Umbəlla. Twenty years of activism under red umbrellas.

From 24th to 30th October, Casa Punto Croce, Venice.

The red umbrella, global symbol of sex workers’ solidarity, was used for the first time in 2001 in Venice during the 49th Art Biennale. On this occasion, a group of sex workers marched through the streets of Venice with red umbrellas as part of the “prostitute pavilion” and the CODE: RED installation by Slovenian artist Tadej Pogačar.

The march was led by activist Daniela Mannu and organized by the non-profit organization Committee for the Civil Rights of Prostitutes (CDCP) with Carla Corso as chairwoman. It drew attention to the poor working conditions and human rights violations that sex workers often have had to face. Since then, the red umbrella has become an icon and international emblem of sex workers’ rights around the world. It symbolises protection from the abuse and intolerance faced by sex workers, and stands forstrength and resistence.

Umbəlla presents videos which were part of the CODE: RED body of work during the Venice Biennale in 2001. Pogačar, together with photographer Dejan Habicht, created a lucid documentation of the debates, performances, workshops, conversations and actions that took place outside and inside the prostitutes pavilion. The project was born as a permanent and ongoing research, which elaborates on collaborations between artists and activists and aims on generating dialogue regarding the economic and social policies that revolve around the sex market.

Within the exhibition space, to amplify the voices of global activism, a series of photographs is hosted which are part of the United Under a Red Umbrella project by Mariska Majoor and Robin Haurissa. Published by the Prostitution Health Center in Amsterdam in 2018, the book includes over 70 photographs and 32 interviews that reveal the outspoken stories and pluralism of experiences of sex workers in 13 different countries during a year-long journey.

As happened countless times, art and prostitution meet. However, with CODE: RED, and United Under a Red Umbrella, we do not witness the influence that prostitution had on art or artists, nor at the mere representation of a phenomenon told from the unique perspective of its creator. In stead, these researches make prostitution and prostitutes the object and subject of the artistic work, creating the basis for a collective dialogue and a space where knowledge, activism and different experiences meet.

The exhibition is accompanied by a programme of events that includes the participation of the collective Le Zoccole Dure (The tthough Sluts), activists and allies who over the last twenty years have embraced the struggle for the rights of sex workers through artistic and social outreach.

Umbəlla, curated by Agnese Reginaldo, explores and celebrates what has been achieved so far but it also reflects on how much there is still to be learnt to envision a better future for the sex worker community. Where art in combination with activism can be a powerful instrument of resistance and self-determination.