This February Maryland Art Place (MAP) will be presenting Merkin Dream, a group exhibition and invitational ushering individuals to consider the merkin, its uses, its need, and in some cases, the inevitable comedy of the merkin as an object. Merkin Dream opens Thursday, February 20 with a reception beginning at 6 pm (free) and closes Saturday, March 28 with a ticketed Fashion Show, doors at 7pm. A portion of proceeds from merkin sales will benefit Planned Parenthood and FORCE.
Merkin Wall Artists:
Rahne Alexander, Laura Amussen, Jackie Andrews, Carly Bales, Delaney Cate, Karen Coston, Theresa Columbus, Melissa Cormier, Joan Cox, Bonnie Crawford, Jacob Whayne Dillow, Laure Drogoul, Caitlin Gill, Ali Mirsky, Mary Opasik, Marla Parker, Fanni Somogyi, Erin Stellmon, Dan Van Allen, Vivienne Varay, Bunny Vicious, and Melissa Webb
Bella La Blanc will host a table featuring 3-D printed pasties at the opening reception on Thursday, February 20.
Brief History: A merkin is a wig for the pubic area originally used by women working in sex work. According to various sources the merkin first appeared around 1450 primarily to prevent the spread of human lice amongst sex workers. The wigs were derived from goat and horsehides, and at times human hair, serving as a vehicle for hygiene. Women shaved their genitalia to combat lice, but still needed to appear clean and well-groomed to solicit continued patronage. At the time a majority of sex workers were selling themselves to survive and the merkin ensured good business. The utility of merkin was also employed by male actors to cover their genitals when they were cast in a female role. In the mid-1700s, merkins became fashionable and were often threaded with pearls and ribbons, dyed different colors and adorned, used for decoration and to denote status. Today, Hollywood is the leading, contemporary market for the merkin outside of the fetish industry, and is utilized to bypass unwanted viewing ratings for nudity and/or to placate a shy actress unwilling to bare it all on camera.
Armpit shaving emerged in the early 1900s. Unlike pubic hair removal to alleviate lice, armpit shaving was merely a fashion trend instigated and perpetuated by commercialism (Gillette). Leg shaving came later as hemlines started to creep up. In 1960 and 1980 having pubic hair was the mainstay. In more recent history, the porn industry has enforced grooming standards, introducing trends such as the landing strip, the triangle, and fully shaven, pressuring women to groom themselves according to each new fantasy. Over the last 20 years, complete hair removal was normalized and often preferred. According to a 2018 Healthline article, 73 percent of guys and 55.6 percent of gals favor hair removal. More recently we’ve seen an “All Natural” renaissance, supporting the growth of all body hair. These ever-changing standards regarding body hair demonstrate a need to conform; implying that our desire to be desired is driven by sex, allure, chastity, shame, acceptance and more. Shaving or no shaving, merkin or no merkin, what we do with our body hair is more than a preference – it’s a statement.
Overall Merkin Dream aims to explore intimacy as an umbrella for both serious and light-hearted uses. Topics of consideration include:
Sex work is Work: consumption & the commodification of women (elective sex work versus forced)
Body Image: disembodiment, body positivity, shame & identity
Digital Euphoria: technology’s role & our immediate gratification culture (what is real?)
Performance: fun, absurdity, merkin as an object, materials useLearn More