S&M, more appear in sex show

The Wesleyan Argus 

By Russell Perkins
Contributing Writer

An excited audience filled Beckham Hall last Monday in anticipation of the Sex Workers’ Art Show, which came to Wesleyan for a single performance as part of its national 2008 tour. Among those who hadn’t seen the performance last year, there was a good deal of uncertainty as to what exactly to expect: Was this going to be a strip show? A lesson in identity politics? An exposé of the American sex industry? As it turned out, the performance was all of these things.

The Sex Workers’ Art Show was co-sponsored by the Zombie Art Collective, WesPREP, The Cunt Club and Spectrum (with additional support from Fem Net, Womanist House, Unlocked Magazine and The Hermes), and was brought to the University primarily due to the efforts of Jean Pockrus ’08. It featured an eclectic mix of burlesque, multimedia performance art, a dominatrix demonstration, and autobiographical spoken-word performances. By pulling together a diverse array of voices within the sex industry, the performance sought to attack the assumptions that people graft onto the naked bodies they view and consume.

As Annie Oakley, founder, emcee and primary creative force behind the Sex Workers’ Art Show explained after the show: “I started this 11 years ago because people who respected my work [as a feminist] were telling me that I was degrading myself as a sex worker. I wanted to make them deal with the stereotypes that they were slinging at me.”

Lorelei Lee, who has been awarded both a “National Foundation for Advancement of the Arts young ARTS Scholarship” and the “Bishop Award for Best Tit-Tortured Model 2005” explained that appearing before an audience as a writer and porn performer is both self-affirming and terrifying.

“I would have never thought that I would be in front of an entire audience talking about my work,” she said. “In a way it’s breaking the rules to show them a vulnerable side of myself, a side that’s real…its not that my porn career isn’t real, but that its purely physical, and I tend to keep my emotional and intellectual side out of it.”

In addition to compelling viewers to revise their preconceived notions about sex work, the performance showcased burlesque as an art-form: when a preposterously voluptuous blonde…quot;after deftly extricating herself from her stripper’s Uncle Sam outfit, sequined corset and all…quot; pulls a seemingly infinite chain of dollar bills out from her enormous butt cheeks, it is difficult to look on with anything but wonderment.

For all its strength, with a different lineup of performers for every venue, at Wesleyan the Sex Workers’ Art Show did not showcase quite as diverse a range of perspectives as it purported to. With the exception of “drag-subverter” Krylon Superstar, whose performance featured a lit anal sparkler, all of the performers were female, and, among these, all but one was Caucasian.

Yet although a Wesleyan audience might fault the performance for not going quite far enough, it has certainly raised considerable controversy on a national scale. Only recently, the president of the College of William and Mary resigned, after many opposed his decision to permit the Sex Worker’s Art Show to perform on his campus.

The general mood as students spilled out of Beckham Hall after the performance was one of boisterous good humor.

“It was definitely one of the more entertaining and educational performances I’ve seen at Wesleyan, and combined teaching people about a subject most people know nothing about,” said Renee Verdier ’09.



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