Erotica is the burlesque of the art world. RezErect is the latest exhibition taking the pulse and temperature of indigenous expressions of erotica from Plexiglas-protected artifact-type phallus objects to a hands-on interactive spanking drum and a lot more in between.
For those not familiar with what erotica is or what erotica can evoke, here’s a list:
Trickery of enticement
Playful games of hunter/predator
Textures of the senses
Tugging and tussle
…just for starters
In a culture where sexual shame and dysfunction was bred into us through the imposed Settler’s value system and arrogant need to subdue indigenous autonomy, it is important we take the time to conduct a collective "check-in" with ourselves. Are we ready to climb up from the depressed sense of post-colonial identity and reclaim our whole selves as the vibrant, confident intelligent, and yes, sexy people that we are?
The RezErect exhibition, currently showing at the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art in Vancouver, is a good place to gauge the indigenous artist’s understanding of erotica as it relates to cultural histories. It also provides the viewer with an opportunity to measure their own personal comfort levels, and the chance to understand their own erotic identity. One could say a people with a healthy sense of their own sexuality makes for a healthy society. And although the battle to gain a better sense of our sexuality is fought simultaneously from inside and outside of our communities, the onus remains with us to assist each other to become better, healthier sexual and sensual beings.
RezErect features 27 mid-career and internationally known Northwest Coast artists, and is co-curated by Haida artist Gwaai Edenshaw and Kwiaahwah Jones. There are vague tones of exasperated education as Edenshaw explains the "Why" to this exhibition. "There have always been those in our community who have shared a very different story, a complex and nuanced narrative. Sex figures prominently in aboriginal stories across the continent, as sexual humour, playful irreverence, spiritual reverence, place names, morality tales or other meanings lost in time. In my world, it’s a safe bet that the laughter coming from that group of grandmothers over there drinking tea is partly triggered by sexual innuendo. We hope to carry on that tradition here – sexy, intelligent, fun and provocative."
A sexy tea service is the first to greet exhibition visitors, enhanced with vaginal details inspiring one to "lick the plate clean." Clever curating puts the stronger "gallery" work up front, progressing carefully onto the more conversational work including interactive pieces with Alice in Wonderland-style tags that say "Try Me." Within a 3-D ViewMaster — the kind I used to read my Cinderella story with — we see a brown Cinderella hoisted atop the hips of her Prince Charming. Click. Cinderella’s large, tasty breasts cupped in a loving yet aggressive grasp. Not pornography, but physical displays of sexual interactions. The erotic bent here is you, as the voyeur is looking upon this couple’s exhibitionist tendencies and becoming part of their (fore)play. Peeking in.
You can peek in on Rez Erect until February 16th, perhaps with more public programming planned for Valentines Day before the show closes. I hear their gift shop is selling a well celebrated collection of poems titled Red Erotic by a Mohawk author living on the west coast. Check it out.
Janet Marie Rogers, Mohawk writer from the Six Nations territory in southern Ontario, is Poet Laureate of Victoria, British Columbia. To learn more about her, visit janetmarierogers.com. The header photo on this article comes from the Twitter feed of Kevin C. Griffin, @KevinCGriffin.