Foot

Artists Anita Ford and Alfred Huckett. ‘Anita’s cancer precipitated our ideas for an exhibition,’ says Alfred

A HUSBAND-and-wife team are preparing a joint art exhibition for the first time – with works inspired by the “quiet monster” of her terminal cancer and his until-now “hidden” transvestism.

Anita Ford and Alfred Huckett, an artist couple from Kentish Town, opened up to the New Journal this week ahead of a unique and deeply personal display launching next month at a major gallery. Ms Ford, who has a severe form of bile duct cancer, was uncertain whether she would still be alive for the exhibition, which focuses on “undisclosed secrets” and “miscommunications” in both their lives.

The 69-year-old, who is deaf, said she now had no qualms about her husband wearing women’s clothes and joked that it had boosted her wardrobe significantly – the couple now go to transvestite (TV) balls together, both in spectacular evening gowns.

Mr Huckett, 78, who has kept his private life private until this week, is displaying large canvasses about cross-dressing which he has kept locked away for more than 20 years. He uses the term transvestite. He said: “Anita’s cancer precipitated our ideas for an exhibition, as time was running out. We wanted to do something, but we never had a subject which tied us together. We did think about the sea at one time – as we spent seven years sailing together.”

But Ms Ford added: “It wasn’t gritty enough. The cancer changed everything. When you are in a position like me, you don’t give a damn about what people think. It is an enormous freedom. This, to be quite honest, is one of the most productive and very happy times of my life. “It’s the worst thing anyone could say to you – you’re going to die. When that’s been said, there is nothing else to worry about. You don’t have to have anxiety attacks any more.”

While Mr Huckett’s large canvasses and fabric collages are in strong colours, Ms Ford’s works are almost entirely in monochrome.

Mr Huckett, who has lived in Tufnell Park and Kentish Town for 30 years, said to his wife: “I’m feeling quite excited about doing the work with you, about how the colour against the black work, how it will combine.”

He added: “Anita’s counting her time. I’m counting my time too. Heavens, it’s about time I came out about my transvestism. To start with I didn’t know what it was. I thought I was gay. For a long time, people would think that anyone who wore a frock was homosexual.”

Mr Huckett’s A Walk on the Wild Side

Ms Ford said: “When I found out I had to think carefully about whether I should continue the relationship. But here was a person I had met who was intelligent, had a sense of humour, was very kind – and up against that was that he wore frocks. It seemed absurd to me that this was even an issue. I mean, I wear jeans – and there’s this gender neutral thing at schools these days. There’s been a huge, huge move in the last decade.”

She added: “I can say this: an awful lot of transvestites can be very selfish and self-orient­ated. They often lose their partner because of that. We came to a compromise. I wanted a husband, I am interested in men. But Alfred is interested in dresses, as well as interested in me of course. I thought if I can have you as a male partner we’ll have a good time. We started going out together – to Manchester to ‘TV’ balls. He got to wear what he liked and I got to hold up the flag for us women. I would never own these really sexy evening dresses if it wasn’t for Alfred.”

Ms Ford has forged a career from her art and printmaking. She used to work at the former Camden Institute in Holmes Road. Speaking about her husband’s art on show at the exhibition, she said: “It had been hidden in the drawer. I thought it was flipping good work and required to be seen.”

Ms Ford’s art work Chaos

Her own work – which she has created over the past 18 months following her diagnosis – has become “very conscious of eyes and mouths” as she is now “lip reading all the time”.

“You don’t see deafness,” she said. “There are a lot of deaf people who go into themselves in isolation, because they are not interacting with the world. And so this is hidden. If you saw me in the street you wouldn’t know I was terribly ill.”

“And it’s the same for me,” said Mr Huckett. “My transvestism has been hidden – until now.”

* Cancer, Transvestism, our Hidden Messages, at the Menier Gallery, in Southwark, runs from October 24 until November 3.

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