The sex worker exhibition Amsterdam is a creation of Mariska Majoor and her daughter Robin and can be seen from the 21st until the 29th of July, 2018. It’s open on all days. It’s accessible free of charge through the coffee bar of the Old Church. We did a short interview with former sex worker and activist Mariska to get an idea on how her new project is going.
Mariska Majoor: The sex worker exhibition Amsterdam is an interim presentation of our project ‘United under a red umbrella’. We are halfway through the project and still have a number of countries to visit. In the Old Church (in a side room that connects to their own coffee bar) we show a number of photos and texts of the first 8 countries that we’ve visited. In these countries we visited sex workers who are fighting for better rights, social acceptance and good working conditions. Things that I’ve always fought for, so a goal that makes me feel very connected.
I really wanted to do something with this and make a book containing stories from sex workers from all over the world about their beforementioned struggles as well as the differences and similarities; it’s an idea that I already had years ago. The title was chosen because a red umbrella symbolizes sex workers’ rights in all countries.
Mariska Majoor: The idea to do this together with my daughter Robin arose when she started a photography course. I asked her if she wanted to do this project with me and take pictures of the people I was going to interview. It seemed like a great mother / daughter project. Instructive for both and especially because we would speak with so many people who keep their work a secret from their own children. Something I understand very well and that I fortunately never had to do. Robin isn’t a professional photographer but she really loves doing it and I think she makes beautiful pictures.
Mariska Majoor: Our first trip was in October 2017 and our last trip will be in October 2018. We will now travel to India, Thailand, Nigeria and the Dominican Republic. The final presentation will be on 17th of December 2018. The day that calls for an international end to violence against sex workers. By then we will have worked on the project for a year.
Mariska Majoor: Our planning ran into a little trouble at the beginning of the year because I got a sudden and very painful hernia. I’ve had surgery in the meantime. Because my personal health leaves a lot to be desired, this joke took half a year and we have to wait and see how it develops in the coming weeks and months. But the next few trips have already been booked so it will probably all be good!
Mariska Majoor: Of course we are not ready yet and to be honest, I think we still have to make the most impressing journeys for us. but we have met wonderful people and heard many stories that are all meaningful, instructive and impress in their own way. What I personally find very intense is that I get confirmation in every country that the biggest problems are caused by government action and a judgmental society.
Sex workers with huge debts to their government because they get multiple fines per night whilst they can’t pay them. Because of these debts they can’t stop working (Romanian street prostitutes). Sex workers who end up in jail because their work is illigal in their country (America), unable to live with their partner because they could be arrested for being their pimp (Italy) and so on. Sex workers fight for their rights everywhere in the world, but also against prejudices and an extremely strong anti-prostitution lobby that ‘frames’ sex work like sexual violence or trafficking and thus silences the individual sex worker. This works the same in every country. It’s very special to experience this and incredibly frustrating.
Mariska Majoor: Almost every country in the world has had a hard look at the Netherlands to learn from its prostitution policies. The Netherlands has done the best for a long time but is now slowly sliding. It’s still better here than in most other countries so long as the criminalization of customers (in any case) has not yet been introduced and there’s still no license obligation or a new anti-pimp law. The Netherlands could learn from the negative effects that these types of laws have in the countries where they’ve already been introduced.
For example; in almost all the countries whe’ve been to there were sex workers complaining about the lack of safe and good work opportunities. Everything is made impossible by the authorities. They would prefer to work with colleagues but this is not allowed. When they do it anyway they could all be prosicuted for pimping. How bizarre is that? How can they be eachother’s pimp when they share an apartment out of collegial and legitimate safety considerations? That is why they work in unsafe conditions (on the streets or alone in an apartment). The Netherlands can learn a lot from this and do it differently, but instead they follow the policy of influential European politicians who feel a lot more comfortable with “feminist” anti-prostitution laws.
Mariska Majoor: I found the circumstances of Roma sex workers in Hungary very troubling. They are dealing with a racist government and a society that couldn’t care less about them because they are Roma. Prostitution is legal, but the workplaces are not. Great system, right? As a non Roma and high class escort you have quite some opportunities, but as a Roma on the street you are screwed (figuratively speaking). You can’t count on the police when something happens to you. The only sex worker organization that Hungary has does not get a penny from the government, it is precisely in these types of countries that they are so desperately needed.
Mariska Majoor: Ask that one again in December! In any case there still needs a lot of work to be done. But in one country it is better than the other. Finland, for example, is pretty progressive!
Mariska Majoor: The book isn’t finished yet, but it will be released in December and will be made available through our formal sponsor: the PG292 (www.pg292.nl). But it will undoubtedly also be available at the Prostitution Information Center (PIC) in the Red Light District.
The sex worker exhibition Amsterdam can be seen until the 29th of July and is open on all days. It’s accessible, free of charge, through the coffee bar of the Old Church. You can follow their project via their Facebook page.