Saturday, Nov 01, 2014

From the discomfort zone: Sex, art and torture

Written by Shombit Sengupta | Posted: June 29, 2014 12:53 am | Updated: June 29, 2014 12:54 am

Franz, the Dutch concierge at an Amsterdam hotel says he always loves to be outside the main door because Holland is a place to see all the world’s beautiful women. He pontificated that the Netherlands is the only country where, within walking distance, one can mingle with sex, art and torture paraphernalia. This was a totally new angle for me.

I’ve frequented Holland umpteen times since the end of my teenage years to muse on Van Gogh or Rembrandt’s hypnotic paintings and, of course, for work. But Franz’s ideology of enjoying sex-art-torture within walking distance never entered my sphere of reference. Perhaps he’s right. Nowhere in the world would you find near-nude young women gyrate, pout, flirt, pose to expose their sexual prowess so openly for customers and gaping tourists. Walk a bit, you’ll find gay rainbow flags streaming across the streets. Take a few more steps, then Rijksmuseum has the most treasured The Night Watch, painted by Rembrandt van Rijn in 1642 at the height of the Dutch Golden Age. Just behind it is Vincent van Gogh’s somber hued 1885 painting The Potato Eaters and dazzling Sunflowers painted in 1888. Stroll ahead and the ghastly Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments displays how extremely cruel people can be.

Amidst wonderful old Dutch architecture with beautiful canals is Amsterdam’s world-famous ‘De Wallen’ red-light district.

Rows of red cubicle-like retail shop windows have scantily-clad legal sex workers selling their curvaceous body as wares. In the network of alleys, sex workers rent the hundreds of tiny one-room cabins to practice their trade. Among the famous adult entertainment is a bar and club named after the banana fruit. Here drinks are free, but you pay if the girls perform parlour tricks, pole dances, table dances or lap dances.

To distinguish the red-light district from normal living houses, a pink neon light is always there outside the window. This light sign makes it clear to relevant customers not to disturb others in the neighborhood. Why Franz said the world’s most beautiful women are in his city is because 33 per cent of the sex workers come from countries outside the European Union. They come because the government considers their profession to be legal. According to the European Conference on Trafficking in Women, the number of trafficked women from Central and Eastern European countries in the Netherlands has tripled since 1990.

Amsterdam is also the place for homosexuals worldwide. A profusion of rainbow flags make evident the city’s four distinctive gay districts. Amsterdam’s gay pride celebration has street parties, club events and exhibitions where over 3,50,000 participants and visitors come every year.

These thousands of people line the Prinsengracht and Amstel River on the first Saturday of August to watch the world’s only gay pride parade on water. Most people would never get to see hundreds of extravagantly costumed homosexuals like this. In bright, eccentric, revealing clothes and accessories using feathers, furs, flashy dust and bling, they make a beautiful procession in colourfully decorated canal boats. Even gay politicians, policemen and others continued…

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