Sat. Jul 13th, 2024

The Sex Workers of Aoetearoa – a day in the life of, the art exhibition will be at Depot Artspace until August 12. Do visit to have a look at art from the sex workers’ perspective!

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The ongoing exhibition at Depot Artspace in Auckland, Sex Workers of Aotearoa – a day in the life of, is unique in every possible sense. While challenging the beliefs, the stigma and the stereotypes that surround New Zealand’s sex industry, it is also a behind-the-curtain into an industry still fighting for mainstream space, almost 17 years after the Prostitution Reform Act was passed in 2003, which decriminalised sex work in Aotearoa New Zealand.

“But most importantly, the exhibition is about sex workers taking charge of how they want to be represented. We need to tell our own stories. Sure, stereotypes exist, but they don’t represent everyone,” says Jordan Quinn, the curator of the exhibition.

As she wrote in the July issue of Gay Express, the idea of such an exhibition originated in 2018, when she was working for a documentary on sex workers. “I asked myself why are sex workers not representing themselves? The glaringly obvious answer is stigma, privacy and access to a platform,” she writes, adding, “Having been creative for most of my life and knowing many fellow sex workers also with artistic abilities, I planted the seed for an all sex worker art exhibition.”

With help from New Zealand Prostitutes Collective, the first exhibition debuted in Wellington last year. This year, it was brought to Auckland, after Covid derailed plans for hosting the exhibitions in Wellington and Christchurch.

With 24 art pieces on display, the exhibition covers the history of sex work, the physicality involved, the widely accepted standards of beauty, the discrimination faced by sex workers, the need and awareness about consent, as well as the value of sex work as a therapeutic tool in some cases.

In fact, Quinn herself has created a piece titled All Day, Every Day, detailing the work around sex work, including accounting, marketing, and even maintaining a website. Her favourite piece though is by Addison Lane titled Women in history. It traces the history of sex work from the start of 16th century to the 19th, and how it has changed.

Other notable artworks on display:

Aching Bones by Alice Cassidy

Add to Cart by Casey Cannon

Redacted by Addison Lane

Sanction by Indi Skye

Booty by Aurora Dawn

Mum is a mining CEO by Racquel

Collective Pause by Ana

On the question of whether her efforts are making any changes in the societal attitude towards sex work, now that the exhibition is in its second year, Quinn says, “Yes, it has. Certainly for those who have visited the exhibition and seen the art works. So I hope more people do so till August 12.”

-Gaurav Sharma


Decriminalization in the world of sex work

Why do we talk about sex work in hushed tones? It is because of the stigma. At Depot Artspace, Devonport, Auckland on July 29, Lynzi Armstrong and Gillian Abel spoke on ‘Sex Work and the New Zealand Social Model: Decriminalization and Social Change’ which is the title of their co-edited book as well. This session was a part of the on-going art exhibition- Sex Workers of Aotearoa, A day in the life of.

The social stigma

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Lynzi and Gillian spoke about how the Prostitution Reform Act (PRA) in New Zealand decriminalized sex work by repealing existing laws that criminalized it, as well as providing sex workers with rights to challenge exploitation. This has empowered the sex workers to some extent and have made it a safe professional choice. The editors of the book mentioned that the stigma with the profession is deeply connected with historical ideas of sexuality, religion, physicality, homophobia, and various such elements.

Touching on the sensitive topic of migrant sex workers, Lynzi mentioned that as migrant workers aren’t allowed to be a part of this industry, there is a gap in research work done on their lives. “The non-English-speaking migrant sex workers are subjected to exploitation as they can’t make police complaints due to the fear of being deported. For example, few clients get away without paying and few sex workers are even raped,” said Lynzi.

Trafficking

Gillian remarked, “There is no evidence of human trafficking in New Zealand yet. There have been instances of trafficking in the horticulture industry. While no prosecutions have occurred for trafficking into sex work in New Zealand, the prohibition of migrant sex work and the lack of rights afforded to migrant sex workers arguably increase their vulnerability to injustices.”

New Zealand versus the world

After an hour of engaging conversations, the editors wrapped up the session by mentioning how the stigma associated with sex work has a lot to do with social hypocrisy and unawareness. Compared to earlier years, the stigma with sex work has reduced a lot but there is a long way to go. They also mentioned that the environment for sex workers in New Zealand is much better than other countries where providing and receiving paid sex is criminalized.

– by Shivangi Bose, an experienced media professional and writer, who recently moved to Auckland, and has a special interest in script-writing for brand videos.


Note: This is a detailed version of the story published on page 17 in our print issue Volume 3 Issue 16 this week. The event link is here, where you can see a sample of the pieces on display.

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