Thursday, February 21, 2008

Eleventh Annual Sex Workers Art Show Turns Up the Heat this Thursday

by Anthonia Akitunde

Valentine’s Day has come and gone and with it, all expectations of consumerist declarations of love. So it’s fitting that the Eleventh Annual Sex Workers Art Show returns to Chicago a week after the aforementioned holiday. This Saturday, instead of red roses, chocolates and prix fixe menus, check out the Sex Workers’ performers as they share their experiences through song, dance, monologues, and graphic personal and bodily disclosures.

For the performers featured in the Sex Workers Art Show, the phrase “sex sells” couldn’t be closer to the truth; they have all been or continue to be involved in the sex industry at some point in their lives. Tour founder and ringleader Annie Oakley started the cabaret-style show in Olympia, Washington in 1997 in response to the criticisms she received from feminist activists as a stripper open about her job. While many viewed her work as demeaning and anti-feminist, Oakley hoped a show highlighting the intelligence and creativity of a collection of sex workers (a term which includes prostitutes, escorts, phone sex operators, dominatrices, etc.) would dash old stereotypes. Through word of mouth and ads in women's clinics, sex work venues, and homeless shelters, Oakley was inundated with submissions. The first show -- which gave Oakley her infamous stage name -- had 10 participants and was a huge success in Olympia. It only ballooned in popularity, first moving on to a larger venue the following year before hitting the road. Now the Sex Workers' Art Show is a two month-long touring extravaganza, performing in colleges, bars, clubs and galleries in more than 31 cities to sold-out crowds this year.

What does a Sex Workers Art Show entail, you may be wondering? The night has been defined by Oakley and Co. on their website as "an evening of visual and performance art created by people who work in the sex industry to dispel the myth that we are anything short of artists, innovators, and geniuses." Staying true to its informal mission statement, the show turns any preconceived notions of who sex workers are on its head. This year's performers includes dominatrix-cum-performance artist Keva I. Lee, who uses the sexual stereotypes surrounding Asian women in her work. The lineup covers the gamut of writers, directors, acclaimed feminists and performers who call into question ideas of sexuality, decency, and morality audience members may bring with them.

Make a night of it with the Sex Workers’ erotic and entertaining mix of burlesque, spoken word, comedy, and, most importantly, sex at the Funky Buddha Lounge Saturday night.

For more information about the Sex Workers Art Show, visit