About Atsuko Barouh
Asuko Ushioda-Barouh lives and works in London, UK. She was born in Tokyo, Japan and is always connecting between Paris, Tokyo and London.
History & Experience: 2015 ~ present
Moved to London and set up an new platform to promote unique art and music from Japan and other non-Western cultures in Europe. At the same time she continues to dedicate her time to drawing and painting.
“Pole Dancer” – Strength in Revealing Weakness
Since autumn 2019, I have been going to a pole dancing show held on Monday evenings at an old strip club in Shoreditch. At first, I did not know how to react to seeing erotic poses being played out in front of me. As a woman, I have never seen such acts by other women, meant only for men they like in intimate moments. ‘Why are these pretty and healthy young athletes opening their legs wide, even showing their arseholes? What kind of traumatic experiences did they go through? What kind of unhappy childhood did they have?’ I wondered, making up stories about them, looking for evidence of self-harm on their beautiful arms. However, after having being to the club a few times, I realised that they had an expression of pride on their faces. And further more, I was surprised by how they seem to be having fun. How come they were so high spirited and full of self-confidence? It was a mystery to me.
With their eyes, men stroke the soft line of their bodies and all their secret parts, including the genitalia, open-mouthed and entranced. The girls were like Bambi, cornered by a grinning hunter. They are defenceless but they confront the gaze with their thighs spread open, when a woman in her ‘right mind’ will be closing them tightly. But these girls are not tragic. They are proudly challenging the men’s gaze without allowing them to touch them. They become free by exposing female sexuality, which should, under normal circumstances, be protected and hidden. They have nothing to cover or hide. It is as if they are saying, ‘take this!’ The girls always maintained a position of superiority over men, who were sat in rows. It was almost as if wearing clothes was shameful.
While pole dancers are exceptions to the rule, I wondered why women are weak. Why is women’s sexuality something to be ashamed of and to be hidden? Women are physically weaker than men but besides that, why are women considered to be weak? Why do women all over the world have to constantly live in fear of sexual attacks by men?
In the most popular story from a Japanese mythology, goddess of the sun, Amaterasu, hides inside a cave, covering its entrance with a huge rock after she became angry with her brother’s violent antics. As a result, the world was enshrouded in darkness and the crops withered. People suffered greatly and they tried to move the rock from the entrance of the cave. However, the goddess remained resolutely inside and even the strongest could not move the rock. Then, a woman called Ame-no-Uzume started a strip show near the cave. People nearby cheered them on raucously, laughing and clapping. The goddess became curious and moved the rock slightly and a ray of sunlight shone into the world. A strong man seized this opportunity to remove the rock, allowing the goddess to come out. The sun returned.
In other words, a stripper saved the world (furthermore, the sun is also female). This is something which should be remembered in today’s Japan where men are overwhelmingly dominant. The female nude has strong power to captivate people. But this, on the other hand, also makes women weak, as there is a need to be able to protect themselves from unwanted people drawn to them. The more you hide, the more men want to expose. So when you open up and expose all, like a stripper, the power is maximised.
When all women are freed from fear of sexual violence, life and this world will, in all likelihood, change greatly. Pole dancers reminded me of Ame-no-Uzume from the mythology and showed me a glimpse of a moment where female sexuality was triumphant, just like in the myth.
However, such sense of freedom only lasts for a short moment. It is a freedom made possible through a balancing of power which exists within a particular place, under an agreement where physical contact is forbidden.
I have depicted liberation and danger of sexuality played out in such a place.