Sexuality and the Influence of Porn: Leah Hickey

Amongst the rapid buzz of chatter and clatter of a central Birmingham cafe, I sat with artist Leah Hickey. 

Fresh from graduation, Leah is navigating this new chapter in her life not only as an artist but as a person. Dealing with sexuality, femininity and vanity in her work she incorporates the use of faux advertisement cards to tackle the thorny and controversial topic of pornography. Combining oxymoronic language that is both aggressive and romantic with suggestive poses, her work confuses the viewer, making the audience consider the subject of these images.

What do you want your work to demonstrate?

LH: I don’t like putting it under Feminism, because its so diluted and recycled on social media that, for me, its losing its meaning. But my work does have feminist leanings and influences, particularly in film theory. I always refer to Laura Mulvey and her work, ‘Visual pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ and ‘Ways of Seeing’ by John Berger. There’s an interesting quote from Berger that has followed me “men look at women and women watch themselves being looked at” it just blew my mind. If I had to pin down terms that associate with my work its Scopophilia and Voyeurism but that’s cause I’m such a Hitchcock fan even though he’s a massive misogynist!

Your work focusses on sexuality and the porn industry, How much does one influence the other?

LH: I think it has a really damaging impact on the way we view women. It has massively influenced how we perceive sex, if you think about it in relation to school I didn’t really have any sex education at all so for many people our first introduction to sex and intimacy was pornography which is quite scary. My work tries to tackle this continual balance of objectification verses empowerment the industry, the argument many porn actresses have is that they feel empowered and sexually awakened. But the counter argument with figures such as Judith Butler is that its oppressive because you limit yourself to become a pleasure consumed by someone else. Porn is a really interesting topic to tackle because its so murky, when it comes to online porn, you don’t know those people, whether they consent or how old they are. But you don’t comprehend it in the moment because you’re selfishly only seeking pleasure for a few minutes.

What’s important to you in your work? 

LH: I like to continually maintain self awareness and self criticism. The issue that arises with art school is that you don’t interact outside of that and explore the real art world. If you continually show your work to the same people, that you know personally, you’ll only always get a positive answer. That can create a false sense of perspective and you risk not challenging yourself. Self criticism is important, as well working out what you’re demonstrating. I always assess what I want to say and whether I’m communicating that in my pieces, the issue with my work is that without explaining to someone the full context of my work and my influences it’s easy to misinterpret it as shallow and vain, which isn’t what I want to communicate at all. It deals with vanity but it isn’t meant to celebrate it because that’s not challenging and all it would do is contribute to pre-existing conceptions of women, which we don’t need, no thank you.

What’s next? 

LH: I’m speaking with a few people at the moment and we’re putting together a collective we’re just working out what our name will be, I’m hopeful but equally realistic. I don’t want to put myself into a corner regarding future work, if you continually tell people what you’re going to do it makes you feel secure and confident, before you’ve already done it and you don’t work as hard, but I have plans on a few pieces. 

Funraising will next see Leah’s work at our charity art auction, Artbox 2018, later this year. If you want to find out more about this follow us on Twitter: @funraisingmcr

To see more of Leah’s work, take a look at her Instagram account: @leahrhickey

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