Tucson Erotica Art Show 2024 puts sex positivity on display

During a time of social transition, when many in the next generation are casting aside the conservatism of the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers who came before — as exemplified by Wally and June Cleaver, for whom sexuality was verboten, unvoiced, and meant to be kept behind locked bedroom doors — Tucson Erotica Art Show celebrates sex positivity by putting it on display.

TEAS Executive Director Myken Dahlen speaks about this year’s exhibit, its origins, y mucho mas in an interview with Tucson Sentinel.


Dahlen was raised in Cottonwood, Idaho — a town of approximately 850 people — that she describes as “a beautiful area with all the pros and cons of small town life and politics.” Her father was a pastor of a small non-denominational Christian church, informed by age-old dogma.

“In my family, conversations around sexuality were either demonized or completely avoided,” she recalled.

“I carried a lot of shame and guilt about my body and sexuality. But I was fortunate to have a very authentic curiosity that led me to explore and discover my own truth.”

Intermixed with her mother’s aesthetic disposition, unbeknown to her at the time, these factors helped to form a channel that would lead to her work destigmatizing human sexuality through art.

“My mother is an artist,” Dahlen said. “That really influenced me to appreciate the ways art can make the world a more livable and interesting place. As well as act as an outlet for self-reflection, conversation, and advocacy.”

Dahlen relocated to the sunshine of Tucson in 2018.

Out on a mission, she later sauntered into the Sculpture Resource Center (an erstwhile cooperative studio) in search of an art space for rent.

“Coincidentally, the Tucson Erotica Art Show was being exhibited that month,” she said.

Tucson Erotica was founded by artist Ruben Urrea Moreno in 2001 as “St. Valentine’s: An Erotic Night,” a themed Valentine’s Day event. From 2001-2013, Moreno organized four erotic art shows, held at various locations in and around downtown, laying the groundwork for what Tucson Erotica is today.

“I took over as executive director in 2021 through a venue change, gaining 501c3 status, and developing programming like the TEASR Short Film Festival, poetry and performance art focused events, as well as workshops that widen our reach and celebrate every form of erotic art,” Dahlen said.

For the majority of her time in Tucson, Dahlen has worked as an entertainer in a strip club, which provides her primary income.

“It’s been an amazing learning experience that affords me the time to help friends, community, and to produce Tucson Erotica every year.”

Passionate about producing live events, Dahlen has worked for the Rialto Theatre and other Arizona production companies.

“I also run Blondie’s, a small DIY venue, with my friends where we host local and touring bands/DJs a few weekends a month,” she said.

Tucson Erotica’s — a nonprofit organization — is on a mission to “create a safe, diverse, and inclusive environment for adults to celebrate sexuality through artistic expression. We aim to highlight and amplify commonly underrepresented perspectives and experiences including those of BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, disabled, and elderly, as well as share information that normalizes and affirms sex-related topics such as kink/fetish, sex work, consent culture, and body-positivity that will have lasting positive effects on individual and community well being, with resources for sexual health and trauma support.”

Other erotic art exhibits of note include: Detroit’s Dirty Show, Rochester Erotic Arts Festival (upstate New York), London’s Erotic Art Festival, and Seattle Erotic Arts Festival.

“We also have some great local organizations in Tucson that produce similar events,” Dahlen said. “LoveKillz Tucson, Splinter Collective, Transgressions Film, SWOP Tucson, Queer AF, Fluxx Productions, and Libertine League. Though they may not always be specifically art-oriented, they promote sex/body positivity in the same way.”

Yet, despite evolving social mores, openly celebrating human sexuality in the art world — like in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel in which a young woman is shamed publicly, forced to wear a letter A (for adultery) on her clothes as her punishment — still bears a scarlet letter.

“Because of the social stigma, sexually explicit artwork, or even art nudes in many cases, are not easily marketable. Most major galleries avoid it completely. I’ve met many artists that can’t break into the art scene purely because of their subject matter,” she remarked. “Many printing companies will refuse to print pieces they consider ‘pornographic.'”

“So, on every level of the art world there are limits on an erotic artist’s ability to share their work,” Dahlen said.

Closely connected with well-being, the intersection of sexuality and mental health has been a major theme in her life.

“So much so that it has become an aspect of my personality, how I orient myself in the community, my relationships, and being able to create platforms for others to have conversations and explore as well.”

“I am truly inspired by the community in Tucson,” Dahlen remarked. “I’m so proud that Tucson Erotica has gotten as popular as it is and brings all of these incredible people together.”

So, what can audiences expect to see at this year’s Tucson Erotica Art Show exhibit?

“Almost every expression of sexuality that you can think of. And, likely a few that you may have never thought of.” Dahlen detailed, “We have some great installation pieces this year… Erotic floral design by Mary McCorkle, a sugar daddy sculpture by Pat Foley, and custom BDSM furniture collaboration by Sweeney Build Co. and Ricky Vegas.”