Despite working in the world’s oldest profession, sex workers have scarcely had the chance to share their own experiences of the job.
In their art exhibition Sex Workers of Aotearoa: a day in the life of, Wellington-based sex workers Jordan Quinn and Addison Lane want to break down the stigma surrounding sex work by giving sex workers the opportunity to showcase artwork that they feel represents their daily experiences.
After a successful launch last year at Flux Gallery in Wellington Museum, Sex Workers of Aotearoa: a day in the life of has moved to Auckland and is showing at Devonport’s Depot Artspace from July 25th until August 12th.
The inspiration for Sex Workers of Aotearoa: a day in the life of came to Quinn when she was interviewed for TVNZ’s 2018 documentary series: The Secret Lives of Sex Workers.
Quinn elaborated on her time on the show, “When I was being filmed and interviewed, I questioned how an outsider’s view would affect the story of sex work.”
“As humans, we all bring our experiences and previous knowledge to whatever we are doing; these become our lenses of how we view the world. I wanted to help sex workers speak their own stories as opposed to a non-sex worker telling the story.”
Sex Workers of Aotearoa: a day in the life of has been open for entries from sex workers of various backgrounds and experiences including street work, working in brothels, being managed by agencies and working independently. The overall focus of the exhibition is to allow sex workers the chance to portray themselves and their stories in the way that they want to be seen.
“Unlike a standard exhibition, there is little curation by me,” said Quinn. “I do not wish to curate the show as such. The artists agree in the T&Cs that the organisers have the right to decline work but no works were declined in 2019 and only one work for 2020 had to be resubmitted due to framing.” The move to less curation than a typical exhibition is to open up the space for sex workers to speak more freely.
Quinn and Lane explained that while it was easy to find contributors for the exhibition through word-of-mouth, twitter promotion and the support of the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC), many artists voiced concerns about their ability to keep their identity confidential.
“One of the first questions that artists’ asked was what name they had to put forward,” Quinn stated. “We decided the choice should be put in people’s hands, resulting in some people being anonymous and others using their working name.”
“Confidentiality is valued highly among sex workers and this needed to be carried through in the exhibition.”
With the assurance of confidentiality, sex workers of various backgrounds felt safe to explore a myriad of topics. Attention was paid to stereotypes and stigmas and everyday experiences.
The diverse coverage of the true nature of life as a sex worker rendered positive feedback for the 2019 exhibition.
“The greatest feedback from our 2019 show was that people did feel gently pushed to question their ingrained stereotypes,” Quinn expressed.
“I’m under no illusion that a small annual art exhibition will magically change societal perceptions on sex work,” she continued. “However, the aim is to challenge those perceptions and make people consider why they believe what they do about sex work.”
Following on from the 2019 exhibition’s success, Quinn and Lane had hoped to make the 2020 exhibition nationwide by hosting showings in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Unfortunately, they were restricted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Due to lockdown we had to cancel both the Wellington and Christchurch shows but we have been able to go ahead with our Auckland show because of how New Zealand has dealt with Covid.”
Quinn disclosed that the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic has resulted in a 50% decrease of expected artist participation as artist’s were restricted by an inability to access supplies and the draining effect that lockdown had on some people’s mental health.
Nevertheless, the show will still explore the reality of a scrutinised occupation and the experiences that make up a sex workers’ daily life. From the smoke and mirrors to filling out tax returns, Sex Workers of Aotearoa: a day in the life of will leave little to the imagination.
Sex Workers of Aotearoa: a day in the life of will be showing in the Depot Artspace, Devonport from July 25th – August 12th.
To support the exhibition, please donate to https:givalittle.co.nz/cause/