Sexual Frankness In The North
It always seemed a paradox to me, that the further North you travel the more sexually frank many societies become. Latin countries are largely Catholic and repressed, but once you get among the Protestants, Calvinists and Lutherans anything goes.
In starting to explore the Northern nations nearest to the UK, I’ve found this true in both Denmark and Norway. While the South of Italy, France and Spain still treat women as whores or madonnas, there’s a sense of frankness coupled with respect in colder regions. Why this should be so isn’t easy to understand, except that perhaps in hot climates guards rise against too much sexual libertinism.
One of Norways grandest city views is from the peninsular to the South looking back at fjords and fortresses, but to photograph it you pretty much have to include a pair of enormous breasts. Wherever you turn, they’re there.
The bathroom of an extremely upmarket bookstore features this Gent’s Loo sign, and you should be grateful I’m not sharing the door of the Ladies with you.
In the various art exhibitions taking place around Oslo (and there are more galleries than I’ve ever seen in one city) the priority seems to be not so much the demystification of sex as placing it in a realm of magical power, which might explain why the work of Takashi Murakami is so popular.
Murakami’s vast murals and immense statues of Buddhist beings and manga superheroes become crossed in inexplicable ways, creating strength from semen and breast milk. Seeing them in juxtaposition with ancient carvings of life and death in the Buddhist realm draws out parallels that suggest the artist is merely continuing a historical through-line to the present.
His hyper-sexualised beings blur the concept of kawaii (cuteness) and lurid overload to powerful effect in ways that make the works of Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst seem anaemic and safe.
It’s always intriguing when you see the art of one country placed in another, because you have to draw a correlation between two cultures. Norway has been hitting the top of the happiness league tables for many years now, and it’s not hard to see why. Oslo exists in a comfort zone between wealth and democracy. It has a rich, varied multilingual population and a good climate, and is well-educated and healthy, although it’s eye-wateringly expensive.
When religion drops behind education and information, areas become more sophisticated and intelligent. The Northern countries have cities which feel less judgmental, and paradoxically attract young families. To complete the picture I’ll be visiting Sweden later in the year.