Trigger Warning: this exhibition contains explicit sexual imagery and describes some implied non-consensual sexual activity. Please proceed with caution. Resources are provided for anyone affected by these issues.
Sex as Subversion, Fantasy & Power: The Beggar’s Benison Club explores what the Collection of the Beggar’s Benison can reveal about social, sexual and gender histories and draws parallels to contemporary issues such as consent, sexual expression and gender identity.
The Beggar’s Benison was a Scottish all-male secret social club which was established in the town of Anstruther in the East Neuk of Fife and was active between 1732 to 1836. The Club was devoted to the idea of all-male sexual liberation. Members created symbolic sexual imagery and may have practised sexual rituals. Members also had interests in subversive politics and illegal smuggling.
The collection has been held by the University of St Andrews for many decades, but was kept in storage as curators had deemed it unfit for public view. Curators have faced challenges due to its obscene nature.
The Beggar’s Benison used sex to be subversive, play out heteronormative fantasies and hold power over women, highlighting the unequal power dynamic that existed between men and women in the 1700s. We use these objects to explore the unequal power dynamics within the Beggar’s Benison and how these dynamics still exist today.
Inclusivity and sensitivity have been at the heart of the exhibition planning process, and we have consulted an Advisory Panel to help shape the project.
We will continue to explore the Beggar’s Benison and their relevance to contemporary issues through virtual tours, blog posts, podcasts and events, which will be accessible online.
Feel free to explore at your leisure or join us in these conversations.
If you look through our online exhibition materials or attend one of our events, please let us know what you thought here.
Location: Wardlaw Museum, University of St Andrews
Address: 7a The Scores, St Andrews, KY16 9AR