Striking art project on prominent Letná wall highlights stigmatisation of sex workers

Exhibition 'With(out) Care'

If you regularly take the Prague tram between Čechův Most and Nábřeží Kapitána Jaroše, you may have noticed the giant pieces of artwork on display in the niches of the wall that runs parallel to the Vltava river below Letná. Until June 6, those spaces are being occupied by Markéta Garai’s exhibition With(out) Care, a commentary on the stigmatisation of sex workers and the ecological impact of the global flower trade.

Exhibition 'With (out) Care' | Photo: Martin Micka,  Galerie Artwall

Sex work operates in a legal grey zone in Czechia, with the provision of erotic services neither prohibited nor permitted by law. In practice, this means that those employed in the industry are not protected under the law financially or from workplace harassment or abuse.

This is the main topic that Prague Academy of Fine Arts graduate Markéta Garai is trying to draw attention to in her exhibition.

“I think prostitution is not welcome in Czechia. Making it illegal is not the answer. We need to decriminalise these workers, we need to give them safety, we need to stop stigmatising this work and stop ignoring the fact that they are here.”

Markéta Garai | Photo: Lucie Doležalová

Garai’s intent to change the public discourse surrounding sex work in order to make it safer for those employed in the industry is a clue to the title of the exhibition.

In English it has been translated as With(out) Care, which however hides the clever wordplay present in the Czech version, Bez-Péčí. ‘Bezpeči’ written as one word means ‘safety’ or ‘security’, but as two words (‘bez péči’) means ‘without care’. Garai says not being cared for is an all-too-common experience for those working in the sex industry.

The exhibition consists of compelling still-life photographs that show flowers that would otherwise have ended up in a landfill juxtaposed with objects discarded from nightclub dressing rooms. Garai explains why she used flowers as part of her compositions.

Exhibition 'With (out) Care' | Photo: Martin Micka,  Galerie Artwall

“During the process of making the exhibition, I was thinking about how to communicate about sex work with the public, because my exhibition is in a public space, and everyone can see it – even small children and people with different perspectives towards sex work. So I decided to find some fragility and sexuality in flowers.”

The exhibition culminates in a portrait of Karim, a queer artist living on the margins of society with traumatic experiences related to sex work, their face partially hidden by a bouquet of flowers. The juxtaposition of flowers with a human body is supposed to remind us that both are at the mercy of wanton consumption, says Garai.

Exhibition 'With (out) Care' | Photo: Markéta Garai,  Galerie Artwall

“This is the context for the photos – we need to take care of the environment and of people like Karim, who are in a bad situation without a chance of reintegrating back into society, into the system.”

To research her project, Garai experienced the work of a nightclub dancer first-hand. She says she finds this crucial to understanding and sensitively portraying the issues surrounding sex work, so that the workers don’t simply become objects of the artist’s or viewer’s gaze.

“In the art scene we have lots of art about this topic, but it’s from the point of view of people who have never been inside and never experienced these things personally. Mostly they see strippers and sex workers as objects, and that contributes to stigmatisation.”

The Artwall Gallery where the exhibition is displayed is a public and highly visible wall running below Letná that used to serve as a space for communist propaganda before the Velvet Revolution, but now is a space for contemporary art dealing with social and political issues.

Authors: Anna Fodor , Anaïs Chesnel
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