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Eroticism in art and life knows no bordersLatest News ->

Tues 08 Nov, 2011.

Ruth Bircham is an exuberant woman full of a passion for life and art. Her own art, of course, is a specific focus of this passion. But, like the human body and the sex she so joyously celebrates, she believes art – and especially erotic art – should be shared, and that means exhibiting.

Besides pinning her heart on her blouse as much as she hangs her bold paintings on gallery walls, London-based Bircham is a determined woman who has shown some initiative in organising an exhibition of mostly black artists who work in the erotic genre, and Forbidden Fruit is the result.

Forbidden Fruit Midnight Bliss Wet Oasis

Forbidden Fruit, the exhibition showing until tomorrow afternoon at the Frameless Gallery in East London, showcases the work of eleven artists from the United Kingdom, Nigeria, Ghana, and the United States. It is a small but fascinatingly eclectic mix of work from a range of artists from widely varied backgrounds. The principal element shared by all is a love of the human form and human relations, expressed through works that can broadly be defined as erotic.

Bircham’s work is among the more explicit and complex in this exhibition; her large painting, after which the exhibition draws its title, Forbidden Fruit, is the first piece the visitor sees on the wall opposite the entrance to this compact gallery. It is, to say the least, a fitting reminder of what this exhibition is all about; it most certainly is not for the faint hearted, or, more, accurately, for the prudish. Another of Bircham’s memorable works is Wet Oasis, which invites the viewer to interpret according to their own preferences the owner of the hand that caresses a woman’s labia.

Interpretation is a psychological process, often emotionally driven, that Bircham recognises is something with which we all engage, and one of the exhibition’s stated aims is to “explore the perception of how the naked body is viewed”; publicity for the show states “[w]e believe that the body in any size or shape is beautiful, [w]hen the art is seen by the viewer these images may reflect their own lifestyles, intimacy, isolations and rigidity[;] these art pieces may be very confrontational”. Indeed. And, as indicated, Bircham’s work is the most courageously confrontational in the exhibition.

How I Wish Untitled Bike and Bum Working Class Hero

Other artists that particularly caught our attention were Shallman Quashie (Ghana), Titus Agbara (Nigeria), Niyi Sadare (Nigeria) and Syreeta King (UK). Quashie’s paintings present images of measured eroticism and are rich and textured with confident strokes and strong elements of abstraction, colourful but never overwhelmingly or distastefully so. Agbara’s contribution ventured into the poignant with his How I Wish: a vibrant yet strangely melancholy reflection on the passing of – even the fleeting existence of – beauty, desire and lust. Sadare’s Bike and Bum introduced some humour into the erotic theme in an image that may not be unfamiliar in the everyday life of cyclists on a summer’s day. King, invited to display work at the last minute by Titus Agbara, is a third-year fine arts student at the University of East London; she hung two works, part of a series entitled “Women on Top”, in which she “explores personal issues”. The works are photographs that she directed and posed for as the female model.

British artist Paul Burke added diversity of style to the paintings with a series of pieces worked in oil and pen on canvas; his coy depiction of masturbation in Working Class Hero also added more than a touch of humour to the exhibition. Ricio Reyes Cortez, a British artist originally from Chile, on the other hand, is looking at ways women can present different aspects of their persona and how sexuality is an integral element of identity. Her She Devil (oil on canvas), done for Gay Pride, is part of a series based on this theme.

This is a grass-roots exhibition by a brave collection of artists who are committed to depicting and even enacting a healthy attitude towards an essential element of our humanity.

Forbidden Fruit is showing at the Frameless Gallery, 20 Clerkenwell Green, London EC1 0DP through to 3pm on Wednesday 9 November. Contact Ruth Bircham via the Unimaginable Imagery website for further information.