Upcoming Exhibition

Merkin Dream

Merkin Dream   |   02/20/2020   |   03/28/2020


On View: February 20 - March 28

Opening Reception: Thursday, February 20 | 6 - 9pm

Closing Reception: Merkin Fashion Show: Saturday, March 28 | Doors @ 7pm

This February Maryland Art Place (MAP) will be presenting Merkin Dream, a group exhibition and invitational ushering women and men to consider the merkin, its uses, its need, and in some cases, the inevitable comedy of the merkin as an object. A merkin is a wig for the pubic area originally used by women working in prostitution.

Brief History

According to various sources the merkin first appeared around 1450 primarily to prevent the spread of human lice amongst sex workers. The wigs were derived from goat and horsehides, and at times human hair, serving as a vehicle for hygiene. Women shaved their genitalia to combat lice, but still needed to appear clean and well groomed to solicit continued patronage. At the time a majority of sex workers were selling themselves to survive and the merkin ensured good business. The utility of merkin was also employed by male actors to cover their genitals when they were cast in a female role. In the mid 1700’s merkins became fashionable and were often threaded with pearls and ribbons, dyed different colors and adorned, used for decoration and to denote status. Today, Hollywood is the leading, contemporary market for the merkin outside of the fetish industry, and is utilized to bypass unwanted viewing ratings for nudity and/or to placate a shy actress unwilling to bare it all on camera.

Armpit shaving emerged in the early 1900s. Unlike pubic hair removal to alleviate lice, armpit shaving was merely a fashion trend instigated and perpetuated by commercialism (Gillette). Leg shaving came later as hemlines started to creep up. In 1960 and 1980 having pubic hair was the main stay. In more recent history, the porn industry has enforced grooming standards, introducing trends such as the landing strip, the triangle, and fully shaven, pressuring women to groom themselves according to each new fantasy. Over the last 20 years complete hair removal was normalized and often preferred. According to a 2018 Healthline article 73 percent of guys and 55.6 percent of gals favor hair removal. More recently we’ve seen an “All Natural” renaissance, supporting the growth of all body hair. These ever-changing standards regarding body hair demonstrate a need to conform; implying that our desire to be desired is driven by sex, allure, chastity, shame, acceptance and more. Shaving or no shaving, merkin or no merkin, what we do with our body hair is more than a preference - it’s a statement. 

Why Merkin Dream

In November 2018 WJZ reported that Baltimore has one of the most active sex trafficking industries in the United States. Maryland sits 4th per capita behind Nevada, California and Ohio. Access to the 195 corridor, BWI, Route 40 creates the perfect melting pot for this horrific industry. The digital age has undoubtedly spawned easy access to sex, often including women with perfect bodies and meticulously groomed genitals; therefore body image, body liberation and certainly objectification should be considered here, but also sex addiction as a perpetuator fueling the industry. 

It’s easy to see how many women feel pressure to assume unattainable picture perfect versions of themselves. Societal pressures on what the archetype of womanhood looks like is confusing, and we’re finally entering an age where its becoming not only more acceptable, but expected that women do and should have agency over their bodies. Art has played an incredible role in addressing such issues. Take recently passed Carloee Scheemann’s work which touched on politics, gender, eroticism and ways of seeing the female form. Initially her work was considered somewhat pornographic; however one could argue she was trying to break down the way the viewer experiences historical works of the female form by creating performative based works (in most cases using her own body) to draw a distinction between sexual expression rather than victimization. Again, we’re visiting those important topics of ownership and agency and the role of the male patriarchy.

There is a lighter side to Merkin Dream however. The merkin as an object could easily be considered absurd and humorous. There are a plethora of interesting Hollywood-based interviews and stories about the use of the merkin on set. Rooney Mara’s interview with Conan O’Brien about her strawberry merkin in the “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a hilarious light-hearted example of this.  (See Grantland’s “Consider the Merkin: A Brief History of Pubic Wigs in Hollywood”). Lada Gaga donned an impressive pale green/blue merkin in 2011 to match her wig in her Much Music Awards performance. In 2018 the merkin made an impressive showing at NY Fashion Week where models debuted the “mohawk merkin” in South Korean designer, Kaimin’s new “Oriental Garden” collection...the list goes on.

Overall Merkin Dream aims to explore intimacy as an umbrella for both serious and light hearted uses. Topics of consideration include:

  • Sex work is Work: consumption & the commodification of women (elective sex workversus forced)

  • Body Image: disembodiment, shame & identity 

  • Digital Euphoria: technology’s role & our immediate gratification culture (what is real?)

  • Performance: fun, absurdity, merkin as an object, materials use

Merkin Dream opens Thursday, February 20 with a reception beginning at 6pm (free) and closes Saturday, March 28 with a ticketed Fashion Show, doors at 7pm. A portion of proceeds from merkin sales will benefit a local charity supporting women issues (TBA)


Upcoming Exhibitions

What's to come at MAP

Make Studio // Hotel Indigo


Make Studio // Hotel Indigo 

On View: January 15 - February 21

Reception: Thursday, February 6 | 5:30 pm - 7:30pm

Hotel Indigo | 24 West Franklin Street | Free & Open to the Public

Maryland Art Place (MAP) and  Hotel Indigo, are pleased to present  an exhibition in partnership with Make Studio and the individuals they service. Make Studio is a 501(c)3 community-based arts organization in Baltimore, MD, envisioning a world of acceptance and inclusion where art opens doors for everyone. Artworks by Make Studio artists will be hung in Hotel Indigo’s library and Poets Modern Cocktails and Eats. The reception will be held on Thursday, February 6th from 5:30 to 7:30pm.

“The diverse selection of art works on display were created by several artists based at Baltimore’s Make Studio, and was curated by the artists in collaboration with Maryland Art Place (MAP).Each artwork — by way of how it conveys the unique aesthetic and vision of each artist — converses with its neighbors in this context thanks to the vibrant hospitality at Hotel Indigo. 

Make Studio is a nonprofit community-based arts organization and inclusive gallery located in Hampden. Make Studio empowers artists with disabilities (37 and counting) to grow as professionals with vision and voice in their communities; we create opportunities to connect everyone through art. We envision a world where art opens doors for everyone.” - Make Studio


Make Studio Featured Artists: Clara Baker, Nadine Baldwin, Greg Bannister, Erika Clark, Aimee Eliason, Chuck Fischer, Tony LaBate, Bess Lumsden, Louis Middleton, Katelynn Herty, Alex Albert, and Dontavius Woody.

Validated parking is available at 15 West Franklin St. Garage.

Our Mission

Maryland Art Place (MAP) inspires, supports, and encourages artistic expression through innovative programming, exhibitions, and educational opportunities while recognizing the powerful impact art can have on our community. MAP creates a dynamic environment for artists of our time to engage the public by nurturing and promoting new ideas. MAP has served as a critical resource for contemporary art in the Mid-Atlantic since 1981.

Contact Us

Phone: 410.962.8565
E-mail: map@mdartplace.org