In 2013 Patrizio Di Massimo presented The Lustful Turk at Gasworks, London, his first UK solo exhibition.
Comprising newly commissioned painting, drawing, sculpture and wallpaper, Di Massimo’s exhibition introduces his ongoing project The Lustful Turk, initiated in 2012 and inspired by an erotic epistolary novel of the same name. First published anonymously in 1828, the book tells the story of Emily Barlow, an English girl who is abducted by the Dey of Algiers, incorrectly described as a ‘Turk’ and with whom she ends up falling madly in love.
Both critical of and intrigued by the worldview captured in this novel, Di Massimo knowingly reproduces its bawdiness and racist stereotypes in lush colours, soft furnishings and delicate brushstrokes. Imparting a feeling of guilty pleasure, symbolic statues and ornaments are shown to indulge the libidinal desires of characters that represent either whiteness robbed of innocence or an amoral otherness. Their erotic acts and gestures are also only ever half-concealed behind exuberant décor or a thin veneer of innuendo, with candles dripping wax, voluptuous cushions and hands grasping at the air all signifying sex or the longing for it.
Existing works on show from this series directly appropriate scenes from the original novel to emphasize the relationships between cultural and sexual boundaries. The concealment of penetration, for instance, hints at a cultural encounter that poses a threat to the integrity of Western civilization, whereas sexual roleplay exposes racist stereotypes. New works, on the other hand, move further away from this literary source to more freely explore the relationships between bodies and objecthood, politics and ornamentation, shame and desire, in a similarly lavish Victorian image-world.