Sex work led art – Art is still one of the most powerful tools to address political and social issues
Throughout history, art was a vehicle that was able to give a voice to the voiceless, to empower what the world at large saw at one point as an outsider, often misunderstood, ignored, having its worth manipulated by the ignorance of the masses. For many strong and resilient communities, art is one of the most powerful tools of addressing political and social issues by sending an authentic and intimate message to the mind and soul of the collective, connecting people through vulnerability, shaping the cultural change, shatter attached stigmas and encouraging honest, fertile dialogues. Showing the world the diverse human faces behind sex work by portraying every experience as an individual one through the means of art, whatever its form or medium, is not only much easier now, with the rise of social media and technology, but also as urgent as ever.
As an artist who is doing sex work you can tell your stories with passion and authenticity not only as a creative human being, satisfying a hunger for meaning through artistic expression but also as an outsider that wants to expose the truths and curb the misinformation about the sex industry – a powerful form of social activism against the stigma and taboo that frame the sex working communities and the negative narratives depicted in our cultural landscape. It can also offer a complex and diverse exploration of sex work profession from the inside: the frustrations, the hurt, the highs and lows, the fantasies, the mundane and the extraordinary. Both as an artist and as a sex worker, you can no longer be held back, victimised, ignored or misunderstood.
And this is happening now, as more and more sex workers are starting to share their artistic vision through writing/poetry, curating, filmmaking, music or photography, just to name a few. Artists and cultural organisations are beginning to show a genuine interest in the sex industry communities and encourage and empower them by offering a stage for personal artistic expression. This is a brilliant shift in the current cultural dynamic because, let’s be fair, reducing stigma requires not only legal and policy change, but cultural change as well. The final aim of this creative uprising is to make sex work safe, accepted, and even appreciated and to see all sex workers as dignified human beings, no different than anyone else on this path of self-discovery and self-exploration called life.
Browsing art created by or for sex workers in collaboration with other artists and cultural institutions, the projects below really caught my attention. Their rawness and authenticity are a breath of fresh air and we do hope they will inspire others to join in, educate, fire up our imagination and finally, if lucky, find some sort of bliss in the flow of the creative process.
OBJECTS OF DESIRE is an experimental show/exhibition funded by the Open Society in cooperation with Schwules Museum and curated by a sex worker led collective that explores stories around the practice of sex work – particularly escorting – in Berlin through a series of everyday collected/donated objects and their stories – objects might include gifts received from clients, good luck charms or sex work activism memorabilia – and a series of works created by artists who are also sex workers.
The first exhibition took place at the Red Gallery in Shoreditch, London in August 2016 and the second one just happened as the Schwules Museum in Berlin between 7 March 2019 – 1 June 2019. Many of the objects currently in the archive were collected through interviews that preceded the London exhibition in 2016, and others were submitted via email.
Projects of Desire / Source: @projectofdesire
MERCY MISTRESS, an artfully directed short web series by Amanda Madden and written by Yin Q, a BDSM educator, ritualist, sex work activist and writer, follows student Mistress Yin, a queer Chinese-American professional dominatrix in New York City.
It is a story about empowerment and reclamation, healing and sexuality and was created and produced with Collective Sex, a primarily female production team.
Here’s where you can watch all the episodes.
HUSTLING VERSE: AN ANTHOLOGY OF SEX WORKERS’ POETRY is now on pre-order on Amazon and due to be released this September. Curated and edited with care and compassion by Amber Dawn and Justin Ducharme, the anthology gives voice to more than fifty self-identified sex workers from all walks of the industry by exploring their personal realities through poetry, in a variety of forms ranging from lyrics to list poems to found poetry and hybrid works.
‘’I want honesty. I want grit. I want truths. I want sexiness. I want all the things that sex workers are “not allowed” to be or talk about to have some form of expression through the writing. Most importantly at the very end of it all I want our contributors to feel proud and excited about their submissions.’’
(Justin Ducharme, in an interview with Room Magazine)
It aims to create a raw and complex view of the world where sex work happens through nuanced glimpses into the private lives of the authors. Young and old, survivors, queer, trans, racialised or indigenous sex workers, they all have a real story to tell. We believe it’s a must read book!
Pre-order your copy here.