One day Gloria Jaramillo came across a T-shirt image that stuck in her mind more than most. The design was of a young Virgen de Guadalupe, strutting down the street, flicking a yo-yo. On the Virgen's knee was a Band-Aid. Jaramillo wondered who was responsible, and thought whoever it was, the Band-Aid was an interesting, humanizing touch. Fortunately for the artist, Jaramillo happens to be the executive director of Galeria de la Raza, and she arranged for the T-shirt designer to have a show at the gallery, which is located at 24th Street and Bryant. Last week, Latina artist and exotic dancer Isis Rodriguez opened her one-woman show, "My Life as a Comic Stripper," to a crowd that spilled out onto the street.
The first few days the show was up, men in particular commented to the gallery staff that the art seemed to be a very accurate, honest depiction of the strip-club atmosphere -- suggesting that they assumed the creator of the art was male.
At the reception held a few days into the show, any misconception was cleared up. Amid the throng of local strippers, artists, lap-dance customers, and regulars from the neighborhood at the exhibition, Isis Rodriguez stood out as a female presence, energetically flitting about in tightfitting bicycle jersey, painted-on pants, and white platform shoes. As part of the flitting, she led a video camera through every image in the show, providing a running commentary on the work -- acrylic and colored-pencil images that are vivid, funny extensions of working as a stripper for seven years.
The most compelling piece in the show is a table in the middle of the room. On that table, Rodriguez has placed an assortment of children's toys -- a Selena doll, a Hot Wheels kit of surfer guys and girls, a "Saloon Girl" Halloween costume that allows a female child to dress up like a prostitute -- that give visual proof our children are raised with specific sexual programming, and are conditioned to play certain roles. We don't often think about the conditioning, but when it's all sitting on a table in an art display, punctuated by short text essays, it couldn't be more obvious. Jaramillo agrees the display is potent material.
"People have brought their daughters in," she tells me. "The mothers read the labels to them."
While people sipped wine and watched videos Rodriguez shot of her customers at a peep show (their faces are blacked out), a couple sat off to one side, observing with the type of pride you see only in the faces of parents. Rod and Lillian Rodriguez flew in from Kansas City to see their daughter's show. All those years studying at the University of Kansas and the S.F. Art Institute had obviously paid off.
Later in the evening, at a music benefit for Rodriguez held in an art space on Shotwell, the parents stood, bouncing to the Latin ska of Los Skarnales, and commented on her artistic progress.
"I take credit for supporting her," shouted her mother over the horn section, "but she did it all on her own."
"This is a city that lets you do whatever you want," added her father, a camera hanging from his neck.
That's for sure.
Isis' show continues at the Galeria de la Raza through Aug. 9. She will talk about her art at the gallery this Saturday, July 19, from 3 to 6 p.m.
Politeness and Paddles
Times have changed at the Caffe Sport restaurant in North Beach. Once infamous for employing the rudest waiters in San Francisco -- waiters who were certain to give a table of tourists a good tongue-thrashing -- a recent visit found the staff to be completely friendly. "We used to be rude," said the waiter. "Not anymore. Too many restaurants around here." He admitted, however, that because of their reputation, they will act rude upon request.
Also far too nice for North Beach is the crowd at Hawaii West, the city's premier tiki bar, on Vallejo off Stockton. Nolan, the owner, whose father is from Oahu, says the place has been in his family for 40 years. He took it over from his mother, who worked 12-hour days until she passed away a few years ago at the age of 67. Visitors will take note of the thatched awning over the bar, surfboards, Beatles on the jukebox, and in the middle of the place, an actual running waterfall built by Nolan. Last week a young man celebrated his birthday at the Hawaii West by letting four women spank him with a paddle so hard it broke into pieces that fell onto the floor. It seems that North Beach will still act up -- you just have to ask these days.
Masters of Web
After legendary Santa Cruz poet Adrienne Rich rejected the National Medal for the Arts, citing our government's hypocrisy and ignorance, the Clinton administration might do well to surf the Internet to find other socially relevant poesy to honor. Such as the following poem, which currently drifts in cyberspace and might be titled "Deeper Meanings to Gaze at the Bay By":