Biting the Apple
7 p.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday
Individual Artists of Oklahoma Gallery
706 W. Sheridan
$15 per night, $25 two-night ticket
After 19 years of providing an approachable environment for erotic art, "Biting the Apple" brings the exuberance and sensuality of the circus to its annual exhibit. This year's theme, "Cirque Fantastique," is an invitation to tightrope between three rings of elegant fantasy and a seedy freak show.
The two-night event at the Individual Artists of Oklahoma Gallery starts Friday with an opening party, followed by Saturday's edgier Fetish Ball. Both events include food from local restaurants and a cash bar serving big-top-themed concoctions. This is the first "Apple" at IAO's new gallery along historic Film Row, and the larger space houses more than 50 pieces of juried erotic art.
"Sexuality is something we, as a culture, find embarrassing to discuss," said Jeff Stokes, executive director of IAO. "'Biting the Apple' gives us the space to create that dialogue in a fun, creative, irreverent way."
After this weekend's opening, the artwork will be on display through April 10. Sideshow entertainment at the ball includes models adorned in circus animal-inspired body paint, tantalizing peep shows and dance acts by Aalim BellyDance Academy, Pseudodance Theatre and Tease Dance. Red Dirt Improv and ceramic corset creator Nicole Moan will also host performances, and spectators are encouraged to wear their own provocative, circus-inspired flair.
"It is a chance to go a little wild and dress and act like you might not have the courage to do normally, especially at Saturday night's Fetish Ball," said Elise Alley, a longtime participant. "It's not your typical art show, so it draws a large and somewhat different crowd."
Alley was involved in the 2010 design committee planning and helped create an atmosphere where artists and attendees can express their fantasies, while appreciating creativity.
"This is an unusual event that allows you to be free on a level that is normally criticized and not accepted," IAO volunteer Carla Cole said. "The attendees' age range is widespread, and they are from all walks of life and lifestyle."
Cole, who annually travels from Tulsa to help with "Apple," said she and others are welcomed by the creative liberty of the event and its showcase of self-expression.
"'Cirque Fantastique' is definitely not the type of circus you'd take the kids to, but you may see some of the same elements," Alley said.
While all the art has expressions of eroticism at its core, many artists showcased the circus of trapeze artists, tattooed ladies and cavorting clowns into their work, while some focused on other aspects of sexuality. Even during the elaborate spectacles, visual art is at the passionate heart of "Apple," and the money it raises is a major source of funding for IAO's other exhibits.
Two mixed-media paintings by Tunde Darvay are vibrant with disguises and colors straight from a Venice carnival, with a masked, voluptuous woman lounging on a bicycle in "Bike Ride on a Sunday Afternoon." Dining felines sporting carnival masks enjoy an erotic show performed by humans in her "Circus for Cats," flipping the traditional circus roles.
James Walden's three photographs, "Venus de Jamo," "Wet Dream" and "Unmasked," explore how erotic fanta-sies become a part of popular culture. The first two are inspired by classic nudes and pop culture's fantasy of ideal-ized beauty, while "Unmasked" peeks into the fantasy of celebrity, imagining a topless pop star caught dancing at a carnival by the paparazzi.
"What matters is that exploring the erotic art form will make more people think about art, and that can only be a good thing, whether they are in Okla-homa or anywhere else," Walden said.
Jenna Kriegel's sculpture piece, "The Nurse Called Me a Slut," is a series of 40 toes cast from colored sugar, each seared with a number.
"The story to inspire this piece comes from a dear friend of mine who spent a while on the street," Kriegel said. "She became hooked on several substances and did what she had to to earn them. Recently, during an annual checkup, she was asked by a nurse about her sexual history. She told me: 'Jenna, I had to count on my toes! Twice!' Consequently, the medical staff was extremely rude, and certain nurses refused to treat her."
Kriegel channeled the behavior of the medical staff and what she saw as their unnecessary emphasis on numbers into art, choosing sugar as her medium to make the piece just as ridiculous as their attitudes. She is actively involved in teaching sexual health, focusing on assault prevention and recovery, and uses erotic art to express her ideas and share knowledge.
"I know for a fact that there are many people in Oklahoma who are not fond of erotic art," she said. "But this is why it's so important. Sex is not going to just disappear. All of human culture is innately intertwined in sex." "?Allison Meier
photo "Wet Dream" by James Walden