For those who become squeamish at the thought of Renoir’s paintings of lush nudes, an art show about people who call themselves “sex workers” could be an uncomfortable experience. But for those who might relish the idea of former and current members of the sex industry displaying their versions of art and innovation, tonight’s “Sex Worker’s Art Show” could be truly inspiring.
The student-run organization Issues brings the art show to the Michigan League Ballroom tonight at 8 p.m. The group, supported by the Ginsberg Center of Community Service, attempts to push lesser-known social issues to the forefront of students’ minds, and hopes the “Art Show” will shed light on the lives of individuals whose lives are often shrouded in secrecy.
“Our group exists to raise issues on campus that the administration doesn’t really talk about,” LSA senior and Issues member Kevin Johnson said. “The sex industry is one that most students don’t think about every day, and that’s why we wanted to bring it to campus.”
Whether or not students directly think about the sex industry and its possible links to art, the connection exists. This “Art Show” includes stage acts – a dominatrix, a porn star and an internet “sex model” to name a few – that many students may not have considered in an artistic sense. What might be more surprising is that many of these sex workers also have occupations as writers, activists and theater actors. Their art in the show comes in the form of spoken word acts, multimedia presentations and performances that Johnson says have a certain “classic wit.”
The annual show has not escaped controversy, though. After a visit to Duke University earlier this month, the show became entangled in debates over freedom of expression on primetime television news programs like “The O’Reilly Factor.”
The show’s organizers hope to dispel the notion that the performers are attempting to instill depravity on campus.
“It’s not a way of telling students that they should be sex workers,” Johnson said. “It’s showing University students and the community that this field isn’t necessarily as taboo as people think it is.”
Still, the “Art Show” isn’t trying to romanticize the profession, either. Instead, the show openly acknowledges certain injustices that arise in the sex-work field. The performers, Johnson claims, are “feminists,” and their support for marginalized groups is an integral part of the show.
“Issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status are brought up in the process because they all are correlated to the sex industry,” Johnson said. “The neglected labor issues in the sex industry are detrimental to human rights.”
As with most forms of art, the show seeks to create a space in which the creators can, in some way, connect with the audience. This space will hopefully be engendered by a question and answer session following the show, something that Johnson said he considers crucial to the show’s success.
“It’s important for the campus to engage with the performers,” Johnson said. “Having a dialogue about what they do humanizes them.”
Sex Workers Art Show
Today at 8 p.m.
At the Michigan League Ballroom
$7 at MUTO/$10 at the door