Have you ever wondered what kind of strange gifts have been given to sex workers? Well, Objects of Desire is a project run by artists, anthropologists, sex workers, and activists, that aims to create an archive of the weird and wonderful presents given to Pro Dom/mes, Cam Girls, Escorts, and others working in the sex industry.
Currently on display in Shoreditch’s Red Gallery until 14th August are biographical collections from Eve, Marie, and others - which shows their journeys through their work, their relationships with clients, and the stages of the careers. There is also a ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’, a video reel showing short films about sex work, and various sections dedicated to clients and associates who helped make the project possible.
Each piece in the archive is accompanied by a short story explaining the significance of it, and how it is a snapshot of an experience. After the exhibition, the aim is to move the collection online, so it can be expanded and contain entries from Sex Workers all over the world.
The gifts on display range from the erotic, like the intimidating Blue Balls Fucking Machine , to the seemingly normal or banal - including bags of pasta, jars of jam, and a carbon monoxide monitor! Objects of Desire offers an alternative narrative to sex work that goes beyond the tired conversations of ‘exploitation versus empowerment’ and the objectification of the worker, and illustrates how boundaries between clients, friends, lovers, home, and work are managed. This exhibition is sex work, told by sex workers themselves, rather than an abstracted view coming from someone who has no clue about the industry apart from assumptions and wikipedia research.
“I’ve wondered why he always gives me preserves. I can see that he gets a lot of pleasure from giving me food and feeling that he is caring for me. I’ve also noticed that he is very into bodily fluids and often says how nice it is that we “taste” each other. I wonder if the jars of sticky jam are a symbolic substance, a kind of proxy for bodily fluids... If me storing them in my cupboard and ingesting them is a way for him to transcend the boundaries of our sessions, inserting himself somehow into my home and body.”
This is a truly mind opening exhibition, and helps to humanise a profession that is often stereotyped and misunderstood in the UK today. It challenges viewers to reflect on how gifts and material, capitalistic things play a role in all relationships, whatever the status or power dynamic.
Whether you’re looking for inspiration of what to buy your favourite Pro Dom/me , or are just interested in the sex industry, this free archive is something that needs to be witnessed.
Visit Red Gallery, Shoreditch, London until the 14th August to see the exhibit.