Sex and freedom in the art of Samantha Pearl Lewin

2 Op Collective has their eye on Samantha Pearl Lewin! Here is an example of her work:

Since Tracey Emin displayed the Everyone I have ever slept with tent in the year 1995, attention has been drawn to the difference of gender in themes of encouragement, acceptance and naturalization of sex as a plural experience to be enjoyed freely. Many western countries are still places were women think of their own sexuality as something meant to be countable, under control, and shaped by the main idea of monogamy. It is hard to describe how this affects conduct, self acceptance, self esteem, feelings of blame and insecurities in some women- sexually active or not.

Emin has been perhaps the strongest figure braking misconceptions and aiding in public acknowledgment of a women’s relationship to sex and freedom. Through the exhibition of facts about her personal life, she declared and revealed a dual truth: that the act of sex is similarly desired and experienced by both genders (we have more in common than culture is willing to acknowledge) and that the general mental set sometimes has a hard time accepting this. But above all, unapologetically naming her sexual escapades was an inspiring act of self-acceptance and liberation.

I always wondered what the next step would be. If there would be a show or a work found in a book that would have a similarly candid and reassuring effect on me.

Seventeen years after Emin’s tent was shown, multimedia artist Samantha Pearl Lewin crowded a Gallery in San Francisco with a body of works that included several images of herself in the act of masturbating. Paintings, photographs and drawings were united around the idea of pleasure, particulary self-provided pleasure. The technical care in her work sometimes turned into tenderness while providing a very detailed and explicit scene. In one work on lace in particular, she appears holding a cellphone in one hand, while the other one is on her clitoris. In another work a woman appears dancing surrounded by chains. The method of using her own persona over and over again defines her worry, her obsession and her aim to make a statement.

This writing is meant to stress that her work cannot be reduced to the category of erotic art. Lewin deals with a current affair: the call for an understanding and agreement that masturbation is not an extraordinary thing. It is not even a task for judgmental minds to have a reserved way of looking at because it is not that big a deal anyway, but it is very beautiful and honorable in its own way.

I cannot help but think that Lewin is taking a step forward in bringing society to understand the humanity underlying sexual desire, while stressing the fact that only its absence can be faced as a problem or something experienced as regret. The images imply that she does it, understands it, likes it, and handles it enough to go public about it. After viewing her work, the only thing you can no longer do is feel uncomfortable about any of it.

Masturbation is a part of life, of all lives that are not strained by a strong religious code of behavior, a personal choice or imposition, or a lack of ability/ capacity to do it. It can be a way of self knowledge, or the opposite: a way of forgetting ourselves. But the one thing it is, is one of the most truly personal ways of deciding what to do with our time. The variation of frequency throughout life never alters its aim: pleasure and relaxation.

Surprisingly, imagery like the ones found in Lewin’s work is not frequently on public view. When you don’t buy adult entertainment magazines, you hardly ever or never come across the photograph of a woman masturbating.

Daniel Goleman stated in a psychological study in 2008 that worry in his patients always appears in the shape of thoughts, not images. This means that when his patients have a hard time sleeping or suffer from severe stress, it is always words that crowd their restless moods, never imagery.

The works of Lewin lead me to believe- in a very new and fragile way- that the aimless beauty of a genuine visual expression may have the power to invert negative for positive in what has been years, decades and centuries of mixed emotions.

By Matilde Llambi Campbell



Learn more about Lewin at

One Response to “Sex and freedom in the art of Samantha Pearl Lewin”
Check out what others are saying...

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: