Prostitution in Art History

There is currently an exhibition in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris about this which looks specifically at the 19th Century in that city. However, I was interested to look farther back at how courtesans and young boys or bardassas said to have been used by Carravagio have been used as models for artwork since the renaissance and probably before.

Some examples:



Vecchio’s Blonde Woman is a courtesan and we know this because she holds flowers – this symbolism dates back to roman times. Titian’s models were also supposed to have been courtesans.

Carravagio’s barrdassa’s show shoulders and offer fruit and flowers. As in the renaissance times (Michelangelo came out as gay but claimed celebacy) gay sex was illegal so Carravagio denied he was in these relationships, we will never know for certain.

The relationship between artist and model had been central to this debate, whether the model was a prostitute or not. Why then was Manet’s Olympia so shocking? Supposedly it is the gaze of Olympia (a name which identifies her as a prostitute) along with the orchid, oriental shawl and other accessories. She is unashamedly a prostitute and this resonates with what is happening now. There are a number of women who have blogs and are proud of their work.  blog example

manet O

I need to consider whether and how I could use art history other than a simple appropriation which I am not sure would add anything to the debate.



I feel I am really behind with this part of the course as I am unable to decide what to do. I was going to put flyers, in cars in the street as a counter dialogue with a totally unknown public and in order to start a debate about prostitution. I am worried that I am not really connecting to people and the debate is so confusing I am not even sure where I stand within it. The only things I am certain of is that I am against trafficking, and I think it should be legalized and the workers treated with greater respect.  Beyond that I have many doubts. These would be my starting points for the flyers:

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On the other hand I would like to introduce my sketches which are freer:

and combine these with art historical references such as:

However what type of debate do I want and what type of audience am I engaging? How would this be taken any more seriously than if I was doing it in a gallery? I am not sure what type of reaction I really want. I am also worried that this is too safe an option. Going out on the street and putting flyers on cars is no more adventurous than wheat pasting or spraying using stencils (arguably less so). It still feels quite logical so maybe I should make some flyers and just do one or two streets is different areas. My street and one further South for example and then reflect further on the audience and the reaction (if any).

Idea #2

There is a lot happening at the moment in the news about the exhumation of the victims of the dictatorship which are in unmarked graves. This is about the family members who are reclaiming via the Argentinian courts as crimes against humanity in order to bury their relatives properly.

article in English – the guardian

So I also considered some kind of a protest about this using anonymous victims and projecting them in some way once I had painted or drawn them. They could be projected onto a government building. However after searching for images it becomes really unclear who is who and although I believe in the idea of anonymity I do not know how to make it clear who they are.


After painting a couple I realized they could be anyone from any of my paintings – which is because my paintings for a long while have been about anonymity and unknown people. For this project, however, I don’t think this makes much sense. I am still interested in trying a projector. Maybe I should project the prostitutes. I feel at a bit of a loss with TYB. the guerilla street art doesn’t feel like enough of a challenge. I feel like a real challenge would be to have to approach people about my work and try to make new connections. However, I am not sure with whom or where.


Edvard Munch in the Thyssen 17/1/16


Yesterday I went to the Munch exhibition at the Thyssen, on the very last day. At least I did not miss it and it was worth going round with the crowds as I remembered how much I appreciate his work. Aside from criticising his view of women, how many men in late 19th early 20th century women weren’t scared of us? or the fact that he seems to assume that by the early 20th century women had become emancipated, I was again struck and moved by some of the series and by his way of working. That is not to mention the use of paint and, especially, colour.

A few years ago I remember going to 2 exhibitions in Tate Modern with a friend. The first was Damien Hirst which was impressive but we wisked round it and left feeling somewhat empty. The final pieces were the gold wallpaperlike things and I clearly remember my friend comparing them to an airport she had been at (one of the emirates?). Perhaps that was Hirst’s intention. We then walked a few meters and entered the Munch which the curator at the Tate had presented with similar motifs facing one another. These series not series impressed me at the time and, I felt, put Hirst in perspective. Was this just about painting? Did I just respond more to him because I too paint and the sensuality of the media seduces me? In part it definately does. But other media also have weight for me. In the case of Munch it was also about his way of working from piece to piece and the idea of the motif, of not moving on whilst there was more to do.

