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SXSW 2021 – Wish to Strike? Ask a Intercourse Employee for Recommendation. Artist and activist Lena Chen explains how the intercourse employees’ rights motion is lifting up all employees – Options

Lena Chen (Photo by Melanie Ziggel)

A new class consciousness has emerged from the pandemic and protests. At the head of the labor rights movement is a group of workers who have not been recognized for a long time. However, these workers are able to develop social bonds, create committed activism, and point out the ways the state tries to oppress its citizens. Sex workers who are now able to work in virtual space use their experience and sophisticated skills to spark awareness and action on crucial labor and feminist issues.

Lena Chen, organizer of the South by Southwest panel “No Justice, No Loot: Sex Work, Art and Activism” and a sex worker and artist herself, notes that sex workers’ art and activism quite often overlap. “It’s really about how to use creative approaches to activism,” she cites the Haymarket Pole Collective’s stripper strikes last year in response to the racist hiring practices of local clubs. During their protest marches, the activists wore their strip club work clothes and also did pole work. “You have something that is recognizable as a protest,” explains Chen, “because it’s a march, people are singing, moving around in public spaces. But at the same time, there is that other element of the performance, the entertainment.” . “The HPC founder, Cat Hollis, is also on the panel and will speak about how the strikes are related not only to workers’ rights but also to the racial justice movement.

Another example of a sex worker-union crossover is the Cybertease group, a virtual strip club run by unionized workers. Your work has been blown up during the pandemic when club personal work is more precarious. By bringing the art of stripping online, the group can not only continue to support itself, but also contribute to the relief funds of those most in need. Support within the sex work community is crucial, says Chen, as sex work is often dangerously stigmatized, especially when done by marginalized groups like people of color and queer people. “These are the types of communities that have really fallen through the gaps and that they haven’t had access to [government benefits] like stimulus tests. “

Chen points out that the long legacy of digital censorship of sex workers is being addressed through the creation of the “Body of Workers” art archive for digital sex workers by Veil Machine, an art collective of panelist MJ Tom. The archive tries to “create alternative platforms on which [sex workers’] Content can be shown without the risk of deplatforming. “While the relationship between labor, feminist and sex workers rights movements has been strained in the past, the apparent ubiquity of deplatforming has begun,” says Chen Internet, “and not just sex workers. As a result, more corridors have been crossed and collaboration is for further progress has become essential.

“I think the sex workers movement is frankly one of the most innovative activist and artistic movements of this present moment,” says Chen, adding, “that so much can be learned about how we adapt in response to censorship and a lack of institutional access.”

Working on a new art form, Chen is currently developing a video game called Only Bans, which aims to draw attention to restrictive Instagram-like terms and services, as well as unpredictable algorithms. While these are obstacles sex workers know all too well, she hopes this game will educate people who are not so aware of the censorship. Stuck at home, she says people are now receptive to her message, especially with restrictions on who can and can’t access art. “The art world has also been so elitist for a long time, so exclusive and not very inviting to people experimenting with media that are not easy to sell and sell.” Chen extrapolates that not using the physical gallery space removes barriers for sex workers who want to share their art. “There are so many great artists who have worked with sexuality,” she says. “There are so many great sex workers who do creative work and who have not found the more institutional environment to be welcome and acceptable.”

Overall, with the SXSW panel, she wants to clarify how sex workers focus on innovations in their movement, artistically and in their activism. “This adaptation creates our own spaces, our own methods, our own format,” says Chen, “which ultimately includes not only sex workers but a much more diverse audience as well.”

No justice, no spoil: sex work, art and activism


Tuesday, March 16, 10.15 a.m., On Demand