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Feature: Exhibition - The Drawn Petition at 54 The Gallery, Shepherd Market, Mayfair

Published: 25 March 2010

HOW society deals with prostitution has never been a topic mainstream politicians like to talk about. Cracking down on users, arresting women, closing brothels, turning a blind eye – all have been tried, all with varying degrees of success, to ensure prostitutes are kept safe.

For artist Natasha Gomperts, who lives in Islington, the issue of how society deals with prostitution is fascinating, and she has made the decriminalisation of prostitution the topic of her latest exhibition. 

Having been offered gallery space in Shepherds Market, Mayfair, she decided to do a “site-specific” show – and with the historic reputation of the market as a place haunted by prostitutes and full of brothels, the sex trade seemed a natural place to start.

“I contacted the English Collective of Prostitutes [ECP], and they told me they were organising a petition to highlight the issues facing sex workers, and call for the decriminalisation of prostitution,” she says.

So Natasha has taken to the streets and pubs to garner support – but rather than collect signatures, she is drawing portraits of people who back the campaign for the show at the gallery.

“You don’t have to approve of the sex trade, but we need to work out a way that makes it safe and not abusive,” she states.

She said the current laws push the sex trade underground and that simply makes it more dangerous for the people involved. Furthermore, the ECP states that the cash earned by prostitutes is absolutely crucial – with them often being the main wage earner in a family. 

Natasha cites a case she heard of a Thai woman who had clearly been trafficked into Britain – “debt bonded”, as Natasha calls it – yet had worked her way out of being essentially a slave to the person who had brought her to England, to being a migrant worker like any other. She sent money home to her village, paying single-handedly for fresh and clean drinking water. 

Petitioners say that by decriminalising prostitution, and taking sex workers off the streets and into brothels, the campaign Natasha is backing will make attacks on women less likely to happen, and trafficking of this nature more difficult to get away with.

“It [decriminalised brothels] is much safer than the streets,” she says. “This is not about legalising it, but decriminalising it – that is a very important difference.”

So far her work has taken her from the Abbey Tavern on Kentish Town Road, to trips on the tube.

“I find people are fascinated to have the chance to be drawn,” 

she adds.

The Drawn Petition is at 54 The Gallery, Shepherd Market, Mayfair, W1, from Monday March 29 to Sunday April 4



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