BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA – OCT 29th – NOV 30th, 2016
MUSEO DE LA MUJER, Pasaje Dr. R. Rivarola 147, Buenos Aires
CASTELLANO… CLIQUEAR AQUI!
The exhibition Business As Usual / Todo Sigue Igual revolves around the theme of prostitution as a worldwide phenomenon promoted by an industry that earns huge sums of money from the use (abuse) of women’s bodies. Since the sexual revolution of the 1960/70’s the sex-industry has needed to counteract the change in attitude toward (the) female (body’s) autonomy. A moral stance toward prostitution was no longer tenable and the centuries-old assumption of male privilege and entitlement was under fire. The idea of the self-reliant, strong, independent, ‘so-free-that-I-choose-to-sell-my-own-body’ prostitute, perfectly fitted the sex-industry’s agenda. At the same time it made perversely clever use of the feminist principle of female autonomy whilst protecting the sex-industry’s interests.
In the Netherlands the sale of sex has been legal, if strictly regulated, since 1811, then, in 2000, the Dutch government introduced legislation to remove the prohibition on pimping and brothel-keeping. Cleverly packaged as part and parcel of a liberal, forward-thinking attitude toward sex in general, and the antipathy of prim moralism, this move corroborated the country’s dubious honour of being the torch-bearer for liberalised prostitution laws and consolidated its reputation as a centre for sex-tourism. The Dutch government, stubbornly blind to the ethically disastrous results of this legislation, has, despite evidence to the contrary, insisted on emphasising the success of this approach, encouraging other countries to follow suit.
Business as Usual uses video, photos, texts, and sculpture to thread through the haze of subtle propaganda concerning prostitution that permeates our day-to-day lives – imagery that promotes and reinforces the view of the prostituted woman as the ‘happy hooker’, whilst preventing us from seeing the very real pain and distress that exists behind this superficial, one-sided vision.
The items in this Collection of artefacts relating to prostitution in popular culture – postcards; tourist souvenirs promoting the Amsterdam Red Light District; various publications and DVD’s; etc. – were all purchased in Amsterdam in 2016.
The souvenirs and other items of everyday paraphernalia show the way that a particular image of prostitution is kept alive in society by exerting a subliminal influence encouraging the acceptation of prostitution as an inevitable, necessary, and even desirable form of harmless ‘entertainment’, peopled by strong, willing and independent women.
This sticky smoke-screen of pro-prostitution propaganda insidiously clouds the issue, whilst the damage wreaked by the blinkered acceptance of prostitution – a world where women are maltreated, abused, subjugated, damaged – endures.
By presenting these artefacts as ‘innocuous’ objects, labelled and displayed like an anthropological collection similar to the supposedly ‘curious’ and ‘savage’ customs of historic ‘uncivilised’ societies that we are accustomed to see displayed in such a fashion, we can imagine these artefacts relegated to the past, thus envisaging a future in which have moved beyond a belief in this outmoded, barbaric ‘tradition’.
Collection of 16 fridge magnets.
Imbuing the sense that prostitution is innocuous and homely, a fridge magnet is the epitome of innocuous domesticity and the sale of these red-light district magnets instils the idea that paid sex is as innocuous as a kitchen sink and, as the kitchen is traditionally female domain, these magnets imbue the sense that prostitution, in the form of a magnet on the fridge at least, is therefore also to be accepted by the female population.
Postcards, collection of 54: Picture postcards represent a distilled image of the country they portray, depicting the icons of the ‘exotic’ location which is being visited by the tourist, and bought in order to share their experiences in that place – ‘Wish you were here!’. In the Netherlands, alongside windmills, tulips, canals clogs, cows and bicycles, is the red light district. The area is promoted as a major tourist attraction, with thousands of visitors passing through it. It is calculated to produce a revenue equivalent to 5% of the Dutch GNP, and fear of losing this valuable income may be the real reason why the Dutch are so reticent to acknowledge the suffering caused by this lucrative business.
These photographs are taken from the book Mulier Sacer which Hignett was written in close collaboration with women from a hostel for women who have recently escaped from being prostituted in the Netherlands where I have been working as a volunteer ‘crisis buddy’. The title of the book, Mulier Sacer, is taken from the Latin term Homo Sacer which implies someone excluded from society, who neither makes, nor enjoys the protection of, the law and who can even be killed without legal consequence – one who is deprived of his or her full humanity.
The circumstances of these trafficked women require that they remain anonymous and the photographs show them posing in their rooms wearing masks – self-portraits painted on brown paper bags. These help retain the women’s anonymity and at the same time they are an expression of how they see themselves. The bag-masks work in a variety of ways – in many places, a mask has magical powers and gives strength to its wearer, but at the same time they also refer to a kind of bag-over-head torture, they prevent us from seeing the women’s faces, at the same time they look out and ‘see’ us, in a reversal of the standard gaze. .
In the centre of Amsterdam’s infamous Red Light District there is a bronze statue portraying a prostituted woman standing in a door frame, her attitude is that of a strong, self-sufficient, so-called independent sex-worker. The statue is entitled Belle, and tourists pose to have their photograph taken with her. Throughout the duration of the exhibition, visitors are invited to use a knife to carve a heart and their initials into the body of this life-sized wooden replica – the act of carving one’s initials into her body is indicative of the very real pain suffered by the real women on display in the real windows of the world’s red light districts.
Belle Revisited was realised in La Plata in collaboration with Gabriel Piñero.
Belle Revisited is also a response to a proposal in Albert Londres’ book The Road to Buenos Ayres which so strongly influenced European perception of Buenos Aires as the centre of the so-called ‘white slave trade’ in the early twentieth century. In the book Londres suggests that a statue should be erected to the foreign prostitutes whom he sees as having contributed such an important role in the construction of the city.
Visitor carving his initials
Woman carves her initials
The Prostitution Monologues – This series of videos details the stories of four women’s journeys into prostitution. Told by actors, their histories are witness to the way in which trafficking for prostitution is tied to larger economic and political processes, such as economic imbalance, privatisation and corruption. Precisely from their position at once in the margin and in the centre of society, these women’s stories are able to shed light on the larger links which are often ignored in the debate concerning prostitution. Many of the women who have escaped prostitution in the Netherlands have come from sub-Saharan Africa or from the ex-communist, east-bloc countries and their individual tales reveal backgrounds in societies rife with inequalities, misogyny and abuse. They expose the painful, disturbing reality at the core of the prostitution industry, uncovering the tenacity of the assumption of male entitlement, and race and class privilege.
Actors : Ella de Rijke, Flint Louis Hignett, Jiyan Düyu, Chérif Zaouali .
Thanks to : Anonymous, Hens van Rooy, Rodolfo Vejar, Diego Braude, Eduardo Echavarria
On Museum Night in Buenos Aires the exhibition was visited by 828 people between 8pm and 3am…
A marathon! Impressive to experience how engaged with this issue the public was, and how moved they were – several people left the exhibition in tears after watching the video testimonies.