Would You Be Caught Dead in That Outfit? The Powerful Fashion of Translatinas: New exhibit at SF’s GLBT Historical Society

There are those of us with more conservative fashion tastes, others who are willing to be more fashion-forward. But the question “Would you be caught dead in that outfit?” isn’t just one that you’d whisper to a friend on a shopping expedition—or behind a bridesmaid’s back at a wedding. For members of San Francisco’s Translatina community, the question is less an interrogative than a defiant statement.

Artists Julián Delgado Lopera, who curated the 2016 exhibition Noche de Ambiente with the GLBT Historical Society, and Rebeka Rodriguez are unveiling their new exhibition Would You Be Caught Dead In That Outfit?/¡Que Perra Mi Amiga! on September 22 at the Pacific Felt Factory in San Francisco’s Mission District. In photographs and through journals, the exhibition celebrates the legendary intergenerational histories of the city’s Translatinas, with a focus on the power of dressing up and kiki, or gathering together. Some of the exhibition materials and work generated by the show will be donated to the GLBT Historical Society’s archives.

We interviewed co-curator and photographer Rebeka Rodgriguez to learn more about the exhibition.

Tell us about the cultural importance to Translatinas of extravagant fashion and dressing up.

RR: Clothes become our armor out in the world. All those incredible gowns and sparkly suits. Dressing up as survival is one of the through-lines here: the power of certain outfits gives you the courage to go face the world. The dance floor is our church, where we go and worship each other and our community. One of the pieces on display is a dress that was given to Julián’s drag mother by a queen in the 1990s. So outfits have been handed down from queen to queen over time, and remixed and referenced.

What was the germination of this exhibition?

RR: Both Julián and I have a deep personal investment and long history creating work with Translatinas, specifically with El/La Para Translatinas, an organization that represents trans, intersex, and gender-diverse Latinx people; I’ve been photographing the women at El/La for more than a decade. Julián’s book ¡Cuéntamelo! Oral Histories by LGBT Latino Immigrants was republished by Aunt Lute Books in 2018 and that is when Julián and I worked on “Would You Be Caught Dead in that Outfit?”, a multimedia event at the Stud celebrating the aesthetics of 1980s and 1990s underground clubbing. There was a panel discussion which included one of the people featured in the book and we had a runway where everyone who wore their outfits got a chance to strut their stuff. I took photos, it was fun!

And then at the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020, we facilitated writing workshops with five El/La Translatinas members who shared stories, drew images and wrote about their memories of creating outfits and hitting the club. I was able to photograph some of them in the intimacy of their homes. The journals with their stories as well as prints of the photographs will be part of the exhibition. So it’s been an evolution, it’s a project that’s a living history, and this is the latest incarnation. And it’ll continue when the work becomes part of the GLBT Historical Society’s archives.

How is this exhibition also a very San Francisco show?

RR: Part installation, part archival project, this show centers the lives of transgender Latin American immigrants and their contribution to the glorious fabric of San Francisco’s queer history. The contributions of Translatinas to San Francisco’s queer history is vast, deep, textured and layered, both physically and metaphorically Translatinas have always been here, on stage, in the streets and on the dancefloor. WYBCDITO highlights Translatina creative brilliance and resilience. By centering this history we make space for all of us.

NOTE: Would You Be Caught Dead in That Outfit? opens September 22, 2022 at the Pacific Felt Factory at 2830 20th Street, San Francisco, and runs through mid-October.

Would You Be Caught Dead
In That Outfit?

Opening Reception
Thursday, September 22
5:00 p.m.
In-person program
The Pacific Felt Factory2830 20th Street, San FranciscoFree
Join us for the opening reception of Julián Delgado Lopera and Rebeka Rodriguez’s new exhibition Would You Be Caught Dead In That Outfit?/¡Que Perra Mi Amiga! at the Pacific Felt Factory. Through dress-up and kiki, the exhibition celebrates the legendary intergenerational histories of trans Latinas on San Francisco’s 16th Street. Part installation, part archival project (with new material being donated to the GLBT Historical Society’s archives), this stunning visual collection centers the lives of transgender Latin American immigrants and their contribution to the fabulous fabric of San Francisco’s queer history. Would You Be Caught Dead is being mounted in collaboration with El/La Trans Latinas, the Transgender Cultural District, the GLBT Historical Society and AIRSF. More information is available here. No tickets are needed; entry is first-come, first-served.

Rebeka Rodriguez (she/her) is an artist, curator, and cultural producer whose work explores the body as a site for personal and collective histories, desire, community and queer aesthetics. She is currently working with Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, where she designs and implements creative programming, and is the Director for AIR-SF, a nonprofit project committed to supporting artists and producing relevant public art projects and expanding civic participation.