LESLIE-LOHMAN MUSEUM PRESENTS ON OUR BACKS: THE REVOLUTIONARY ART OF QUEER SEX WORK September 28, 2019–January 19, 2020
An exhibition exploring the history of sex work culture through the lenses of art, activism, and archival ephemera.
It's been a wonderful experience working with legendary sex work activists- Ceyenne Doroshow and Carol Leigh- on this important exhibition, curated by Alexis Heller. What a phenomenal opportunity it has been to get to know several of the participating artists and learn more about sex worker history.
Come Out to the Opening on Sept 28th!!
On Our Backs: The Revolutionary Art of Queer Sex Work draws on contemporary works in diverse media along with archival ephemera to highlight the many links between queerness, sex work, art and activism, and the ways in which they have led to radical transformation. On view at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art from September 28, 2019 through January 19, 2020, On Our Backs brings together work from three intersecting LGBTQ groups: artists who identify as having exchanged sex or erotic services for gain; artists whose lives and work demonstrate a close allyship with sex workers; and artists who harness the power of pornography in their practice as a tool towards liberation.
Featured artists include Patrick Angus, Nina Arsenault, Robert Blanchon, Fernando Carpaneda, Tee Corinne, Ben Cuevas, Chloe Dzubilo, Juniper Fleming, Amber Hawk Swanson, Xandra Ibarra, Efrain John-Gonzalez, Bruce LaBruce, Robert Mapplethorpe, shawné michaelain holloway, Midori, D’Angelo Madsen Minax, Leon Mostovoy, Ms. Naughty, Pink + White Productions, Mirha Soleil- Ross, Annie Sprinkle, Pluma Sumaq, Veronica Vera, Khalil West & Ajamu, and David Wojnarowicz.
Organized by social worker and independent curator Alexis Heller, On Our Backs presents artworks and artifacts that tell a complex story about sex workers’ and pornography’s ties within queer and transgender history. Deep reflections of LGBTQ desire; radical responses to current issues including HIV/AIDS, immigration, labor, housing, racial justice, and gender; pioneering approaches to community healing; and freedom through sex are all illuminated. Queer and transgender sex workers and their allies have long utilized art to communicate the realities of their everyday lives and relationships, and to demonstrate sex workers’ embedment in the fabric of LGBTQ movement building.
“Sex work has historically been at the core of queer cultural production and activism, yet has been too often omitted from the walls of the museum. It is a pleasure to rectify that misstep with a curated selection of essential works,” says Gonzalo Casals, Executive Director of the Leslie-Lohman Museum. “It is a vital reminder that our community is inseparable and that by uplifting the narratives of queer and transgender sex workers, we uplift the entire queer community.”
From 1980 to 1994, Annie Sprinkle, foremother of sex positivity, sex art and sex work activism, dubbed her apartment The Sprinkle Salon, which served as a radical space for sex education, porn production, sex work, art making, community gathering, and groundbreaking social action. A robust collection of her photographs and ephemera from that period of dense creativity and queer worldmaking will be presented, as well as an exploration of Sprinkle’s many collaborations.
Internationally acclaimed filmmaker, photographer, and self-proclaimed “Prince of Homosexuals” Bruce LaBruce utilizes boundary-pushing pornography to engage with complicated social issues. His short film Refugee’s Welcome (2017) is a beautiful, timely, humanistic portrait of queer lust and care experienced by a Syrian refugee in Berlin, following an incident of xenophobic violence.
Japanese rope bondage Master, artist, and sex educator Midori highlights the rituals, kinship and sacred objects of sex workers with an immersive, site-specific installation. Comprising a “curtain” of ornate rope ties and submitted personal items from her queer sex worker community, the piece considers the tensions between what is seen/unseen, how we feel held and what we hold on to, and opportunities for letting go.
Ben Cuevas’s new, never-before-exhibited Reinserted series examines ideas about commodities and public space. Working with photos of sex workers and cruising sites from the archives of Pat Rocco and Annie Sprinkle, Cuevas digitally reinserts the subjects into the images’ modern-day locations. The series serves as a documentation of how sex worker history and the palatability of sex as a commodity is lost to gentrification, and often replaced by more “high-definition” capitalist pursuits.
Pluma Sumaq works to decompartmentalize her experience as a sex worker with the rest of her cultural identity, by creating ceremonialized altars, calling on the spirits of money and the sex trade, and synchronizing them with the energies of her spiritual tradition. Installed beneath a “Wall of Elders” in the exhibition, a representation of tireless LGBTQ sex worker activists, the altar offers a space for visitors to pay reverence to those who have so ardently fought.
The exhibition’s title is a nod to the seminal lesbian erotic magazine, On Our Backs, founded in the United States in the 1980’s. However, it is more than just an honorific reference. “The title is a recognition of the long history of sex workers helping to carry social movements forward on their backs, as well as being walked over once a more comfortable path towards freedom had been laid. The time is past due to center LGBTQ sex workers’ unique and powerful contributions,” shares On Our Backs curator, Alexis Heller.
