Electronic Theses and Dissertations



Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Art History

Committee Chair

William McKeown

Committee Member

Rebecca Howard

Committee Member

Earnestine Jenkins


The figure of the sex worker has been a recurring theme throughout modernist and contemporary art, signifying a variety of meanings that have been continually redefined by cultural conditions. This thesis analyzes how sex workers’ identities have been constructed through the visual arts, beginning at the advent of the modernist movement in the nineteenth century and concluding with twenty-first century contemporary art. The ways that the lived experiences of sex workers have manifested themselves in visual art grounds the discussion alongside analysis of the historical context for each artwork. While art prior to the advent of the women’s art movement tended to represent sex workers through the lenses of sexual objectification and the male gaze, art of the late twentieth century and of the contemporary era tends to subvert those misogynistic discourses, particularly through the genre of performance art. Sex workers themselves began creating art that expressed their lived experiences, and art has become an important tool for pro sex work activism, platformed by community projects that empower sex workers. Art remains an important tool for expressing sex worker’s experiences as a means to enact progressive social change.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to ProQuest.


Open Access