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Five objects that reveal a snapshot of life as a sex worker in London

Kyra Hanson

Drink coasters, pumpkin jam, a New Testament Bible and belly button wax are just some of the unusual items that feature in Objects of Desire, a new exhibition that brings together the everyday possessions sex workers accumulate through their work. As we discovered, it's not all rubber dildos and vibrating chairs – though if you're not looking where you're going you could easily bump into either of these.

The exhibition aims to shift the conversation away from one of 'exploitation' and 'empowerment' by showing the human side to an interaction that's about more than just the exchange of money. It's humorous, touching and just a little bit sexy. 

Here's a snapshot of the experiences of London sex workers as told through five objects in the exhibition. 


Objects of Desire

  1. Genuine Parker Marx white vest from PORNO with Sadie Lune *unwashed. The 99p listing on eBay reads: 'This is a fantastic piece of porn movie memorabilia. Bearing impromptu damage resulting from electric on screen chemistry.' Any takers? 

    Objects of Desire

  2. Bellybutton wax. No, we don't mean naturally occurring belly button fluff. According to the description, one client had a thing for making candle wax casts of belly buttons but it's clear not all sex workers share their client's desires: 'He was fascinated with the idea that I had this auto navel eroticism like he did, but I didn't.'

    Objects of Desire

  3. Rape alarm. Self-explanatory.

    Objects of Desire

  4. A door. In the middle of the exhibition is a door, which, for the sex worker can be a source of fun, fear and financial opportunity – depending on who walks through it. Make sure you read the brilliant accompanying description of the end of an interaction with a client, which begins: 'Tactical body maneuvers are often employed to gently force the client towards the door. It's a subtle dance, to artfully stumble over his irrelevant anecdotes on the way to the threshold.'

    Izzy Valentine

  5. Coasters. The Cabinet of Curiosities shows a range of objects donated by sex workers, mostly items gifted to them by clients. These drink coasters covered in the beefy bodies of Greek Gods reveal the insecurities of the person paying for sex. The accompanying note reads: 'I know you are obsessed with men. You want them young and muscular don't you. Not old like me.' 

On Sat Aug 13 the Sex Worker Art Collective is hosting a life drawing class.

Objects of Desire is on at Red Gallery, Old Street until Aug 14.

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