Never before have these works and interlaced histories been presented together, and in the current political climate, their exposure takes on a new urgency. The 2018 passage of the FOSTA/SESTA law, holding website publishers responsible if ads for consensual sex work are found on their site, directly threatens sex workers’ livelihoods, safety and survival. On Our Backs: The Revolutionary Art of Queer Sex Work honors the ongoing labor of LGBTQ sex workers at the forefront of the fight for liberation, and the ways in which art and allied community have helped sustain them.
Sex worker activists Ceyenne Doroshow, Carol Leigh, and Yin Q served as Advisors for On Our Backs: The Revolutionary Art of Queer Sex Work.
About the Curator Alexis Heller is a social worker, storyteller, and advocate who has worked to empower LGBTQ youth in settings such as foster care, shelters, drop-in centers, and schools. Harm reduction with queer youth sex workers is a focus of her research and practice, and the MAC AIDS Fund awarded a grant supporting an HIV-prevention, peer education program she designed in collaboration with young people who were exchanging sex for gain. Alexis began a curatorial practice in 2012 centered on marginalized LGBTQ histories. She has organized a number of exhibitions at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, including TESTIMONY: A Living Exhibition of Queer Youth, Queers in Exile: The Unforgotten Legacies of LGBTQ Homeless Youth, and After Our Bodies Meet: From Resistance to Potentiality, as well as (SIGNAL) at Smack Mellon in Brooklyn.
About the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art Created by our founders to preserve LGBTQ identity and build community, the Leslie-Lohman Museum acts as a cultural hub by aspiring to reclaim scholarship from a queer perspective, to provide a training ground for queer artists and cultural workers, and to examine the juxtaposition between art and social justice in ways that provoke thought and dialogue.
The Museum is the only dedicated art museum in the world to exhibit and preserve artwork that speaks about the LGBTQ experience. Our roots trace back to 1969 when Charles Leslie and Fritz Lohman held an exhibit of gay artists for the first time in their SoHo loft. Throughout the 1970s, they continued to collect and exhibit gay artists while supporting the SoHo art community. During the AIDS pandemic of the 1980s, the collection continued to grow as they rescued the work of dying artists from families who, out of shame or ignorance, wanted to destroy it. This led to the formation of the Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation in 1987. In recognition of its importance in the collection and preservation of LGBTQ history, the organization was accredited as a museum in 2016. With a collection of over 30,000 objects, the Museum hosts six major exhibitions annually, offers several public programs throughout the year, publishes an arts newsletter, and maintains a research library of over 3,000 volumes. The Museum embraces the rich creative history of the LGBTQ art community by educating, informing, inspiring, entertaining, and challenging all who enter its doors.
Located at 26 Wooster Street in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City. Admission is a suggested donation of $10. Open Wed–Sun, 12–6 pm, and Thurs, 12–8 pm. The Museum is a nonprofit organization and is exempt from taxation under section 501(c)3 of the IRS Code. LeslieLohman.org
Thursday, August 29thSeattle Erotic Art Festival
This Fetish – Discussion with artist Michele Serchuk
Come explore and discuss the idea that our inner most desires is part of what shapes how we move in the world. We look forward to your participation in the conversation. Gallery hours begin at noon and are extended through 8:30pm. Talk begins at 7pm.
I've been a sex work activist for twenty years, first working on the edges in producing Know Your Rights seminars for Sex Workers. Though I advocated for decriminalization of prostitution/sex work, much of the work I did was based in harm reduction and anti-violence education. Over the past few years, I've focused my writing, event production, and media on spotlighting sex work as work.
I am now taking a position with Red Canary, as a core member to bring resources to the Flushing Community of Migrant Sex Workers working in massage parlors.
I will be producing media, fundraising, and organizing direct action resources and education for the Flushing Community of Massage Parlor Workers. If you would like to volunteer or donate, please contact me with subject heading "Red Canary Offer" at Yin.Quan (at) gmail.com
SAVE THE DATE: Nov 2nd for a phenomenal Red Canary/Kink Out fundraiser event!! More details TBA soon.
1. Sex work decriminalization is essentially about anti-violence and social inclusion.Currently, sex workers are unable to get justice when they report crimes committed against them to police. They are also not included in labor laws that could protect them from specific forms of exploitation. They are frequently harmed by police violence and corruption, and the prejudice and hate of neighbors. Furthermore, sex workers are excluded from policy conversations that impact their lives. Instead, charities that oppose the existence of the sex industry often select survivors who have exited the sex industry, to paint one uniform picture of their experiences, while suppressing the voices of other trans, migrant, black, brown, and Asian sex workers who are from the same communities as these "survivors," but have differing opinions and are still harmed by criminal laws governing their work. Giving sex workers the chance to participate in policy efforts to transform the sex industry is about acknowledging the basic humanity, voice, and human rights denied to this marginalized minority.
