Exotic arts excite, entice, intrigue
By Josef Watson,State Press Magazine
Like love, God, death and the meaning of life,
one can never illustrate or interpret sex in a
single statement. Its omnipotence makes it
impossible to do so.
Luckily, there's the Exotic Art 2002 exhibit at
the Alwun House in Phoenix, rekindling its
annual assault of interpretations on our
fantasies and fears, bringing together dozens
of works by more than 50 local artists intent
on opening our minds, and eyes, to sexual
liberation and taboos.
Whether displaying sex as an expression of
intense passion or a violent fury climaxing in ecstasy or the loss of innocence,
Exotic, in its 19th year, embraces the full spectrum.
"There's an ambiguity and openness in it all," says Kim Moody, the director and
founder of the 30-year-old Alwun House. "So many times, we've had people
confuse the word 'exotic' with 'erotic.' Sex, by far, isn't just eroticism. It is so
many things undefined."
Exotic, which opened Feb. 8 to more than 700 gallery spectators, combines oil
and watercolor paintings with photography, poetry, sculpture and performance art
that display sex's subtle and not-so-subtle innuendoes.
There is a simple suggestiveness in the black-and-white photograph of a woman's
neck, begging to be smelled, touched and licked. There is the blatant depiction of
sadomasochism and pedophilia in an oil portrait, its detail inspiring the threat of
nightmares within some of the gallery's aficionados.
Other works border or cross the pornographic line, depending on whom you ask,
such as the painting of a woman cackling in an orgasmic rage as a 36-inch penis
pierces through her vagina on the bed of a spider's web.
"There is great diversity here. It's Alwun House's trademark," says Moody, whose
gallery's name is a sort of an acronym for "we are all one." "I like the balance in
the exhibit. I think balance is its greatest strength."
The opening night crowd was treated to more than just a walking tour of the
exhibit, which runs through March 8. There were drag queens, half-naked men (the
bottom half, in fact) and women whose only attire was the paint on their bodies
parading themselves through a sea of curious voyeurs. All of which begged the
question, is Exotic about the art or merely shocking the public?
"Last year, there was a lot of stuff that overshadowed the truly artistic work. A lot
of it seemed to be nothing more than an excuse to show genitalia," says Shannon
Youso, an 18-year-old senior at Phoenix North High School who began showing
her photographs in January and has four pieces on display in Exotic. "I enjoy
more of the implied nudity, like the photos I'm exhibiting. I like the soft curves. I
like the sexuality of it without showing everything.
"But what is here this year also gives the exhibit an edge that it needs. Everything
compliments each other."
"For a lot of these people, it's their first time seeing a drag queen. Hell, it's their
first time seeing a gay person," says Richard Stevens, a.k.a. Barbra Seville, the
opening night emcee and the Valley's most notorious drag queen/radio
personality. "Many of them need to be shocked and exposed to all of this."
In years past, the 6-foot-5-inch Stevens (in platform shoes) has treated Exotic's
visitors to dance performances dressed as a Hooters girl, set to music he calls
his "bitch mix," and flashed the audience sitting in the front row of Alwun House's
outdoor stage while exposing his blood-soaked panties as if he were
"I'm here to bring a little brevity to it all, to make things a bit more scandalous."
Downstairs at Alwun House body artist/photographer Mark Greenawalt, 34, takes
a brush dipped in gold paint and decorates the augmented breasts of model Kristi
Curiali, 27. What started as experimentation for Greenawalt just two years ago
has now become his trademark work.
"Being here is a great opportunity for me, getting to show people what I do and
how I do it," says Greenawalt, attempting to be "serious" while the tip of his brush
glides underneath Curiali's breast. "I turn this work into photographs, so people
rarely see this part of the process.
"And unfortunately, I can't sell the original. That's the bottom line."
A small crowd — of mostly men — has gathered around the artist and his
subject, many appearing to be genuinely interested in Greenawalt's technique,
others hoping that the whole experience is as erotic for Curiali as it is for them.
"There's nothing erotic in it for me," says Curiali blankly, unfazed by her
surroundings. "It's just work to me.
"What I like about it is being able to be a living canvas. That's what makes it
interesting to be a part of. But it doesn't turn me on."
Of course, every night of Exotic Art isn't like opening night. The turntable DJs,
Barbra Seville and the hundreds of inquisitive guests are gone until next year. But,
in the meantime, Alwun House features a month-long celebration of exotic — and
erotic — arts.
Tomorrow night, fully clothed and naked wordsmiths spew their lingo on two
stages for Erotic Poetry & Verse. On March 2, the Exotic Melodic DeTour will
host musical acts Joe Myers, Keith Secola and Sweet Bleeders, followed by
Exotic's finale — the Dance Splash, headlined by Infinite Momentum and the
Unity in Motion Multicultural Dance Troupe on March 8.
"A lot of the people who come here for the opening come back just for the art,
when they can really appreciate it without so many people here," says Moody.
"Then they can be here and look at something, wondering 'is that an ass? No, it's
"We don't do this for shock value, but I admit, we enjoy (people) being shocked."
Reach Josef Watson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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