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April 18, 2014

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Sex for sale

McCubbin’s exhibit looks at a driving economic force

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Leila Navidi

Laurenn McCubbin’s “hooker cards,” illustrated portraits of real sex workers much like those handed out on the Strip.

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Laurenn McCubbin's recent work deals with how Las Vegas deals with its sex industry.

Calendar

Speaking to Las Vegas in the Language of Las Vegas

  • When: 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., Feb. 5 to Feb. 12 (opening reception Feb. 5)
  • Where: UNLV's Grant Hall Gallery (inside Archie C. Grant Hall)
  • For more information: 895-3237

Beyond the Sun

Artist Laurenn McCubbin danced nude at the Lusty Lady in San Francisco, designed and illustrated writer Michelle Tea's call-girl memoir, Rent Girl, and toured with the Sex Workers Art Show.

You'd think there is little to astonish her in the world of sex work, but the MFA student at UNLV was smacked by the idea that sex work is a driving force in our economy and that women are for sale — brought direct-to-your-room — but that it's "this invisible system that everyone denies is happening and threatens to regulate against.

"The idea is that we want this here because we know that people want this service, but we're going to punish these people in multiple, humiliating ways," she said.

How Las Vegas deals with its sex industry is the thrust of McCubbin's recent work. Speaking to Las Vegas in the Language of Las Vegas, opening February 5 at UNLV's Grant Hall Gallery, features her renditions of "hooker cards," illustrated portraits of real sex workers that mimic those distributed on the Strip. Each has a phone number that dials into recordings of women talking about their careers and interests in a matter-of-fact way.

During the Adult Entertainment Expo in January, McCubbin had a crew passing out the cards on the Strip and a rolling billboard advertising the women of vegasladybiz.com. Video and photos of the event will be on at the exhibit, as will a wall of hooker shoes that illustrate the flash and glamour of the object contrasted with examples — attached to the bottom of a shoe — of incident reports and violent acts against sex workers, a portrayal, she says, of the "glamour and reality."

As with a recent piece, "Economic Flow Chart of the Las Vegas Call Girl," this exhibit looks at the multiple facets of sex work. McCubbin knows that sex workers run the gamut: educated women in it for the big money, abused men and women with issues, prostitutes who believe that they're helping others and workers who are drug addicts. Some just like sex and believe they should be paid for their talents.

"What a sex worker is in the minds of America is either Pretty Woman or Secret Diary of a Call Girl or a dead body on CSI," McCubbin said. "There's never any middle ground. These are people doing a job. It's like you or me. And it's a major part of our economy. They pay rent, they pay for child care, they shop here, tip taxi drivers, limo drivers, valets and casinos. It's a huge deal.

"It's larger than people would like to think."

— Originally published in Las Vegas Weekly

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