This is a silent scream to all the people previous in our lives who’ve passed judgement on us because of the dark places we’ve been through drugs, prostitution and abuse.
~ Amanda, Susie, Maggie and Lynda, part of the collective An Untold Story – Voices
Absence of Evidence is a collaborative work between art duo Henry/Bragg and a group of former street sex workers in Hull honouring 14 of their fellow workers who have died. The artists are known for their work shining a spotlight on overlooked members of society, using photography and social intervention. From the outset of this collaboration, the women were very clear about what they wanted to achieve.
“We wanted this to be a journey around the old spaces we shared, a mapped memorial to friends and other women we know who haven’t made it.”
The images in this body of work, at first glance, seem innocuous; ordinary places that could belong anywhere. But these places hide a thousand untold stories. These are locations where the women worked and where serious violent crime against street sex workers took place.
From 2014, in an attempt to clean up the streets in the run up to becoming UK City of Culture in 2017, Hull Council started targeting street sex workers. The threat of punitive measures has driven the trade further underground, creating more dangerous working conditions and increasing violent attacks against the women.
Over a period of four years, 14 women known to the group who had worked the streets died from murder, suspected murder, overdose and the health complications of street working and substance related conditions. The current situation of the Covid-19 crisis is only serving to exacerbate hardship for sex workers, with the impact felt disproportionately by the most vulnerable.
The work consists of 14 photographs, taken by both the artists and the women, one for each of the women who died. They are accompanied with fragments of conversation recalling their time working on the streets. The work is to be exhibited on large billboards in both Hull and London, and in an outdoor exhibition in Soho, traditionally the red light district of the capital. By placing the work in a street setting it is hoped it will reach a diverse audience and provoke discussions around the decriminalisation of sex work.
As well as online, Absence of Evidence can be seen in the following locations:
13 July – 26 July 2020
Hull: billboards on the corner of Anlaby Road and Argyle Road and a silent walking exhibition with 14 women on 14 July 2020 starting at 2pm in Hull city centre
20 July – 2 Aug 2020
London: under the bridge at the corner of Old Street and Shoreditch High Street and the northern end of Commercial Street
27 July – 9 Aug 2020
London: outdoor exhibition around Soho
This is part of ROOT MAPPING, a section of The Learned Pig devoted to exploring which maps might help us live with a clear sense of where we are. ROOT MAPPING is conceived and edited by Melanie Viets.