Sex work in San Francisco is as old at the city itself.
From the Gold Rush-era brothels that made the Barbary Coast infamous to the protests that forced LGBTQ rights and HIV/AIDS awareness to the front of our civic consciousness in the darkest days of the epidemic, a through-line is clear: Sex workers have fought for our right to bodily autonomy. The people who advance that rich legacy are celebrated in We're Still Working: The Art of Sex Work, a stellar exhibition at SOMArts Cultural Center, on view through Feb. 25.
We're Still Working is the first show of the year, and the second built out of the 2016-17 cohort that participated in the organization's innovative Curatorial Residency, which blossomed under the tenure of former Executive Director Lex Leifheit and curators Justin Charles Hoover and Melorra Green.
Now entering is seventh year, residency-assisted curators at SOMArts representing wide experiential ranges and segments of Bay Area communities have produced 20 exhibitions addressing topics including reconstruction in El Salvador's postwar era and the relationship of glamour to camp, kitsch and abjection -- in other words, as recently appointed Executive Director Maria Jenson proudly asserted when we spoke, "projects that wouldn't otherwise see the light of day."
Comprising pieces created by artists who, in one fashion or another, identify as sex workers, We're Still Working presents an array of experiences in an industry condemned by the majority of Americans as immoral and threatening to public health and safety. To counter assumptions and harmful stereotypes about who sex workers are personally and professionally, co-curators Maxine Holloway and Javier Luis Hurtado selected the work of artists who deploy a heady mix of humor, anger and sarcasm in their respective practices, all in defiance of society's judgement.
Jacq the Stripper, a Brooklyn-based sex worker and illustrator, produces minimalist comic strips, including Not Like Other Guys, that call out patron's sexist and condescending remarks. Her hilariously blunt portrayal of these interactions underscores the frequency with which, in her line of work, invasive questions are asked and swatted away.