Aunt Charlie’s, a narrow hallway of a bar on Turk Street, has long been a venue and refuge of critical importance to San Francisco drag queens and the broader queer community. Now one of the longest continuously-operating queer bars in the city and its inimitable denizens are the subjects of an exhibition series at the nearby Tenderloin Museum that will culminate in a book.
Aunt Charlie’s: San Francisco’s Working Class Drag Bar encompasses nine events and five art shows between June-December, 2019 intended to celebrate what the organizers call a “remarkable space of socio-historical importance that is graced nightly by offbeat, eccentric characters,” and to highlight in particular the Tenderloin’s low-income LGTBQ community.
The exhibiting artists—James Hosking, Tim Snyder, Raphael Villet, Marissa Leitman and Darwin Bell—all have close ties to the bar, and as photographers and painters bring distinctive portraiture styles to their common subject. Drag performances and screenings, among other events on-site and at remote locations, punctuate the several months of programming.
Hosking, a photographer and filmmaker whose show opens Aug. 1, shadowed Aunt Charlie’s performers to explore aging and labor in drag. Bell, showing photographs throughout September, focused on the drag queens of Aunt Charlie’s fixtures Hot Boxx Girls. And both Leitman, the photographer featured in October, focuses on the recently discontinued High Fantasy. Leitman’s work illustrated this lyrical eulogy to the night by Brittany Newell.
The artists’ work will eventually appear alongside interviews in an original book about Aunt Charlie’s with an introduction by Susan Stryker and André Pérez.—Sam Lefebvre