by Laura LeMoon
Social worker and shame researcher Brené Brown has been quoted as saying that “shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence and judgment.” Sex throughout history is probably the singularly most powerful commonality between human beings. Despite this reality, sex remains one of the most taboo of all human subjects and experiences.
While sex positivity may be a very new concept in America, many cultures in other parts of the world have long held progressive ideas about gender and sexuality. The United States, being a puritanical society founded on Christian religious zeal and white patriarchal hegemony, is not the leader we were raised to believe we are, especially in terms of sexual attitudes and beliefs. In many ways, our nation is just beginning to grapple with concepts such as equality, power dynamics, and consent in sexual interactions.
The Seattle Erotic Art Festival (SEAF), being held Oct. 29 to Oct. 31 at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall, will bring together those interested in sex positivity ideals as well as art enthusiasts to share in public processing of these concepts through artistic expression.
As their website says, SEAF was first produced in 2003 by the Pan-Eros Foundation in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. It goes on to describe the festival as a “curated collection of some of the finest art the world has to offer.” Perhaps equally exciting, after 18 months of virtual connection, this year’s festival will take place in person. During the day, there will be everything from acrobatic displays to pantomime to poetry readings. In the evenings, the gallery will transform “from a gallery to a sexy art party … A sexy, fun time with performers, bartenders at the ready and a fantastic, energetic crowd.”
The festival has just about everything from visual to performing and literary arts and more, with the focus, of course, being on the erotic. Attendees must be at least 18 years of age to enter during the day and 21 years of age or older for the evening parties when alcohol is being served. As America continues to evolve through the Me Too movement, face the new Texas anti-choice law, and battle the COVID-19 pandemic, one could argue the timing of this year’s SEAF couldn’t be more perfect.
I caught up with the SEAF festival director, Sophia Iannicelli, and asked her more about SEAF and the meaning of erotic art …
Laura LeMoon: What is the goal of SEAF?
Sophia Iannicelli: The Seattle Erotic Art Festival (SEAF) encourages the creation, enjoyment, and purchase of erotic art — sparking conversations to ignite personal and cultural evolutions. I want to change our culture’s attitudes about sexuality to the point people automatically respect wherever someone falls on the spectrum of who and how and when they love and have sex with another. A long-term goal I have is to make it more common to find erotic art into more mainstream galleries so that it is easier for artists who create erotic works to get their art out into the world and sold to collectors.
LL: How do you ensure a diverse array of backgrounds and experiences are reflected in the art that is presented?
SI: We invite different people to be on the jury every year, paying special attention to balancing the gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity/race of our jurors. We work with BIPOC and gender nonconforming artists, performers, writers, curators, and others in the various Seattle arts communities to solicit and invite artists that are underrepresented. Getting as many different points of view and experiences is so important to answering the question “What is erotic?”
LL: What do you have to say to people who might say that erotic art is not real art? What qualifies as art, in your opinion, and who decides what is art and what is vulgarity?
SI: “What is erotic art?” is one of my favorite things to argue about. Art elicits an emotion. Art excites your imagination. Art makes you feel alive. I think erotic art is anything that explores or examines sexuality, sex, gender, relationships, or identity. At SEAF, we want to showcase as much of the spectrum of erotic art from the abstract to depictions of parts going into parts. Vulgarity is a matter of personal taste and opinion. And vulgarity is not automatically unwanted.
LL: Why a festival just for erotic art? What makes erotic art different than more mainstream work (aside from the obvious)?
SI: SEAF was started because some artists who were attending a life drawing session sponsored by our parent organization were complaining that the drawings they had just made of a person in leather drag couldn’t be shown anywhere. At the core, SEAF is about giving artists a place to show their work that other galleries won’t show because sex is a power subject that people have very loud opinions about. A lot of galleries shy away from showing works that focus on sex because of a fear of alienating patrons who say they don’t want to see depictions of sex. Sex is still maligned in our culture even though U.S. marketing uses sex to sell everything else. Who we love and have sex with is such a core part of what makes us human and defines many of our identities. We can’t see someone as fully human if we don’t acknowledge their sexuality.
To find out more or get your festival tickets, please visit www.seattleerotic.org.
Laura LeMoon is a Queer sex worker and writer/author based in Tacoma, WA. She is the author of two poetry books and has served as consultant to the CDC, USDOJ, and UNODC on issues related to sex work and HIV.
📸 Featured Image: Top left: Photo by Jamie Rand Imaging; top right: Photo by Vitz Photos; bottom left: Photo by James McDaniel; bottom right: Photo by Ricky Osborne. All photos courtesy of Seattle Erotic Art Festival (SEAF).
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