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A new outdoor art exhibition honours the deaths of 14 sex workers

A collaboration between artist duo Henry/Bragg and Hull-based collective Untold Story – Voices, these billboards and posters raise awareness about the conditions of sex work

Artist duo Henry/Bragg (Julie Henry and Debbie Bragg) has collaborated with a Hull-based collective of sex workers (known as Untold Story – Voices) for an outdoor exhibition titled Absence of Evidence. The exhibition features 14 images, published on four billboards and accompanying posters, which honour 14 sex workers who have died in the past four years due to “murder, suspected murder, overdose, substance-related health conditions, and the secondary effects of working under on-street conditions”. The press release for Absence of Evidence reads, “Many of these deaths, just like the attacks made against sex workers, are not investigated or categorised as they should be, and therefore the cost remains untold.”

Writing on the website for the exhibition, the artists say, “We wanted this to be a journey around the old spaces we shared, a mapped memorial to friends and other women we know who haven’t made it.”

The posters consist of photographs collaboratively created by Henry/Bragg and the women taken at the locations where violence has been enacted on sex workers, alongside text which details the women’s time as sex workers.

“We found that the act of taking photographs, with the physical barrier of a camera between the women and the subject, allowed them a level of detachment,” write the artists on the exhibition’s website. “They recalled and talked about the incidents and all their related emotions, continuing on their journey to alleviate their own scars of the past."

In 2014, Hull further marginalised sex workers in the city by becoming the only local authority in the UK to use a specific law to directly target sex workers. By enacting Section 222 of the Local Government Act (1972) sex workers were banned from the area in which they were working and threatened with legal action, including prison, which pushed them “further underground” and created “a dangerous working environment” which left “the women much more exposed to violence”.

Absence of Evidence has also expanded beyond the East Yorkshire town, into London’s Shoreditch and Soho with a poster campaign. The artists and collective hope the exhibition “will raise awareness, make connections, and prompt the right questions needed to begin the journey of building a safer environment for sex workers in Hull and therefore, everybody.”

The exhibitions run in Hull from 13 July – 28 July 2020, in Shoreditch, London from 20 July – 2 August 2020, and in Soho, London from 27 July – 9 August 2020