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Kris Kerzman, Published February 09 2014

Making a Scene: Red Raven turns up heat with erotic art show

FARGO – Artist Sarah Boehm works with a variety of visual media, likes to do abstract work, and plays music, but there’s one only artistic pursuit she’s been called out for.

“I’ve been drawing naked women since I was about 5. The female form has always inspired me,” she says, adding she’s gotten a lot of flak for it. But, she defends her aesthetic choice by putting the onus on the observer.

“I think sexuality is a part of human nature, and it’s sad that it’s suppressed and seen as a dirty thing,” she says, “I think it’s about me being human and not about what other people think is beautiful. (Sexuality) isn’t something to be afraid of.”

It’s this attitude that led Boehm to contribute a painting to the Erotic Art and Variety Show this Saturday at the Red Raven Espresso Parlor. The evening will feature about a dozen displayed artworks, music and an open mic for poetry, all in celebration of the power of love, lust and beauty.

The show continues a series of erotic art shows hosted in Fargo, at one venue or another, for the past several years, all near Valentine’s Day (naturally).

Red Raven worker-owner Brian Washburn is coordinating the Erotic Art Show, working with artists on their submissions and arranging performers for the evening. The coffee shop has played host to the show in the past, and he said he likes bringing an event together that challenges assumptions about the role of eroticism in society.

“(Past erotic art shows) have been an overwhelming celebration of what, I feel, is a natural thing. In America, nudity is overly sexualized,” Washburn says. “Eroticism isn’t necessarily sex. It’s another puzzle piece to the notion of beauty on this planet.”

“I feel like the more opportunities for it to be normalized – nudity or the theme of eroticism in general – the more we can get away from acting like little elementary school kids whenever we see a breast or something,” he adds.

It isn’t even necessarily about nudity. Washburn points out one submitted painting that might need to rely on its context in an erotic art show to even be considered erotic: a young woman peers through sharp black lines that could call to mind window blinds (and thus, voyeurism) or a cage (and something far more sinister). The woman isn’t wearing clothes, but little of her body is showing. Instead, her gaze grabs the viewer’s attention with a mysterious mix of vulnerability and empowerment, the proportions of which are just as enigmatic. The painting could be a perfect conversation starter on a discussion of gender and sexuality.

“I can only try to imagine what the idea was behind it,” Washburn says, “is she kept inside, not to be seen? Is she trapped, or is she in there because she wants to be?”

Although the subject matter might not be highly accessible, he says that audiences can benefit from coming to the show with an open mind.

“Everyone has their own idea of what is offensive, and that’s valid. But I think, as a whole, it’s important to concentrate on what that idea is,” he said.

All of the displayed artworks in the show will be for sale – except for Boehm’s. Her painting, she said, is already sold to a friend. Well, bartered. A friend will be receiving the painting in exchange for 10 meals cooked for Boehm, which maybe serves to prove a point about an erotic art show: the power of love and beauty, through all of their outward appearances, is in their power to sustain us.

If you go

What: Erotic Art and Variety Show

When: 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday

Where: Red Raven Espresso Parlor, 916 Main Ave., Fargo

Info: $5 suggested donation at the door

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo, and its online publication, ARTSpulse. For more information, visit http://theartspartnership.net/artspulse.