a review of "EROS" at Sidequest Gallery

By Marlena Mendoza

The Lure for Hipsters
"EROS" at Sidequest Gallery: curating and collaborating Bay Area Sex Work Community“EROS,” at Sidequest Gallery on 15th in downtown Oakland, is an engaging and intimate collection of works by the Bay Area Sex Worker community. Curated by Stella Bijou, the show presents the work of seven artists. The interdisciplinary exhibition features film and digital photographs, paintings, illustrations, poetry, live body painting and a zine titled, It’s Free For You Baby. The opening reception of “EROS” was on point with the content of the show, as those who attended were in the majority confident, attractive and well-dressed individuals with strong eyebrow game. As a social event, “Eros” succeeded at creating a safe space for an otherwise marginalized and stigmatized community to confidently express their experiences within the sex work industry.

The show walks the line between socially engaged art and ‘fine art’ gallery exhibitions. This positioning between social engagement and high art is an intelligent, but slippery and delicate road to walk. As more and more of the Bay Area art scene turns its focus to social and political issues, especially those that involve and advocate for local communities, there is a need to rethink what the concept of “fine art” actually means. While many galleries and museums will always curate and show non-conceptual art for art’s sake type work, becoming involved in the intermediary movement between art and social engagement is one way to get attention in the Bay Area’s growing art scene. It’s a simple recipe. Add a dash of social engagement, a bit of marginalization and, of course, sex and you’ve got a show that might actually tear the most jaded Oakland art hipsters away from their 24-hour Art party.

Highlights of the show included a large painting of a man lying on his back with an erection and some text beneath which read, “Good Dick Will Imprison You.” Well, it certainly is sexual enough to get hipsters in the room and I guess both the title and image work in that old form and content type of way. But, and this is a big but, the photograph isn’t really artistically compelling. The framing is pedestrian or, to be a bit unfair, I imagine that most gay pornography has a stronger and richer aesthetic force. What’s equally disappointing is that as a social statement, it’s neither shocking nor provocative. In the end, it is merely an erection.
The runner up to this type of limp phallic art was a bunch of poems that the curators and I guess the writers insisted should be called prose poems. It just seemed like poetry to me. Still, whether these were poems or prose or somewhere in-between, they were bland and clich├ęd. I felt as if I was in a freshman seminar and the class had just discovered the word transgression. If we’re to advance either artistically, socially or politically we’re going to have to rethink what we mean by transgression. There just wasn’t enough thinking in “Eros” for my tastes.The vibe from “Eros” was empowerment, a way for people to destigmatize themselves through honest and confident representations of their experiences. Beyond the immediate level of giving voice to their lives, much of the work brought into play blunt questions about gender roles, femininity, bodies, nudity, artifice and the sex economy. However, without a commitment to art, the show drifts and what we get instead is bad visual therapy.

And yet again

©Marlena Mendoza and the CCA Arts Review

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