Our Image Is Our Own

De Geuzen made this work in 1999 within the context of “Midnight Walkers and City Sleepers “, an exhibition in the Redlight district of Amsterdam. Most of the time the area is defined by the sex industry, which is of course the most visible. While we didn’t want to reiterate certain clichés, we also didn’t want to evade the omnipresence of that industry either.

For this reason, we decided to work with a group embedded in the area and initiated a collaboration with The Red Thread (De Rode Draad), the prostitutes’ union occupying a significant position both physically and socially in the district. As three women, we were especially intrigued by their operation as a prostitutes’ rights organization and the way they dealt with female representation.

After our first discussion, a very practical need emerged. On the windows of the rooms in which the prostitutes stand, there is usually a sticker reading “No Pictures”. The Red Thread, who is the distributor of the stickers, had run out of supply. Aside from this practical need, we discussed the possibility of a kind of message of solidarity amongst women from The Red Thread and De Geuzen.

Our solution was to make a sticker with the no pictures icon and on the back, we silk-screened in fluorescent pink the text: OUR IMAGE IS OUR OWN.

In order to use the sticker, the slogan must be split and peeled off. Something which is normally the focus in politically oriented work, in this case, is a moment in use, a way of incorporating a degree of fragility into a political situation.

The sticker and its story started to circulate in different contexts.

Interestingly, the circulation was not one way; we became tourists in the Red Thread’s world. They were interested in us as artists and as three women working together so they interviewed us in their trade magazine, Blacklight. And they were tourists in ours when the project was printed in the catalog and in ARCHIS, a periodical on architecture and urbanism. Next to these publications, the sticker was distributed at the prostitute information center (as it was known at the time).

In each context, the meaning shifted. For sex workers in the area, the sticker was a moment of solidarity (it was an expression of their right to the ownership of their image, something they have in common with every woman), for the brothel proprietors a practical need was fulfilled (customers were not scared off by being photographed) and for the exhibition goers and the readers of ARCHIS, issues of representation were raised.

Although only a small gesture, the action made us realize the potency of multiple-viewing contexts and circulation. In such circumstances, there are positively contaminating forces that can come into play that lends new meaning to the work.