10 Striking Photos That Challenge The Perception Of Sex Workers In Art
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10 Striking Photos That Challenge The Perception Of Sex Workers In Art

By on Nov 13, 2015

Addis Ababa, the country’s capital city, is known for its booming sex industry: It contains the largest number of brothels anywhere in Africa, with 150,000 women (and some girls as young as 8 years old) working as prostitutes every night. They charge as little as $1 for their services — for many, it’s the easiest way to make any money at all in a country with an unemployment rate over 50%.

Once Erizku’s subjects agreed to be photographed, he made it clear that the women were in control. “I left it to them to create the poses based on the art historical images I showed them,” he explains. “Some chose a direct gaze, like Manet’s Olympia,” he adds, while “some chose to look away.” Ultimately, he says, “I respected their choices.”

Each image is arresting in its own right. Shot in hotel rooms around the city, the photos present prostitution in a very different light than the original paintings do. No one waits on these women. Posters of Jesus and the Virgin Mary hang over their heads, and it’s difficult to say if they are posted for protection or judgment. Erizku successfully strikes an incomparable balance, making his viewers both customers and voyeurs. Some of the women confront the camera with their gaze so directly that they seem to ask what you’re doing there.

Gone are the luxury and glamour of Manet and Ingres’ paintings, and what is left is reality. “Awol represents the Black figure, specifically the female, in the context of art history as [a] focal point and [an] icon of beauty,” states FLAG director Stephanie Roach.

Erizku will appear at the FLAG Art Foundation in NYC this evening for a conversation with journalist Alicia Quarles and FLAG founder Glenn Fuhrman. West Coasters can check out an exhibit of his work in painting and sculpture at an art space in downtown Los Angeles that he has temporarily named Duchamp Detox Clinic. Click ahead for a selection of images from New Flower.

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