Is there anything more human than sex? From the very first time we feel maternal bonds as infants, to the years we spend falling in and out of romantic love, intimacy, desire, and attraction wiggle their way into seemingly every aspect of our lives. Sex is crucial to the understanding of the human race because, in this sense, it’s largely universal—everyone has experienced its effects in some dimension. Local artist Iris Bernblum explores this vitality of sexuality and gender and the way these concepts drive humanity in the exhibit she’s curated at Heaven Gallery, “Simple Pleasures.”

“I believe that in all the work there is a freedom, a joy, and pleasure in the making, and it comes through,” Bernblum says. “It’s what makes all the work feel alive and visceral.”

When Bernblum began pulling “Simple Pleasures” together last year, she simply hoped to portray sex, gender, and desire in a poetic manner, without any intention of rendering a political message through the work. However, after the election of Donald Trump and the instatement of his controversial cabinet, Bernblum’s interpretation of the exhibit changed from an appreciation of aesthetic beauty into something that carries a bit more political weight. “After the election, it became political to be, in my opinion, human on any level,” Bernblum says.

She’s right. In the Trump era, our authority over our own bodies and our sexuality is in jeopardy. With his admission to groping women without consent, his active effort to diminish women’s healthcare, and his vice president’s blatant aversion to gay rights, Trump has made it clear that bodily autonomy is no longer at the hands of the people—especially for those in marginalized groups. “Simple Pleasures” contradicts this narrative, celebrating the ownership of sex and desire in an unapologetic fashion.

“I just wanted to make a show that put it all out there—that put vulnerability out there, to put love out there, and to have it in a really sophisticated, beautiful show,” Bernblum says.

Of course, there isn’t only one way to interpret sex, gender, and humanity, and “Simple Pleasures” recognizes this. The show features pieces from six local artists, each of whom has a starkly different artistic approach to the topic. Raul de Lara, an artist who recently moved to Chicago, uses the imagery of tongues to examine the relationship between human touch and different objects, along with the arousal it may generate. “I’m super into the general sense of the word ‘arousal,’ as like excitement from a thing,” de Lara says. “And for me, the tongue is like a person with a personality, so I’m using the tongue to give the object a certain sense of persona.”

One of his pieces in the show, titled “Stuck,” places two wooden tongue sculptures aside a long, white slab of plaster. One tongue floats above, curling toward the object, while the other pushes into the plaster, forging a shallow divot in the material. While the sexual nature of the piece may not be totally straightforward, it only takes a dash of imagination to understand how the work could go from an innocent, abstract sculpture to something a little more provocative.

Some of the other artists, like duo Ryan M. Pfeiffer and Rebecca Walz, take a more literal understanding to the theme. Pfeiffer and Walz’s collaborative drawings tap into their research on prehistoric and ancient art, as well as historic erotica, to depict detailed portraits of human bodies and sexual anatomy. The three remaining artists in the show—Caleb Yono, Liz McCarthy, and Selina Trepp—each bring their own interpretation to the table, experimenting with video, sculpture, painting, and photography to highlight the vulnerability surrounding sexuality.

For Bernblum, bringing these six artists together for her first curated show felt natural and true to the exhibit’s intention. As she explains, each of the artists speaks the same “artistic language,” allowing them to understand and play off of each other’s work with a sense of connectedness.

“I think that they all come to their work in a way that’s very unapologetic, in a way that I feel like they all have something at stake.” Bernblum says. “The show is a little bit of a dream come true for me.”