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My Ancestors’ Dirty Thoughts: The Art of Sarah Creagen

May 14th, 2019     by Elisha Lim     Comments

Image: also kiss the chef, Sarah Creagen, 2019

I love Sarah because her effortless witty comebacks make me laugh until my face hurts, because she used to play violin in a crotch-pop band, screaming like a rock star about gender confusion, because she is an unstoppable visionary and a recent graduate from New York’s prestigious Hunter College Masters of Fine Arts program, and because no amount of parents’ skepticism or staggering student fees will stop her from following her dreams and creating the kind of artwork she wants to see in the world.

But most of all I love Sarah’s drawings because – no matter how well I know her – they don’t look like anything I’ve ever seen before. She draws large still-life scenes of characters, usually young mixed-raced women like herself, so lightly and nimbly that they emerge like a knotted carbon ball of wool: a leg here, a graceful hand there in an unmistakable human shape. Sarah’s hands barely skim the surface of the paper as she scatters energetic thoughts on the page. The result is as fleeting as an illicit glance into a toilet cubicle – just enough colours and lines to recognize moments of someone’s awkward, relatable privacy.

I recently had the opportunity to see Sarah’s new artworks, which have been emerging into the shapes of the sexual abundance connected to her paternal Japanese history. Her current work is a contemporary reimagining of shunga sex prints, erotic images that date back to 8th century woodblocks circulated in the uninhibited sexual atmosphere of premodern Japan, whose cultural expression was inspired by promiscuous Indigenous Japanese folklore about ejaculating gods and sacred stripteases.

But shunga was also exclusively made by men, and Sarah’s illustrations exploit the genre to explore identity, sexuality and the body. Sarah’s drawings are provocative journals of queer erotica, and the shunga tradition generates a fresh perspective on the natural perversion and salacious queerness of every body. Sarah’s queer shunga reveals the astonishing observations of an incisive introvert: on sex, masturbation, and menstruation with a complicated sense of humour that also includes emotional tones of the uncomfortable/awkward/brash/self-deprecating and brave.

Image: never were there such devoted sisters, Sarah Creagen, 2018

Sarah explains that her drawings and sculptures come out of personal experiences with Pap smears, speculums, and sexual encounters while wearing knee braces, filtered through her identity as a queer, cis-woman with mixed race Japanese heritage. Her drawings describe her and her younger sister’s fluctuating experiences of health, connected to irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, and chronic knee injuries.

Her piece, tp scroll, is a long spool of illustrated toilet paper unraveled across the gallery wall in a giant grin. Soft 2-ply segments are preciously embellished with sumi ink drawings of farting butts, dogs vigorously wagging their tails, bodies expelling musical notes, angry houses and cuckoo bird clocks. Each piece is painstakingly hand stitched together with light blue, white, and grey thread, turning the most vulgar waste product into an elaborate tapestry of beastly life, in what Sarah calls a sad pathetic sag.

Image: Bawdy Talk, Tribeca Hercules art gallery, 2019

In Kiss the Chef, a cartoonish chef who could have escaped the Muppet Show chef is splayed on the floor of what looks like a obstetrician’s office, digging lustfully into a massive slit in a scaled creature flopped heavily onto a surgical table. The animal’s fat graphic tongue has already been extracted onto the steel tray behind the chef, who waves a speculum like a mad gynecologist with blood stained mouth that suggests that her patient is also her sexual victim and her meal. A red light strapped to the Chef’s head labelled “A Fleshlight” spills out over the fish’s body in a weirdly comic nightmare.

Washroom Stall Chitchat is a four-paneled drawing of two characters side by side on neighbouring toilets. They both sit in full frontal in-your-face distortion of the body that looks like how I feel when I’m on the toilet, graphic, pungent. The character on the right is barely reading an upside-down copy of a book called “Sara Jones’ Shit List” with an image of a medieval chastity belt / fallopian tube crest across the back, and in her mouth sits a rose; silencing the character while also making a pun on “rosebud mouth,” the descriptor people used for Sarah when she was growing up. The character on the left wraps a disproportionately large, twisted leg around a toilet plunger while toilet paper spills abundantly down the right side of the page. Both figures languish against coquettish lacey pink toilet covers, wearing conspicuous chastity belts – united in a belligerent autonomy of diffident personal celibacy and solo BDSM.

She did it. Sarah’s disturbing and wonderful drawings and sculptures were on display in her solo show Bawdy Talk, an exhibit about visual puns and dirty jokes to discuss sexual health, sex, and consent. The show ran at the Tribeca Hercules art gallery, 25 Park Place, New York, from Friday May 3 to –10, 2019. You can see more of Sarah’s art on her website.

Tags: art, body politics

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