Gareth Sweeney explores sexuality in modern society through body activism

Gareth Sweeney is a British artist who uses his body as his primary art canvas. His body of work focuses on sexuality and how we perceive it in modern society. In his life he has always had a fear of intimate connections so acted upon lust over love especially as a gay man living in Northern Ireland, incorporating a lot of this in his work.

He tends to use himself or close friends as the subject to capture the vulnerability and fear of exposing yourself; making yourself a target to ridicule. Using his own experiences and speaking to close friends, in a current ongoing project he is looking at one-night stands and hook ups. With his work, Gareth shows the emotions the subject was feeling before, during or after; may it be concupiscent or disgust.


What is art for you?

It’s a way for me to be whatever I want; I can use it as an escape from reality, or to address how I really feel.

How do you explore sexuality though your work and what is the message you want to spread?

I’ve always been fascinated with sex and why it is so taboo. I like asking people questions about their sex life, as for most it’s an extremely private topic and is sometimes embarrassing. Once opening up you gain a new kind of relationship with that person. I use these experiences and many of my own to show this sexuality raw and exposed.

Who are the subjects of your work?

I tend to use myself or friends.


How do you like to portray the vulnerability and the fear of exposing oneself through your work?

I like to do it without it being obvious. I want the viewer to really look at the photo and see the story behind it for themselves.

In your current project there are many references on one-night stands and hook ups. Why did you decide to talk about these topics?

In my generation one-night stands and hook ups are common. I feel although people can be open about it, there is still a stigma associated with casual sex. I feel we need to push it for future generations to feel comfortable talking about sex, and not feel penalised or humiliated for something human.

Where do you find your inspirations?

Films are a big inspiration for me; films such as Pink Flamingos, Gummo, Pink Narcissist and Running with Scissors. These movies are ones I seem to go back to, for many reasons, may it be the aesthetic or the emotional connection. I’m also really inspired by my friends and the people I’ve met in my life.

Do you like to give voice to the human dark side through your photography?

Of course, I love to act as a voice for people who necessarily aren’t heard or seen in society because they don’t fit into the norm.

Have you faced any discrimination or bullying as a gay man living in Northern Ireland?

Definitely. More so when I was younger but I’m discriminated against daily. It’s actually how I came out to my parents. I was beat by 5/6 men for kissing a man in town and if you are not familiar with the politics in Northern Ireland gay people are not liked at all, therefor there was no justice.

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What has been the reaction of the LGBTQ+ community concerning your work?

So far widely positive; I’ve had no negative feedback directed towards me.

How did your career photography start?

Growing up I always loved to draw which developed into painting. My dad bought be my first camera when I was 13 and I used to take photos to later paint and enjoyed the process of photographing rather than painting. I started to read into photographers such as Robert Mapplethorpe and just fell in love. I knew this is what I wanted to do.

What worries you?

There’s a lot to worry about at the moment but people are standing up, voicing their anger and things will change.

Do you like to provoke through your work?

Why not provoke? Poke the hornets’ nest. Test society. Make people think about the way we see things.

How have you evolved as an artist since the day you started?

My parents have said I’ve always been an artist, so from then to now there has been a lot. My intentions have always been the same, they’re more focused now and I can only see my body of work get stronger with time.

Tell us some things about yourself we do not know.

I’m 20 years old and grew up in a small city called Derry in Ireland. I have a large family, four sisters one brother and multiple nieces/nephews, so there is always something new in my life. My mother and father have normal jobs but where very creative when younger. Family is something I hold very dear to me as they have always been there for me and my biggest support. Due to my family I am an advocate for a lot of causes.

What are your future plans?

My plans are to finish school, travel around and meet more amazing people to photograph. I have been working on a new project at the moment but it’s currently at the extensive research stage. I hope to be sharing some of my new work soon, I will be posting sneak peaks on my social media platforms.

More of Gareth here:

*all images are courtesy of Gareth Sweeney

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