Lena Chen MFA ’22 will give a talk titled “Is Moderation Violence?: Exhibiting Sex Worker Art” at the conference Exhibitionism: Sexuality at the Museum, co-hosted by Kinsey Institute (Indiana University), Wilzig Erotic Art Museum, and the Research Center for the Cultural History of Sexuality at Humboldt University in Berlin. Her talk takes place on December 11 at 2:45 PM.
Sex workers today are on the frontier of the battlefield for labor rights, civil liberties and freedom of speech. Often spoken for, rather than being listened to, sex workers – particularly those of intersecting marginalized identities – are frequently subject to criminalization and social ostracization. Recent legislation, such as FOSTA/SESTA, has increased digital surveillance of content pertaining to sexuality, leading to deplatforming and social media censorship of sex workers and artists alike. A variety of curatorial efforts in the early 21st century have highlighted the history of the sex worker’s rights movement while amplifying the work of present-day groups who are organizing to improve online safety and working conditions for sex workers. These exhibitions serve multiple functions as platforms for self-representation, community-building, and public education. Yet sex worker artists continue to face barriers to artistic expression, as they are targeted for censorship in both on- and offline contexts. Artist and sex worker Lena Chen presents two collaborative projects – “Play4UsNow” (2020), a participatory digital performance, and “OnlyBans” (2021), an interactive game – which explore censorship of sex workers and which faced artistic censorship themselves. Using these incidents as points of departure, Chen discusses the role of curators and art institutions in exhibiting work from sex workers and other communities of marginalized sexual identities.