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Pleasure and pain

Detail from Prometheus by William Etty

Throughout history LGBT artists and designers have explored the relationship between pleasure and pain in their work. This includes art and fashion that explicitly references the visual culture of sadomasochistic sexual practices. These practices focus on the tension between dominance and submission, the active and the passive, and between pleasure and pain.

Gay male artists have commonly produced works that express a religious view of pain, as a spiritual or transcendental experience. In such representations, beautiful naked bodies are often contorted with pain, tied up, or penetrated by a sharp object, whilst their faces express a spiritual delight or ecstasy. Scholars have reflected on the interest of homosexual artists in the Christian martyr Saint Sebastian, for example and the heightened eroticism of portrayals of the moment an arrow pierces the Saint’s naked flesh. 

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LGBT collections

Explore our LGBT collections researched by our Pride and Prejudice research project