When was the last time you checked your local Craigslist personals? The sad messages, often written in broken English, present a bleak, pervy view of singles culture. So 27-year-old Marilyn Rondón had an idea. Why not post a Craigslist personal ad titled "Latina Seeks Thug," explaining she wanted said thug "to make a baby with."
It began as a joke, but now it's a thoughtful, offensive, and hilarious exhibition at Little Haiti Country Club — with a closing party this Friday night. The daring show is one of 30 exhibits in the old church turned pop-up gallery and event space, which has filled its halls with work representative of the neighborhood's multigenerational artists.
"Latina Seeks Thug" is tucked away in its own space among installations, paintings, photography, sculptures, jewelry, and all manner of creative expression. It stands out for its size and immediacy, certainly the sexiest piece at the LHCC. Also, it features a five-foot penis.
What possessed the tiny, tatted woman to ask Craigslist for a baby daddy?
"I was in the car with a friend," the Design and Architecture Senior High graduate says. "I moved to New York for the past eight years and then moved back down. It's totally different dating down here, meeting people. It's slim pickin's.
"I was joking... like 'I just want a thug,'" she continues. "It turned into a conversation about how I really want to be a mother one day."
When she uttered the words, "I just want a thug to have a baby with," Rondón says, a light bulb went off. She thought the responses to such an ad would make a killer zine. She wrote and posted the ad, including her real personal information, but then went to sleep and forgot about the whole thing.
She woke up to 40 emails and a handful of dick pics.
"I started dying," she says. "The things people were saying before I even included a photo were just hilarious. The fact that a complete stranger will send a dick pic to a stranger is hilarious to me. I probably would do the same thing, though, if I had a dick."
Rondón is no prude. She's not afraid to put herself out there. She's published a series of self-portraits via her online portfolio, totallystokedonyou.com, and she's been known to send the occasional nude. But "Latina Seeks Thug," in part, is about exposing the difference between solicited and uninvited sexual advances, as well as shining a light on the unwelcome catcalls women face in their everyday life.
"A lot of it, too, is reflective of things you possibly have said to someone or someone has said to you," she explains. "You've heard it walking down the streets, or someone's told you stories. It's very real, and it's shit that we all go through."
After that initial response, she added a photo of herself to the ad and continued collecting responses. She decided to test the limits and added another photo from her Instagram feed, one that showed off her butt in a bathing suit, but the post was soon flagged. After 17 hours, that signaled the end of the experiment.
"Game over," she says, "I had my fun."
Of the 101 responses, Rondón chose her favorites to blow up and print on five-by-three-foot sheets. She then lined the walls of her space, an eight-foot-tall and 15-foot-wide former office, with the black-and-white email messages. Repetition is a common theme in her work; the artist also paints murals that cover walls in hundreds of roses, and in a "bb girl" series of cartoon portraits, each face is just slightly different from the last. Her work revolves around central themes and playing on them repeatedly.
In "Latina Seeks Thug," lines or statements she found especially hilarious, intriguing, or simply offensive are repeated in varying sizes and with different levels of emphasis. The only things in the room not covered by repetitive, larger-than-life email correspondence are the windows.
"It's kind of like you're stepping into my inbox," Rondón says.
The viewer is bombarded with information. Some of the dick pics are included, as well as an image of a man's abs, his face replaced by a classic yellow smiley-face. The emails range in length from one-liners, such as "Sup Bitch show me tat pusse see if I likin tat shit?" to slightly more detailed proposals, including "Im in NC rite now and just caught a charge so I need to go missing for a lil while...why not Miami with u ma.. I will care for my new babymama ;-)." Some men wrote long letters explaining their somewhat sad situations. Some of them she even kind of liked.
"The broken English, I love it — I think it's great," Rondón says. "You're actually, really trying to do this. You're really about this. All right. How far would you go to get laid?"
Not all responses were taken so lightheartedly.
"This guy really pissed me off. I actually replied to him," she says, pointing to one particularly angry commenter. The man unkindly implied she must be mentally ill to look for a baby daddy on Craigslist.
"This also was a big reason why I made the show what it is and why I decided, yes, I need to make this art," she says. "This guy is a fucking asshole and told me to get my brain checked. I understand that the ad is really ridiculous, but this is the way men talk to women, period... And it's even worse in real life, even if you're just walking down the street."
Since "Latina Seeking Thug" opened to the public a few weeks ago, many viewers have wondered if it's real. Indeed, it's 100 percent authentic, even if Rondón's intentions weren't so straightforward.
At times funny, at others horrifying, and definitely off-the-wall, "Latina Seeks Thug" is an absolutely enlightening exhibit. It will be on display through this Friday, when Little Haiti Country Club will host its closing party. Rondón — joined by fellow artists, friends, and musicians — will sell 100 zine copies of "Latina Seeking Thug," which will include everything on the walls plus stuff that didn't make the cut. The artist hopes buyers will have as much fun with the collection as she has.
"It's super-rare, and it's a part of their life," she says. "I got to share my work with them, and that's it."