We know of a few sex workers. In fact, at least two pages of them help keep a roof over our heads. Some are shockingly witty and artistic. So the situation treads on the old saying about not judging a hook, er, book by its cover.
Annie Oakley, founder of the 7-year-old Sex Workers Art Show, is determined to show that those in the sex industry should be seen as artists, not just dark street/back room/video trash. Case in point: Oakley lectures, performs and teaches workshops when not participating in the exhibit, which aims to catapult sex work out of the gutter and into the gallery.
Oakley shares the red spotlight with, among others: Scarlot Harlot, who coined the phrase "sex work" in the late 1970s and is a sex workers' rights activist. She has for the past 20 years been a prostitute and filmmaker in the Bay Area. Her documentaries and shorts have received awards from the American Film Institute.
There's also Ducky Doolittle, a 42nd Street peepshow girl-cum-sex educator and comedic performer, who has adapted her experiences into comedy/burlesque stage performances; David Henry Sterry (that's right; men, too), the author of the autobiographical Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent, which was adapted into an acclaimed one-man show in Great Britain; and Leslie Bull, "ex-junkie ho, activist poet," who writes and rants, according to www.sexworkersartshow.com, "for survival, living through art and debunking the myth of the sacred pussy."
So what, right? Let's not kid ourselves--we're all part voyeur. The idea of life in sex work is shocking, interesting, scary and distant all at once. Which is part of the appeal of the show. It takes the art of more than 10 of the "experienced" and morphs it into a cabaret-style show with music, spoken word, burlesque, video, poetry and a visual art exhibit that travels with the tour. It's naughty and smart, forbidden and accessible. And it's here because this art is life for these people, despite any occupation that would cause people to look at them as anything but artists.