Some slogans of the global grassroots sex worker movement: "Nothing about us without us." "Rights not rescue." "Right not raids."
2. Sex work decriminalization respects the bodily autonomy and agency of women, trans and LGBQ people, and men who work in the sex industry, while constrained by the same intersecting forms of oppression that all people make choices under. Controlling women's reproductive and sexual choices is a systemic and historic oppression, tied to ideological values around sexuality, which portray women's sexuality as only a site of victimization and violence, rather than acknowledging the complex ways in which women negotiate sexual power. While sex work is not an ideal job for many, the majority of people who engage in trading sex simply regard it as a transient form of work. Like any other job, it is not always "empowering" or "happy", yet it tends to pay significantly better than other jobs available, and the majority of people who trade sex do so to navigate other systemic oppressions of global poverty. Sex work provides many people a way to access class mobility, and can be a direct transfer of wealth, without oppressive Capitalist intermediaries in garment factories, nail salons, Amazon warehouses, and other more coercive work environments that people seek escape from through trading sex. Decriminalization is necessary to eliminate coercive intermediaries in the sex industry, including the involvement of organized crime, which profits greatly from laws criminalizing sexual purchase. Labor regulations would be more effective than criminal laws, to actually protect against specific forms of exploitation, like long hours, low wages, or unhealthy working environments; rather than the overly broad stroke of criminal law that only inflicts more state violence and social stigma on the lives of sex workers.
3. Decriminalizing sex work does not decriminalize trafficking, violence, or exploitation, especially of minors. It does not eliminate the legal instruments for prosecuting any form of coercion, force, fraud; underage minors being sexually exploited; or any acts of violence or exploitation committed by customers or management. In fact, it will be easier to identify, prevent, and protect against violence and exploitation in the sex industry, when there are better labor standards across the industry, and when sex workers can report their mistreatment.
4. Decriminalization is not the same as legalization. Under legalization frameworks like the ones in Germany, Netherlands, or Nevada, migrants and many others who can't afford a license to work, are excluded from labor protections. Decrim in the New Zealand model favors full decriminalization of small operations with four or fewer workers, where no worker controls the time or money of another. Anyone who helps with scheduling or collecting money must register for an Operator's License, which regulates their involvement. Decrim is the first step in a longer process, which will require labor organizing to transform the sex industry, push out organized crime, standardize respectful treatment, and give sex workers the same labor, health, and financial protections as other workers.
5. Full decriminalization is the only way towards eliminating hateful stigma and prejudice against people who trade sex. In Sweden, where the purchase of sex is criminalized, social stigmas against buyers of sex have increased, and sex workers are frequently faced with eviction and loss of child custody, while forced to work in more dangerous conditions, with very few actual resources from social service agencies. Migrant sex workers are particularly harmed. According to several government reports, sex work has not decreased in Sweden since 1999, and human trafficking has only increased. The only way to recognize the dignity and equality sex workers is to listen to sex workers when they for the legitimization of sex work as work.
People who attack sex worker rights movements:
A. Those who do no not want visibility of sex workers in their neighborhoods, and believe that allowing for the presence of prostitution means also increasing the presence of drugs, guns, and organized crime.
>>> There are fine-grained ways to regulate street / sign visibility in the New Zealand model. Eliminating link to organized crime can only happen with full decriminalization.
B. Those who believe that most people in the sex industry are "forced to be there", and are trafficking victims harmed by the inherent violence of prostitutionl so they must be helped out of the industry, rather than be supported in continuing to do risky work.
>>> These are the people who are most readily moved by better statistics, research, and stories of sex workers. They actually care about violence against sex workers, and can be shown through evidence-based research by major global human rights organizations, that full decrim is essential for protecting this minority group from harm. They believe it's ethical to support sex workers as marginalized minorities, even when neighbors are made uncomfortable by sex worker visibility.
C. Those who believe that the existence of prostitution is a form of degradation that harms all women. That the sexual objectification of women through money / commoditization is inherently sexist.
>>> These are the most vocal and aggressive opponents of sex workers. They believe that sex workers are "traitors" to women and also simultaneously "voiceless victims." They also believe that it is okay to sacrifice "a few people", as a deterrent, in order to set a broader norm in society that sexualization of women is not acceptable. At heart, they believe they are superior to sex workers; they silence any who do not agree with them, and are willing to take actions that demonstrably harm sex workers' health and safety; while insisting against all contrary evidence that criminalization can somehow "end" the sex industry. (They refuse to believe women who choose this work exist, or matter, since these choices makes them uncomfortable.) They aggressively attack (and slander) any organizations that show support to sex workers, without regard for the repetition of false statistics, and they personally target organizers, politicians, and journalists whose opinions differ from them, seeming to reserve special hate and slander for George Soros.
Please also read this article, which we wrote for the DSA, preceding a vote that officially brought full decriminalization of sex work onto their national agenda: https://medium.com/@Redcanarysong/in-support-of-dsa-res-53-decrim-platform-8eb4d164588