Celebrating sex in Sydney with the pop-up Museum Of Erotic Art

A happy mingling crowd of artists and art lovers at Chin Chin on 30 November. Photo: Lovehoney/supplied.

In a climate rife with forms of sexual oppression, a defiant new art show in the name of sexual liberation, self expression, and generosity, recently appeared in Surry Hills. Youth editor Corin Shearston attended its opening night.

Australia’s acceptance of sexual expression and identity has developed through various sociocultural milestones in the past two centuries, such as Sydney’s first Mardi Gras in 1978, Parliament’s Sex Discrimination Act of 1984, and the legislated legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2017. Meanwhile, heteronormative sexual imagery of handsome men and beautiful women has been globally popular for millennia. 

Despite the millions of progressive mindsets in our nation, toxic cultures of sexism, homophobia, transphobia and biphobia still exist, and are sometimes hard to detect on the surface of daily society. Additionally, various places in Australia still uphold prude and conservative attitudes towards sex, sexual expression, gender, nudity, and eroticism which threaten to oppress the desires of countless people. The recent parliamentary bills concerning ‘trans erasure’ and ‘religious discrimination’ are two perfect examples of this. 

Amid the context of these current pressures, Surry Hills restaurant Chin Chin recently hosted a radical celebration of love, sex, art, and amazing food by opening a pop-up Museum Of Erotic Art on 30 November. The unique showcase was achieved through a partnership with Lovehoney, a leading pleasure products brand, who commissioned new pieces from ten emerging Australian artists, along with one British painter and entrepreneur, Sophie Tea. Apart from the inclusion of the Newtown based creative Jeff McCann, all exhibiting artists are women, including Bianca Beers, Helena Alias, and Ailie Banks (who has been previously profiled by The Sentinel). 

The artist’s panel, hosted by Chantelle Otten. L-R: Chantelle Otten, Jeff McCann, Sophie Tea, Bianca Beers, Christine Yahya (Pink Bits), Ailie Banks, Mikka Hendra, Helena Alias. Photo: Lovehoney/supplied.

While the eleven erotic works include paintings, illustrations, photography, sculpture, and jewellery, they were only exhibited for two days at Chin Chin. However, they’re also listed in an online charity auction that runs to 15 December. Representing the spirit of Christmas generosity, the proceeds from each artwork’s sale will be donated to community charities, causes, and campaigns of their creator’s choice, while all ticket sale proceeds from the opening will be evenly split and donated too. Causes to be supported by the events include the National Breast Cancer Foundation, White Ribbon, Support Act, and Women’s Community Shelters. 

The exhibiting artists and their nominated cause / charity:

The opening of the exhibition was complemented by a three course dinner package, along with a Q&A panel hosted by Lovehoney Ambassador and Sexologist, Chantelle Otten, in conversation with seven of the exhibiting artists. She also created an original photographic work, ‘Make It Erotic’, which was exhibited on the night and included in the auction (pictured below). Everyone who attended, including media figures and the artists themselves, received a complimentary box of Lovehoney products; an expertly designed range of sex toys. “[They’re still] taboo, [but] sex toys aren’t threatening”, Otten stated, while hosting the panel. 

Lovehoney’s Australian Director, Rob Godwin, recently stated, “we want to add a little extra magic to the festive season…following lengthy lockdowns across Australia, a pop-up museum [providing] a unique experience does just that.”

“[It’s] so nice ending the year with a charity event”, Otten concurred, before rallying for more collective sexual awareness. “I want Australia to be more sex positive…we need to unlearn what we’ve learnt about sex.”

Chantelle Otten, pictured next to her original work.
Photo: Lovehoney/supplied.

Having previously gained the attention of major ongoing clients such as Adobe, Sony, and Puma, Bianca Beers created her first erotic piece for the show – a digital illustration titled ‘Eternal Lovers’ . Proceeds from its auction are benefitting White Ribbon,  a service which aims to prevent gender-based violence. “They are an organisation that take care of women and children in abusive relationships”, Beers stated on the panel, describing a cause which is personally relevant to her own story. 

“In my suburb, there’s this woman [who’s] always screaming [profanities] at her [three year old] daughter”, Beers explained. “My mother and I both complained about it, and apparently there have to be three complaints before DOCS can get involved…nobody else had complained about it apparently, and everyone can hear it…[so] if you notice something in your area, alert the authorities, because it’s important.” 

After spending many years working as a designer, the work of Helena Alias now highlights elements of flowers, creatures, and celestial bodies, as a blend of painting and digital drawing. Similar to Beers, Alias created her first erotic piece for the show, titled ‘Between Starry Sheets’. Its auction proceeds will be donated to Women’s Community Shelters, an organisation which provides crisis accommodation for women and their children to prevent homelessness in the face of domestic violence. 

Over the course of the opening night, Alias revealed how it was confronting to reveal a more private element of herself in the public sphere through her work, stating: “My family and I don’t talk about sex or intimacy…[however], I had such a good reaction to this piece…I loved doing it, [so] I think I’m definitely going to look at doing more pieces like this.”

As the sole male artist of the night, Jeff McCann created an audience favourite by crafting a self-described “bunch of penis flowers”, as a sculptural cardboard piece called ‘These Are For You’. Explaining the message behind its making, McCann stated, “I called it ‘These Are For You’ to create a present to myself, of acceptance [for] the journey [of] growing up as a queer kid in a regional area.” 

Above, clockwise from top left: ‘These Are For You’ by Jeff McCann, ‘Between Starry Sheets’ by Helena Alias, ‘Eternal Lovers’ by Bianca Beers, ‘Incandescent Woman’ by Mikka Hendra. Photos: Lovehoney.

Speaking on the panel, McCann explained that after previously suppressing his sexuality, he ‘came out’ at a really late stage, and he’s still exploring his sexuality and gender. “The core thing [with my work] is to have fun and be playful”, he stated.

Otten supported this statement, exclaiming, “these penis flowers were meant to exist…I want to see fields of [them].” The campaign McCann chose to donate to is the gender affirmation journey of Chloe London, an important figure in Sydney’s creative industry, who is a transitioning trans woman. “Those who are going through that affirmation process need a lot more support, [as it’s] not funded by the government”, McCann stated. “We need to give them the opportunity to flourish.”

In order to help these unique artists with the continuation of their respective practices, it’s important that we keep liking, sharing, commenting on, and saving their work on social media, while attending physical openings. Speaking on the topic of social media, Otten made an interesting point about Instagram, revealing, “you [can] go into your settings and say ‘I want to see sensitive content’.” Ailie Banks stated, “most of us have websites [and] emails, you can get in touch with us that way, [and] you can buy from our stores…keep track of us.” 

Chin Chin Sydney’s pop-up Museum Of Erotic Art existed from 30-31 November, 2021. Its online art auction spans from 30 November to 15 December. If you’re interested, consider placing a bid on a piece that speaks to you, through this link.

Corin Shearston is the youth editor of The Sydney Sentinel.