Arrest record for Julia Lebrun, “keeper of Bawdy house”,  dated 1903.

Arrest record for Julia Lebrun, “keeper of Bawdy house”, dated 1903.

Local History of Sex Work

April 5, 2007

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By Diane Luckow

A multimedia art installation and book, chronicling the history of Vancouver sex workers, will première April 12 at the Lamplighter Café in the Dominion Hotel, 210 Abbott St.

The launch culminates two years of work by a group of local sex workers who completed the project through SFU's Continuing Studies community education program.

"They wanted to examine the history of Vancouver's sex workers through diverse lenses such as labour and human rights, instead of the prevalent victim messaging in mainstream media," explains program coordinator Shanthi Besso.

SFU helped with fundraising and administration and gave participants workshops on everything from Internet and library research techniques to Vancouver history.

"At the end of the project they'll each have a learning portfolio," says Besso, which they can apply at Vancouver Community College toward their high-school equivalency or other course offerings.

"We're now engaged in trying to secure labour rights for sex workers," says Susan Davis, a sex worker who helped spearhead the undertaking. "When you're engaged in a civil rights movement, you have to know your history in order to have pride."

The group's goal, says Besso, is to show sex workers in a different light from that associated with the Pickton missing-women trial.

"They're trying to get people to understand that there's a diversity, a history and a civil- and-labour-rights movement involved; that they're complex individuals in a complex community."

Local artist Anne Marie Slater helped with the installation, which includes photo collages exploring themes such as "laws and enforcement" and the "sex worker movement," soundscapes of Vancouver over the past 120 years, and interviews with project participants.

The première features a reception at 7:30 pm followed by a live-music and burlesque show at 8:30 pm in the Lamplighter and the adjacent Lobby Gallery. Tickets are $10 at the door. The art show runs until May 3.

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