A memorial wall at the exhibit. Photo by Sam Stroozas.

Six months after the death of Mistress Velvet, the famed dominatrix and advocate for sex worker rights, Black and Brown sex workers and Heaux History held a memorial and exhibition for Miss V at the Leather Archives & Museum in Rogers Park.

Dozens gathered in the auditorium to mourn the loss of Miss V, but as the speakers of the event emphasized, to also remember the legacy they left and to not idolize them in memory, but to humanize them in death and allow them to finally rest.

Sex workers in the community knew they wanted to honor Miss V and the most natural way to do so was to bring part of their life to the Leather Archives.

Rebelle Cunt, the founder of Heaux History, said with help from BIPOC within the sex work community and industry along with allies and loved ones, the exhibit is able to exist. Zaynab Shahar, Cassie Osei, Lynzo, Amethyzt, Peech, Raani Begum, Puck and Cruel Valentine all dedicated their time to the exhibit and memorial to honor Miss V.

Valentine, an organizer of the exhibit, explained the memorial and exhibit as a “labor of love” that began to take shape shortly after Miss V’s death.

“We hope that the event and exhibit will give people who knew Miss V or loved or worked with them a chance to commune with some of their most prized possessions that are the most representative of them and their work,” Valentine said. “Hopefully, this can lead to some healing. I also hope people who didn’t know Miss V will come to the exhibit and learn something about them and their work and take that away and be inspired to go out and do good work of their own, I think that is what Miss V would want.”

Through the speakers, presentations and a short film (“Irresistible” by Barbora Kleinhamplov) about Miss V, they were described in a multitude of ways—badass, but soft and larger than life itself.

It was important to honor every part of Miss V instead of seeing their life and death as two-dimensional or a watered-down memory of who they were. A spiritual opening wished Miss V rest in the afterlife, and at the end of the memorial, guests brought up flowers and wrote cards that were left at the altar.

The exhibit was then introduced to the crowd after a ceremonial ribbon cutting. Located in the lower level of the Leather Archives, the exhibit hosts more than 180 of Miss V’s personal items. Photos, toys, literature, pins, costumes and more are displayed showcasing Miss V’s dominatrix style and their dedication to the practice of Black feminist theory, sex workers rights and reparations.

Two hand-written notes were placed next to one another under viewing glass, only the title of one could be seen—“The Revolution”— a love poem from one of their clients:

“Miss Velvet is her name, she lives her life with no shame, she wears her scars as she fights the wars, she changes lives as the weak come out of the hives! One weak soul at a time, she will shape our world and society! A world where all can be shameless be who they are!”

Photo by Sam Stroozas.

The exhibit will close out the year while one corner will pay permanent tribute to Miss V. Guests can attend the exhibit at 6418 N. Greenview Avenue, Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Sam Stroozas

Sam Stroozas is the sexual health and reproductive justice fellow for Rebellious Magazine and a freelance journalist based in Chicago covering gender and social justice issues. Follow her on Twitter @samstroozas.