Meet Zoe Ligon, the Sex Educator Calling Out MOCAD’s Controversial “New Portraits” Exhibit

Detroit-based sex educator Zoe Ligon is outraged that her photo appeared in Richard Prince’s new show at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit

What role does morality play in the blurred lines of fair use and public domain? 

In August 2018, Zoe Ligon, a Detroit-based sex educator and CEO of an online sex toy shop, posted a revealing image to her Instagram account. 

The caption called attention to “laws that are put in place to criminalize harm reduction efforts toward sex workers,” she tells CultureShift’s Ryan Patrick Hooper.  

It’s a narrative that threads Ligon’s social media identity – one she describes as a transparent space for educating and having “ difficult but frank conversations about intimacy, relationships, and pleasure.” 

Screen Grab
Screen Grab

Last month, she discovered that same photo tweeted out by  controversial artist Richard Prince, referencing his latest show, “New Portraits” currently on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD). 

Prince is known for taking images from social platforms without consent, blowing them up to reveal a large canvas and curating an art show. In 2014, his “Portraits” debut exhibition in New York led to five lawsuits after some featured subjects objected to their photos being used without their consent. 

Just as such, Ligon felt “violated” for her likeness being used without her authorization, and called out Prince and MOCAD regarding not only her photo, but the exhibit as a whole, requesting that the full exhibition be taken down. 

“My upset isn’t over my image being used,” she says. “The issue is that there’s this intent to have a ‘conversation’ about the intersection of technology and feminism, when in reality it’s exploiting young women.”  

Click on the player above to hear Ligon’s full conversation about “appropriative art” and read her comments below.


Imagine my surprise when I saw Richard Prince tweet a 6ft inkjet printed picture of a screenshot of an Instagram post of mine hanging up in my hometown of Detroit at MOCAD. I didn’t consent to my face hanging in this art gallery. What Richard is doing is questionably legal, but even if something is legal and “starts a dialogue” it doesn’t mean you should actually do it. Not all legal things are ethical. This, in my opinion, is a reckless, embarrassing, and uninformed critique of social media and public domain. This is appropriation artwork. This isn’t progressive, this isn’t even subversive. Maybe it was when he began doing this in 1977, but in 2019 it’s tone deaf. I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Part of the reason I take “sexy selfies” is because I am reclaiming my own sexualized image. To see my image on the walls of MOCAD feels as though a picture I’ve taken of myself to reclaim my sexual body is being used to violate me all over again. Given that millions of people are sexually assaulted each year, I imagine I’m not the only one who feels this work is a violation of boundaries on a much deeper level.

A post shared by Zoë Ligon (@thongria) on

Post Written by LaToya Cross 

Interview and audio by Ryan Patrick Hooper