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Prostitutes in Europe

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Between February 2007 and June 2008, the French artist Mathilde Bouvard embarked on a 'socio-artistic project with a European dimension', supported by the European community. Images from Stockholm to Bern via Budapest and London

'The Tea' (Image: ©Mathilde Bouvard)

Mathilde Bouvard is a French artist who has been based in Berlin since July 2006, where she has opened 'Le Petit Laboratoire' (bar-gallery-atelier). As a painter and photographer, she has worked on body painting shows and live painting performances. As a scenographer, she has worked for the Avignon theatre festival since 2004, been a set decorater for movies, televised productions and events.

Gaby, Paris (Image: ©Mathilde Bouvard)

Bouvard has spent the last few months exhibiting her 'Prostitutes in Europe' series around Europe. 'I often hear that we sell our bodies,' says one of her interviewees, Gaby, in a rough translation of her words on this painting. 'Nonsense! I haven't even ever sold a corn on my foot. Us lot, we sell dreams.'

Sonia, Brussels (©Mathilde Bouvard)

'One day, I realised that I did not want to make art for a purely aesthetic function, but to do it in a more social and human way,' explains Bouvard. 'The theme of 'prostitution' combines three interesting topics: marginality, women and the idea of sex in our society.'

Swen (©Mathilde Bouvard)

'As part of a European city tour, I got in touch with sex workers willingly in this field, taking pictures and recording their testimonies,' says Bouvard. The cities in which she captured the images included Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Prague, Stockholm, Budapest, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Geneva, London, Bern and Marseille.

Maika, Bern (©Mathilde Bouvard)

The exhibitions include information campaigns about prostitution. Confusion persists too often between sexual slavery or 'white slavery' and the individuals who choose voluntary prostitution, and fight to gain recognition for their right, as Grisélidis Réal said'

Screenshot: Grisélidis Réal, interviewed in 2002 by Pascale Rebetez on the Swiss programme 'Les grands entretiens' ('The Big Interviews')

In March 2009 the remains of Grisélidis Réal, the former prostitute who worked for her colleagues rights was moved in a Swiss cemetery. Born in Lausanne, Réal worked in Germany in the sixties and died in 2005 aged 76, leaving four children behind

Leda (©Mathilde Bouvard)

'A part of any profits made with the exhibitions are given to associations, in order to allow them to continue their work under the best available conditions,' Bouvard continues. 'These associations play an important part in social inclusion, working for people confronted with difficult life conditions, as well as in health prevention (Aids) and free medical assistance'

Andreia, Paris (©Mathilde Bouvard)

'Associations like 'Espace P' in Brussels is also working on promoting a better understanding between local neighbourhood and sexworkers, by trying to establish greater tolerance through open dialogue'

Pye, Stockholm (©Mathilde Bouvard)
Pye, Stockholm. II (©Mathilde Bouvard)
Pascale, Paris (©Mathilde Bouvard)

'The wider public should be more aware of the social and human aspect of this activity and its complex situation in Europe.'

Karolina, Berlin (©Mathilde Bouvard)

'Testimonies and photos aside, sometimes there were just simple moments of sharing...'

Karolina, Berlin. II (©Mathilde Bouvard)

'...which we shall find on no wall.'