“Flowers & Chocolate,” a solo exhibition by New York City photographer and conceptual artist Eva Mueller, features a series of hand-constructed lightboxes illuminating meticulously crafted portraits of erect Black penises. Each is posed with a different flower in markedly different arrangements, the fine details of skin and veins contrasting beautifully with the delicate textures of the jewel-toned petals. The twelve backlit images, culled from the series of twenty photographs, create alluring islands of light in the otherwise dark gallery space, creating an atmosphere of intimacy and secrecy.
“I have a long-standing preference for Black men,” says Eva Mueller in their explanation for the origins of the “Flowers & Chocolate” series. “Also Black men have been my muses throughout my photography practice. My fun-loving single-life eventually led me to Craig’s List Casual Encounters, which featured an ‘mm4w’ section. In most ads, groups of Black men would advertise for one woman. As an active participant of that lifestyle, I recognized a unique dynamic of this power-pleasure game. It empowers Black men AND white women against white male supremacy: It just leaves them out of the equation. When I heard my playmates’ stories about living in the US, being black and seeing countless new reports of unarmed Black men being killed by white cops. I couldn’t help thinking that there has to be a deeply rooted sexual inferiority complex at play.
“By creating a series of hyper-realized, yet beautifully lit photographs of Black erect penises paired with flowers I felt I was able to express all these mixed emotions/expressions of beauty, power, sexuality, racism and taboo, also thanks to the willingness of my play-friends to participate. The flowers give permission to look and examine the Black penis outside the sexual context. It’s an invitation to see it for what it is, as an object of pure beauty.”
“I chose to participate cause I know the visionary that Eva is and what she was putting together had not been done before, says Jules, one of eighteen models photographed for “Flowers & Chocolate. “In my mind, it was bringing beauty to the Black male body without the fetish.” On seeing the image of his penis paired with a flower (“Dianthus Caryophyllus – 7 Inches, 2016”) he adds, “You wake up in the same body every day and it’s nothing special to yourself to admire, as to you it’s just a penis, but seeing it wrapped in flowers made it more than just a “dick pick,” but a freeing visualization.
Eva Mueller is a German non-binary Brooklyn-based photographer and conceptual artist. They studied graphic fashion and portrait photography at the International Center of Photography and Parsons School of Design in New York. After a career as a fashion and music photographer, Mueller shifted their focus to fine art and portraiture.
The majority of Mueller’s work focuses on the core constructs of our human existence, such as race, gender identity, and sexuality as well as the naked body. Mueller purposefully creates images that need a second and third look for the viewer to grasp the concept and thus initiate a thought process that will lead to a deeper understanding of the work. They mainly employ photography and video in their art practice.
In 2017 Mueller presented “GenderFuck,” a portrait series of individuals outside the gender binary at the Leslie-Lohman Project Space in New York City. In 2018 they presented “Flowers & Chocolate,” an installation about the Black male sexuality at Art During the Occupation Gallery in Brooklyn, NY. Along with the exhibition, Mueller launched a limited-edition artist’s book. With “Twisted Twins – XXY,” Mueller created an immersive installation about the precariousness of gender, age and sexuality, at Satellite NYC in Brooklyn, NY in 2019.
Mueller’s self-portrait series MYSOLATION, shot during lockdown in 2020 had received numerous awards and was selected to be shown at [EXPOSURE] at Scope Art Fair, Miami in 2021.
In June 2022, Mueller curated PRESENT: prideART New York, a group show featuring works by 36 queer artists from New York and Berlin and contributed four photographers to the concurrent show, “It’s A Queer, Queer, Queer World!” at Soho Project Space.
Mueller’s current show, “Flowers & Chocolate” premiered at Christopher Stout’s Art During the Occupation Gallery in 2018, followed by inclusion a Canadian group show, “Positive Masculinity,” and most recently at MAISON 10 in New York in 2021 as part of their “Queer & Sexy.” exhibition. Eva Mueller’s work can be seen at http://www.evamueller-art.com.
Why did you create “Flowers & Chocolate”?
I have a long-standing preference for well-endowed Black men. My promiscuous single-life led me to having a lot of sex with many, many Black men. When I discovered Craig’s List “Casual Encounters” I knew I was home. My favorite section was “mm4w.” 2 or more men would advertise for one woman. Heaven. Most of the groups offering themselves as 2 or more men were Black. I recognized that very specific dynamic “multiple Black men for one white woman.”
It is a thing, a fetish that touches several layers. It is a power-pleasure game that empowers Black men AND white women against white male superiority (supremacy). It just leaves them out of the equation (with the exception of the cuckold fetish, where one or more Black men fuck a white guy’s female partner, but I’m not talking about that in my work). During the time when I intensely engaged in that lifestyle, there were countless reports of unarmed Black men being killed by white cops. I couldn’t help thinking that there has to be a deeply rooted sexual inferiority complex at play.
By creating a series of hyper-realized, yet beautifully lit photographs of Black erect penises paired with flowers I felt I was able to express all these mixed emotions/expressions of beauty, power, sexuality, racism and taboo. The flowers give permission to look and examine the Black penis outside the sexual context. It’s an invitation to see it for what it is.
How did you choose the flowers, pair them with the various penises?
By intuition and what looks aesthetically pleasing to me, but I also tried to mutually compliment the shape and textures of each. I would get two to three different kinds of flowers and chose which ones worked best. Later in the project, I started looking for more diverse kinds of flowers, as the lilies were taking over, and it became more difficult to find flowers that worked for the project. In the end, I went with a florist friend to the Flower District to map out the last six to seven pictures.
How many models were there?
Eighteen. One at a time. Two were photographed twice. There are 20 images total, all of which are included in the “Flowers & Chocolate” book, and twelve of which are in light boxes.
How did you find the models
Most of them were existing “friends-with-benefits.” I was in the “lifestyle” and became friends with some of my playmates. Because of the stories they told me about the risks and challenges growing up as a Black man in the U.S. paired with their sexual confidence and the racial dynamics I observed in that environment, I decided to expand and finish a series of Black erect penises paired w flowers. I’d originally began taking the penis with flowers photos in 2010 at random and then around 2013-2014 decided to make them a series.
What was the reaction of the models when you told them what the project was and that they had to be hard?
Everyone I asked liked the concept and happily complied. The fact that I already knew everyone intimately—literally–helped, so therefore they trusted me and my intentions with the project.
You have a tank top printed with tiny images of you playing, laughing and fluffing the penises. How did the models feel about you touching, blowing, fluffing them?
Yes, I fluffed and I think the resulting photos speak for themselves. As I said, I already knew the models intimately, so it was fun for all involved.
Did any models ejaculate after all that stimulation? Or were their poor penises to pooped to, uh, pop?
I think in 90% of the sessions we finished properly popped 💦💦💦
As a queer nonbinary person, some might be confused or expect you to be lesbian-leaning so would wonder about your arranging and fluffing penises. Your response?
My gender identity is female presenting non-binary, but my sexual orientation is men because I LOVE (BIG BLACK) penises. Think: gay boy in a female body if that makes imagining me fluffing easier. I just never felt like a hetero woman despite my preference for men.
How did people react to the first show? Any comments that you recall?
From white hetero men saying, “How beautiful, I totally get what you are trying to convey,” to “Can I have their phone number?!” Also, and this one amuses and also shocks me, “Is it the same guy in all the pictures?” Whaaaat???? Extra sadly, it was even a gay guy who asked me that. It’s like the “all Asians look the same” mindset 😮.