Let's talk about sex, baby - but spare us the giggles

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Let's talk about sex, baby - but spare us the giggles

Gallery goes where few others dare in displaying artists' explorations of sexuality

Journalist

It is rare to come across conceptual fine art focused on sexual discourse but that’s what the Gallery One11 in Cape Town is doing in a provocative group exhibition called The Politics of Sex.
“Nudes, figurative art and art that is pornographic in nature” go on show more often than conceptual art around sex, one of their visitors observed.
The inspiration for this compelling collection, put up by gallery owner Marita Schneider in partnership with curator Megan Theunissen, came out of a discussion with an artist who had a series of work that his gallery did not want to consider because of explicit content.
She says: “Every so often artists engage in conversing about their gender and sexuality, and it is not easy to get these works out there. There is a kind of censorship among mainstream galleries not wanting to put up work that might offend.
“We realised that there is space for creating a platform, in the form of exhibition like this, where different artists can voice their opinions and give creative outlet to sexual discourse.”This exhibition flouts societal sensibilities with a range of thought-provoking pieces on subjects from masturbation to the vulnerability of being naked with someone.
A video installation of a couple, with only stockings as a barrier, shows how two people move from contrived movements to become more fluid. By Isabella Chydenius in collaboration with Ryan Naidoo, it is titled A body is warmer than a blanket.
“Can we shape ideas with our bodies and our minds?” she asks.
On the floor in front of the video is a collection of golden-coloured clothes, “symbolising the layers left behind when entering vulnerable spaces”.
“Each artist has a different angle on sexual discourse and comes from personal experience,” says Schneider.
Toko Hlongwane’s pieces confront (not head on, but from another angle) prohibitions on masturbation and sex.
The stunning signature piece of the show by Richard Mason, a screenprint on clear coat aluminium board, stands out on a broad pink stripe when you enter the gallery.
“We are not a typical white block gallery and we can venture into being more experimental with our curation choices,” says Schneider.Another installation, with a whole lot of sexual statements written on the wall and hooks and threads, draws in visitors.
“The interactive installation allowed visitors to connect the sexual statements that they could most relate with,” says Schneider. The overall affect is intriguing.
“We would like to talk about sex more openly,” was a popular point of connection, underlining how much sex is still taboo despite its superficial treatment in popular culture.
Other statements hooked were: “I’d like to become a voyeur, like to cuddle without having sex, like to try a threesome”.
Scheider says the reactions of visitors varied wildly, but those who did stay got engaged with the content.
“We’ve been through quite a few First Thursdays and generally people come and go, not spending time. But with this exhibition quite a few people started engaging with installation and reading artist statements.  They started having conversations and becoming absorbed by the artworks.
“Some people were embarrassed by it. Why put (an image) of masturbation on the wall or the tongue-in-cheek comic Mystic Hoer by Su Opperman?”
• Gallery One11 will facilitate a discussion on sexual discourse on June 27 and have a walkabout on June 23. For details visit: galleryone11.com

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