Glasgow exhibition confronts prostitution

AN EXHIBITION on the harm caused by prostitution is to be shown at a major gallery in Glasgow.
Memoirs, one of the works being shown at Unmasked at Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art. Picture: Alan McAteerMemoirs, one of the works being shown at Unmasked at Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art. Picture: Alan McAteer
Memoirs, one of the works being shown at Unmasked at Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art. Picture: Alan McAteer

The Glasgow Violence Against Women Partnership (GVAWP) and Glasgow Life will launch Unmasked at the Gallery of Modern Art on Saturday.

The exhibition hopes to raise awareness of the impact of prostitution on the lives of vulnerable women by presenting the real-life views and attitudes of men who use prostitutes.

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Some of the provocative pieces in the show include ‘Invisible Men’, a presentation of men’s views on prostitutes in a hypothetical, TripAdvisor-style website called PunterNet. Some of these reviews have been re-formatted into prose for the exhibition in another work called ‘Memoirs’.

Councillor James Coleman, Chair of the GVAWP, said: “Prostitution is abuse, often extreme or violent in nature. Prostitution is never a matter of choice, nor is it a human right as some campaigners argue. No reasonable person wants the right to be sexually exploited, abused, demeaned, disadvantaged, socially-excluded and marginalised. Prostitution ruins lives, and it is far more serious and harmful an issue than many people may realise.

“The vast, but often silent, majority of women in prostitution are there through utter desperation, poverty and a lack of positive, alternative lifestyle choices. Many will exhibit ‘survival behaviour’ – by resorting to drug use or other criminal activities, for example – just to help them cope with the unbearable way in which they are treated by the men who pay to have sex with them.”

Two anonymous female artists are also contributing work to the exhibition, which runs until 23 March.

One artist, commenting on the purpose behind PunterNet, said: “I want viewers to feel compelled to go on to read through PunterNet, and sites like it, to develop an awareness of what men expect from, and do to, women in prostitution – and to get a sense of how many men are actually involved. I want them to look up the casual abbreviations that litter their reviews, such as owo, cim, ro, gfe, pse and ee, and find out what they consider a ‘good service’ to be or what ‘poor service’ means; what they feel contempt for – or ‘ripped off’ by – and how they interpret the women’s responses. This is what demand really looks like.”

She added: “The men who continue to produce more than a decade’s worth of entries on PunterNet are not remarkable. They are ordinary men who feel entitled to access the bodies of women and girls. They are the reason prostitution exists. They are the reason it is dangerous. They must be held accountable.”

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The Prostitution (Public Places) (Scotland) Act, introduced in 2007, criminalised men who seek to buy sex in public places, but Councillor Coleman says that more needs to be done.

He said: “Unmasked makes a strong, evidence-based argument as to the identity of the actual perpetrators of the sex industry, and reaffirms the need for men who use prostitutes to be recognised as anti-social, harmful and diminishing the quality of life of the city.”