Beautifully ObsceneMaddy Dunn heads over to the School of Arts’ Studio 3 gallery to review Beautifully Obscene, their latest bold and taboo breaking exhibition.

Studio 3 has now opened its doors to the taboo-defying, dynamic and diverse art collection Beautifully Obscene: the History of Erotic Print. The exhibition has been organised by students from the Print Collecting and Curating Module at the University of Kent’s School of Arts, and is open until the 12 June.

The collection is a lens into different perspectives on eroticism and the sensual, spanning over multiple continents and centuries, which range from eighteenth century Shunga, the Japanese elaborate and erotic handscrolls, to the twenty-first century abstract art of Tracey Emin. The exhibition raises questions concerning the variation of gender roles throughout history and in different cultures, whilst simultaneously exploring what constitutes ‘pornography’. In an age where digital pornography is so widely accessible, the collection questions where art and pornography overlap and where they diverge.

The naked versus nude debate features heavily in the collection and each piece approaches it differently. For instance, The Chastity of Thieves presents two autonomous balaclava clad females, imposed on top of a derelict, decomposing landscape. Expressionless and concealed, their bodies appear exposed and dissociated. Lassitude also depicts the female form reclining into shadow, her face concealed by darkness and her hands around her genitals. Once again, whilst Geeter’s depiction of the female is a departure from the artistic norm in the nineteen-twenties, it remains an anonymous presentation of the female form, disconnected from an identity.

Other pieces within the collection embrace a celebratory expression of sexuality, seen in the orgy scenes by Terukata Ikeda, which display graphic sexual acts in an array of vibrant colours. Shunga artwork reached its peak in the Edo period due to the improvement of Woodblock printing techniques, and superstition that also considered it protection against fires in merchant warehouses and in the home. The exhibition also explores connections between lovers in the act of sex. Alex Varenne’s (designer and author of erotic fiction) depiction of a couple post copulation is especially poignant and evokes feelings of shame and embarrassment. The exhibition extensively shows the fluidity and variance of human sexuality.

The exhibition really challenges preconceptions concerning gender and sexuality through its presentation of artwork with an explicit inversion of gender norms and roles. Berthomme de Sant-Andre’s piece, Woman with Strap-on, merges the feminine with the masculine as the woman stands nonchalantly towards her audience. Similarly, Monika Beisner’s Tiresias explores the heterogeneity of gender through her inspiration from Tiresias, the blind prophet of Apollo, who transformed into a female for seven years. Roland Delcol alternatively presents the female anatomy precariously in the top left hand corner of the frame, in his etching L’origine du monde which translates into English as ‘The origin of the world’. Here Delcol presents the vulva in its intricate and complex form, and whilst it is not accompanied by the identity of the female, it evokes a strong sense of empowerment, showing the universal power that females have to create.

With such an array of different cultures and perspectives on gender and sexuality, this eye-opening exhibition is definitely worth a visit!

For opening times and more information click here.