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Lina Scheynius, “Untitled” (2015)
Lina Scheynius, “Untitled” (2015)Fotografiska New York

Too hot to handle: the sexiest art and photography projects of 2022

Sex dolls, self-pleasure and sensuality: flick through some of the steamiest galleries of the year

Photography is an inherently voyeuristic medium. The human body is objectified – sometimes controversially – through the photographer’s lens. And, if the photograph is good, it strips back layers of the subject’s personality as well, inviting the viewer to take a deeper, more intimate look. Even the act of taking a photograph can be erotically charged. “To photograph is to hold one’s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality,” said Henri Cartier-Bresson. “It’s at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.” I don’t need to spell it out much clearer than that, do I?

Some art and photography takes a more direct approach to sex and lust, though, and 2022 has had it in spades. Here, we’ve gathered some of the projects that best captured the pleasures and perversities of sex in 2022 – from the taboo and the trashy, to the intimate and empowering. There’s a wide-ranging exhibition by 30 female artists, freeing the nude from the male gaze; there’s Harley Weir’s uncanny portraits of sex dolls; there’s an X-rated ode to self-pleasure. Find all of that and more below.


Opening at Fotografiska New York at the start of the year, NUDE spotlighted 30 female-identifying artists across 20 nationalities – including Dazed 100 alum Arvida Byström, Dana Scruggs, and Momo Okabe – each casting their own artistic eye on the naked body. The range of perspectives shone through in eclectic images of bodies across the gender spectrum, representing the “new nude”. There was only one rule: behind the camera, no boys allowed!


For her Beauty Papers photobook, Harley Weir appeared on the other side of the lens for the first time, enlisting the help of assistants, make-up artists, and pretty much anyone who could pick up a camera to shoot an array of sexually-charged self-portraits inspired by porn, rubber sex dolls, and the artificiality of modern-day beauty. “I didn’t have to feel guilty,” she told Dazed earlier this year. “If you’re a photographer, you’re always asking something of someone, which can feel dirty.” Putting herself at the centre of the work, she added: “I could be more free.”


Photographer Tom Selmon created Sensored amid increasing internet censorship, and the second edition of the magazine clearly demonstrates the importance of pushing back against puritanical Big Tech platforms. “It has no boundaries or limitations with the bodies we show and how explicitly we show them,” Selmon told Dazed on the issue’s release. “It features contributors from around the world, all giving their own unique, uncensored, and personal interpretation of sex and nudity, acting as a time capsule of artistic expression within erotica today.”


F*CK ART: the body & its absence pretty much did what it says on the tin. Coming a decade after the Museum of Sex’s inaugural F*CK ART show, the exhibition showcased 18 artists working across a variety of mediums, exploring contemporary attitudes toward sex and sexuality. “We wanted to create a space for artists to present new and evocative artwork that pushes the boundaries of how we represent and discuss sex, in all its complexity,” explained co-curator Eve Arballo.


In case the euphemistic title didn’t already tip you off, The London Vagabond’s 2022 book Cream an Oyster, Charm a Snake is all about masturbation. Namely, it asks the question: why is self-pleasure still considered a taboo topic in an overly-sexualised society, and how can we help normalise it? Drawing on the first couple of years of the 2020s (undeniably a big moment for wanking), the photos capture blurry O-faces and scattered sex toys. “Our mission was to explore masturbation in as much depth as our contributors were comfortable with,” Gold, one half of The London Vagabond told Dazed. “We wanted to understand what was on people’s mind when they touched themselves, we were interested in their relationship with self-pleasure and how that had evolved over years or during the pandemic.”


“Girls are cute and disgusting; hard and soft,” read the tagline for Elsa Rouy and Lucia Farrow’s August exhibition salt and mud. “Girlhood, at its very core, is rooted in juxtaposition.” Shot by Harley Weir, and featuring Rouy and Farrow in a tangle of scaly latex garments and bodily fluids, the photographs walk a tightrope between eroticism and squalor, riffing on Julia Kristeva’s theory of abjection outlined in Powers of Horror, and Anne Carson’s poem The Beauty of the Husband, which lends the show its name.


Joyce Lee’s exquisite painting of a nun with her lips parted to receive a communion wafer, exposing a glittering tongue piercing, her eyes turned up toward an out-of-frame figure, is a perfect example of the artist’s playful exploration of sexual taboos. In her self-titled debut publication for Baron Books, Lee adds ripe fruit, oysters, and cherry chapsticks to the list of surreal, suggestive symbolism. “My drawing style is closer to surrealism than realism,” she told Dazed last month. “I prefer to explore metaphors and symbolism, rather than portraying sex realistically.”


Myriam Boulos’ images of Lebanese women are a far cry from mainstream portrayals of Arab bodies, which are so often depicted against a backdrop of war and crisis. The women in Sexual Fantasies, on the other hand, are captured in a state of passion and unabashed openness. That isn’t to say that they aren’t imbued with their own, deeper message, though. “Sexual fantasies are always linked to patriarchy, to everything that we fight against.” says Boulos. “The fantasies of Lebanese women are a response not just to politics or the economy, but to the entire social situation in Lebanon.”


Can photography truly document love? That question is at the heart of Love Songs: Photography and Intimacy, the Simon Baker-curated exhibition held at Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris this summer. Featuring some of the most significant photographers of the 20th and 21st centuries, the show took a multifaceted approach to the subject, exploring the erotic, familial, playful and taboo. As Baker says: “These artists are inviting us into their intimate and private lives and making a very generous offer to the viewer.”


The influence of the late Japanese femdom artist Namio Harukawa looms large in Rémi Lamandé portraits of curve model Lovisa Lager. In one photo, a blindfolded man in Shibari ropes dangles from the ceiling as Lager laughs into the camera; in another, a submissive is submerged in a bathtub with his face buried in her buttocks. “The bathtub picture wasn’t supposed to be like that, but we felt it would be better if Seth’s face was inside Lovisa’s butt and he happily jumped in,” Lamandé told Dazed back in April. “What I love about this project is that it’s friends making images together and trust is so important in this environment.” 

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