Current and former sex workers and their guests gathered for the opening reception of the Chicagoland Sex Workers 2022 Art Exhibition by Sex Worker Outreach Project Chicago at aRRticles Gallery on March 3, International Sex Workers Rights Day.
Queen Hibbler, social media coordinator for SWOP Chicago and curator of the exhibition, said the idea of the show originated to showcase sex workers in their truth as complex and intricate individuals. Although this is the fifteenth year of the exhibition, it’s Hibbler’s first year curating, and many of the artists showcased are being exhibited for the first time.
“It is important for civilians to interact with art made by sex workers because it is very easy for people not in the industry to put us in a box,” they said. “We’re sex workers, but that’s not the only thing we do. Sex workers are multidimensional and perfectly capable of being artists and expressing themselves.”
Royce Bryant, owner of aRRticles Gallery at 2150 S. Canalport Avenue, said it was his first time hosting a show by sex workers. Hibbler brought the idea to him, and he was eager to support her vision.
“It has been exciting to learn more about sex worker culture and meet more people in the community,” he said.
Nearly 20 artists had their pieces showcased in the back two rooms of 2A-11 at the gallery. Many pieces depicted different aspects of sex work: unity, empowerment, and the male gaze.
Simone Robinson’s ‘Untitled’ piece focuses on the preservation of nature and relaxation. She does many fantasy characters and said her favorite thing to highlight is hair. She often details kinky curls and arm and leg hair in her pieces.
“I wanted her to look sweet like she didn’t have to be a warrior, she’s just doing her thing,” Robinson said.
She said that blending her art with sex work was empowering.
“Showing here made me feel like I belonged a bit more, sometimes I can feel like an imposter in a sense,” she said. “I am not ashamed to say I am a sex worker, but people do perceive you differently.”
Illustrator Rebeca Soto submitted her colored pencil ‘Delirious Daydream,’ that she described as the overwhelming feelings spinning in her brain, featuring small vignettes of femmes and elements of sex work.
She said her piece makes her feel dreamy and helps ground her through anxiety-ridden moments.
Keesh has spent the last year teaching herself to do 3D rendering and modeling. Shee chose a piece from her cyber series of herself as a 3D character.
“I think for me, the sex worker community has been really big for me, where else am I going to get to see erotic art?” she said.
Inspired by showing sex workers as fantastical beings, Kat Savage explored the idea of the woman as a weapon in her piece. She said she wanted to create a figure of a sex worker taking back the power and forcing the patriarchy to face the weapon it has created.
Charli created ‘Space Vulva,’ part of a series exploring gender and genitalia.
“It’s focusing on how you can have whatever gender or no gender at all and just be a fucking human being and be validated for that,” he said.
It was Charli’s first time in a gallery, but he said he was thankful it was with SWOP.
“I think it’s important to showcase this because we [sex workers] do a lot of other things besides art. What we do is art, but it is just a different form of it,” they said.
Mz Mr ‘Eye Fuck’d’ with chalk pastel and graphite was inspired by the male gaze. She said when creating it, she thought about existing as a femme person and trans woman, and what it feels like to be objectified.
Mel Diana used acrylic paints to create ‘FRICTION,’ a piece she says reflects her identity as a sex worker and the inevitable friction that causes in her life. Even with that friction, they said they felt how supportive guests were at the exhibition.
“It has been really great to see how open people can be about sex work,” Diana said. “The stigma of it makes it so much more unsafe, but it is something that has been happening forever, so why are we refusing to celebrate it?”
The exhibition will be on display through appointment only until March 25.
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