In the Thyssen the work was arranged in sections which included paintings and prints and were labelled with a word such as ‘Melancholy’ or ‘panic’. They kind of ran out of these and ended with genres such as nudes but for me that did not matter so much. It meant that one tended to choose the motifs which resonate with us and spend more time with them. There are several of these which are very potent and all were interesting from the point of working through ideas. In particular I was drawn to the back views which always fascinate me. The Lonely ones which are a man and a woman gazing into the distance together but separate they are the modern malaise of the impossibility of understanding each other and alienation whilst up close. I remember a late night movie review of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and a reviewer talking about how Gregory Peck acted with his back. These backs say far more than many a face. They also evoke Bonnard’s lovers post sex unable to relate to each other.

However, perhaps the most important thing I took away from the crowded gallery is the not moving on from the motif. We all feel compelled to develop by moving on and it seems that Munch went much further by not doing so by staying with the idea and the feeling and exploring it more deeply.



Display: Hiroshima screens Iri and Toshi Maruki

iri and Toshi MAruki

As I have been experimenting with the display of fabrics and currently have 3 experiments with calico and stretchers, a bed frame and muslin and Korean paper and muslin on stretchers I was immediately interested in these screens. They all tell the tragic story of hiroshima in traditional Japanese screens that remind me of a concertina style book. The artists actually visited Hiroshima just after the bomb was dropped and painted them a few years after. These types of images were banned in the US but the article announces an exhibition in New York.

screens hiroshima

This display reminds me of an exhibition I saw in The Matadero in Madrid in 2010 by the Chinese artist Miao Xiaochun. This was digital art based on Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. It was also illuminated, if I remember correctly, from behind. The panel’s here are more like a series of triptychs, like Bosch’s which is like an altarpiece although it is disputed whether it was actually used as such. I really like these ideas. Although I also remember Monika’s suggestion of hanging pieces facing each other in a kind of dialogue – that really struck a chord. I think freestanding panels would also work best although I am having trouble trying to work out how to make them.


Miao Xiaochun


Villaverde Industrial Estate

At the end of the year I chose to focus on one of the industrial estates which is used for prostitutes on the streets. There are in fact several on the outskirts of Madrid. The visits are problematic as I didn’t feel free to wonder around on foot. I therefore borrowed a car and sketched and filmed mainly from inside the car. This meant that my understanding of the site is more limited. The people who make this a place of prostitution are mostly on foot. From the documentaries I have watched they work there as they are independent and earn more money although the risk is higher than working in a bar/club, they get to keep their earnings. A lot of the women interviewed had been abused, some more seriously than others. Following my own methodology I need to make contact with the organisations I am following on twitter:Colectivo Hetaira andPutasIndignadas. These are groups organised by sex workers who wish to claim their rights as such.

These images give some idea of the space in which some are working, it is particularly empty as we are in the middle of the winter break but also because I chose to go in the middle of the day and whilst there is light to make images. In reality a lot of this work happens at night when you cannot see these wide open spaces. I chose this space in a way because it is less visible in a city where prostitution is less hidden than in other parts of Europe.

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villaverde ??

villaverde ?villaverde

Bellas Durmientes (Sleeping Beauties)

This project which began in 2007 uses art to fight violence against women. Through the ‘antimuseo’ the artist María María Acha-Kutscher coordinates the collaborative project. Each person or group receives a sticker with the name and date of death of a woman killed in an act of domestic violence in Spain their ‘Sleeping Beauty’. I am no. 596 and my sleeping beauty was shot by her partner in Alicante in 2010. We I received my sticker I was struck by a sense of responsibility to this person. I always knew that statistics had a very limited effect, this one person became real (even though they are, of course, anonymous). I decided that I wanted to make some kind of a ritual for her less. I felt that if I painted or drew I might be drawn towards illustration and even if I were to illustrate something fictitious it lacked ritual and because this is essentially an internet project it would lack any physical presence in the virtual world.

I therefore chose to lay her to rest in a nest, to symbolically give her back the care and nurturing she had deserved in her life. The nest was made with recycled natural materials so it will become part of the land. This connection to an anonymous person felt heavy and made the political seem more real and less abstract.

Sleeping Beauties