JoJo Baby, the documentary of an artist's pain and beauty

Date: 
11/12/2010
JojoPrePremier

Jojo prior to the showing of the document's premier in the Landmark Century Cinema

 

Deeply etched wounds created by decades of abusive homophobic behavior of family and society toward a Logan Square born man are exposed in the Clive Barker produced Seraphim documentary JoJo Baby. It celebrates the man behind the many personas that make Jojo Baby one, if not the best known, drag queen in Chicago's late night underground club scene.

Jojo, from childhood, took the shame, humiliation and ridicule directed at him and converted it into beauty, joy and fun. He is obsessive and compulsive in his pursuit of creating art and beauty. That manifests itself as personas, jewelry, dolls, puppets and paintings.

He creates personas that he calls "putting on the Goddess." They are beautiful, sometimes ugly or scary but he sees beauty in all. He is a man filled with humor that often bubbles up in conversation when you least expect it.

The beginning and ending of the film include a blast of pictures and footage of Jojo dressed in some of his many personas. But, the majority of the film is composed of narratives by Jojo talking to the camera as he works, interspersed with four friends plus his brother Jay Jay, each talking about him and often their relationship with him.

The film chronicles the day-to-day life of the creative man behind the magical personas. The thirty-nine year-old HIV positive man who uses creativity as a way to survive cruelty and physical disability, to present beautiful things to the world and make others happy.

JojoAndGodDaughter

Jojo interacts with his god-daughter after the premier. She wears a sweater Jojo created for her

A master of personas for himself, his magic works for others too. Who can forget the leopard, tiger and camouflage hair of the Bulls basketball star Dennis Rodman. Those were all the creations of Jojo. Now, Jojo is adding to his repertoire of talents by using his face painting skills to paint on canvas.

His dolls, with their skeletal structures and often real teeth are meticulously stitched, it is said that his work out does the work of his mentor, Greer Lankton. Lankton worked in Andy Warhol's Factory and for Jim Henson and the Muppets, creating Big Bird in the movie Follow that Bird.

His magical forests using plaster casts of penises possibly puts some of his work into an "edgy" category for those who understand the sources of the forms. To others that fact may not be totally realized.

In the film, his work is not as celebrated as the man. Some of the handheld camera work was so dizzying to watch that it caused me to close my eyes. Multiple scenes lacked proper lighting such as in a taxi where, coupled with the camera angle, the visual was monotonous and boring.

For the most part, the heart-felt tributes by the narrators and the honest revelations from the film's subject gripped the hearts of the audience. Composed of a mix of family, friends, supporters and total strangers, the audience seemed engaged throughout the entire feature-length show as they alternated between laughter, silence, gasps and empathetic sounds of sadness.

During the post discussion of the documentary's premiere on Nov. 6 in the Landmark Century Cinema Theatre, the film's creators answered questions about the making of the film. About its structure, they explained that they wanted the story to be driven by Jojo and his story not by a story line that they created.

Prior to the premiere, I asked Jojo how he felt about the film. His answer: "It makes me sad. They wouldn't let me dress up. Now everyone will see the pain that I deal with on a daily basis. People do not want to hear the bad, they always want to hear that you're good and doing well. This will show my true pain."

His personas are so glorious, it is disappointing that there were not more scenes of his finished works and that his humor was not shown more extensively. But JoJo Baby does encapsulate the real story and one that I am happy to see has premiered in Chicago with a prospect of more showings globally.

Beyond the story of a man and his talents, this film highlights the struggles of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community who are forced to deal with other people's hatred on a daily basis. It reminds us of the:

  • importance of embracing diversity in our communities and families where people are treated with love and respect no matter what their religious, racial, gender or sexuality is
  • disgraceful behavior of society towards anybody in society based on race or sexual identity denigrates society as a whole
  • beauty on the outside often masks sadness on the inside but creativity can be a life-saving force that can bring salvation to the creator and joy to the world
JojoSurroundedByWork

Jojo holds his first painting while he is surrounded by many of his creations in his studio

Jojo is hoping that the film will bring him more fame and work but what he really wants is a home. He said, "I always see these TV shows where people get houses for tragedies in their life. I would love a house that I could then give back to the public. I would love to see my art live on beyond me. I don't know if it is possible, in these times, but that is what I wish I had...a house... I don't even care if it is a tree house."

My hope is that magically this film will help him see that many people see him as beautiful... with or without his personas. As his mother often said. "He's a nice kid, he just dresses funny."

And getting his wish? Now wouldn't that be magically wonderful!

 

For more information: LGBT definitions;Center on Halsted; Meet Jojo; Documentary

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Comments

love you JOJO and I'm sorry I

love you JOJO and I'm sorry I couldn't talk more tonight when I ran into you in the hallway, but I was setting up for the show. You were right that I haven't been around much, but I've been keeping tabs and I'm sooooo proud of you. I can't wait to see the movie. PS - JOJO would never vandalize business cards....that's completely ridiculous!

Don't you dare try to steal

Don't you dare try to steal Jojo's shine! God damn haters!

Jojo has been an inspiration

Jojo has been an inspiration to all of us in Chicago's underground... I for one feel honored and blessed to have been graced with his kindness and wicked sense of humor and thanks for all the good times. I too miss Jojo's Closet but I am grateful to the Flat Iron for giving him a new home. How awesome is it that he has been able to stay in the 'hood for what would Wicker Park be without Jojo?? Much love my friend will be seeing you round!

Haters ?

JoJo Baby is well known to be a kind, courteous and respectful friend and neighbor. The documentary speaks for itself. It is a loving tribute to a deserving artist, who has contributed much to Chicago arts and entertainment. Alas, there is at least one neighbor who is very upset by the attention Jojo is getting because of his film. (Someone who thinks he is a competitor). JoJo, of course, has no competitors or equals, he is in a class all his own. It is true that JoJo was recently forced to move out of his high profile space above Bank of America, which he loved. I, for one, am grateful that he was able to stay in the flat iron building and in our neighborhood.

It's too bad that he can't

It's too bad that he can't respect his neighbors in the flat iron. There's a new movie of him on tape vandalising his buisness competitors buisness cards in the lobby. Coming soon to a bunch of bullshit near you. How dignified. Also to amend the article in the Reader, Bob Berger the owner of the Flat iron does not raise rent every 6 months

Looks sounds and smells like

Looks sounds and smells like a jealous bitch.

proof ?

i would love to see this video tape you say you have, so i can sue you for slander,and my rent was raised from 850 to 1500 , i thought i could pay the rent going up because everyone else was going up 100 dollars, but mine doubled?, now im in the ass of the flatiron,out of sight, out of mind.thank you bob berger for allowing me to be in your building, but i can be jojo where ever i go

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