Tom of Finland Arts and Culture Festival Celebrates Erotic Expression

Tom of Finland Arts and Culture Festival Celebrates Erotic Expression

For the uninitiated, the subculture surrounding legendary erotic artist Tom of Finland could appear intimidating. There are lots of big bulges and muscle-bound leathermen, tough-looking bikers and overt depictions of gay sex, so candid and unapologetic between all the fisting, masculine bravado and cop outfits within his work.

If you take the opportunity to look a little closer and approach his drawings with an open mind, you’ll notice that they’re actually deeply persuasive and nuanced depictions of intimacy and pleasure. The works contain still-relevant commentary on societal censorship and the empowerment of queer identity, not to mention the politics and power dynamics attached to human sexuality as a whole.

So by the end, you’ll realize there’s nothing alienating or daunting about these images nor the community they represent. And the best display of this? Probably the annual Tom of Finland Arts and Culture Festival, which took place this past weekend.

A transatlantic affair simultaneously hosted in Second Home’s London and Los Angeles outposts, Tom of Finland Foundation Co-Founder Durk Dehner said this year’s event was focused on “bringing together artists and the public to exchange and develop interest in artists’ work, and for the artists to get to know each other.”

In this vein, the two-day celebration proved that the LA-based organization continues to successfully achieve its main mission of carrying on the late artist’s legacy and creating a space that protects, preserves and promotes the work of other queer artists. Because as Los Angeles festival host and RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 12 star Gigi Goode explained, this all continues to be essential, as “so much of what we take in on a daily basis is rooted in some form of erotica.”

Goode added, “It’s important to keep protecting the queer side of the erotic arts and culture. That’s why the foundation is so amazing. They certainly know how to fill a room with some really great people.”

A statement issued by the nonprofit explained that the festival was also about working towards destigmatization, and making these concepts and ideas more accessible, all with the intention of “educating the public as to the cultural merits of erotic art,” as well as “promoting healthier, more tolerant attitudes about sexuality.” To achieve this, they created an intimate and welcoming space where visitors could engage one-on-one with the erotic arts, whether it involved getting an XXX-rated tattoo or sitting in on discussion panels with high-profile members of community, such as fashion designer Jonathan Anderson.

"Having artwork in your own private space brings us great joy. And what better surroundings to find work that speaks to you?,” Dehner previously said in a press release that emphasized the creation of an intentional space for erotic expression. “Our Festival is uninhibited and comfortable — like our very natures.”

As such, many visitors were content with just perusing the gallery, which was filled with a diverse selection of photos, paintings, collages, prints, sculptures and art objects by an assortment of prominent queer artists, Tom of Finland Foundation’s artists in residence and the winners of the nonprofit’s competitions for emerging visionaries. Newcomers were also able to satiate their curiosity, with some even taking the time to walk around and chat with performers, artists and vendors.

In the process, attendees had the option of showing their support for this community of creatives, which is crucial as Dehner stated in the release, adding that “collecting art is the ultimate 'thank you' to artists and the most genuine way of expressing yourself to friends." So there really is no reason to not get a pair of dick earrings or a piss fetish portrait or several embroidered needlepoints of ball gags and jockstrap underwear.

Dehner also emphasized the foundation and festival’s commitment to pushing boundaries and figuring out new ways of getting the message out there every subsequent year, adding that “the most challenging [part of the festival] is taking on new horizons and destinations,” such as taking the event across the pond once again and introducing new experiences, like a VR tour of the Tom of Finland House and a series of specially created murals.

But even though the festival is always a lot of hard work, Dehner alluded to the importance of putting on this celebration in order to highlight and reflect upon the erotic arts’ tremendous impact on culture. This is something that’s always well worth the effort, especially when it’s able to reach a brand new audience.

“Queer culture is such a gift to humanity,” as he concluded. “So come on and appreciate and enjoy it. It’s filled with freedom.”

Welcome to "Sex with Sandra," a column by Sandra Song about the ever-changing face of sexuality. Whether it be spotlight features on sex work activists, deep dives into hyper-niche fetishes, or overviews on current legislation and policy, "Sex with Sandra" is dedicated to examining some of the biggest sex-related discussions happening on the internet right now.

Photos courtesy of Tom of Finland Foundation