Visual artist, Chicago nightlife scene drag performer legend, doll-maker and hairdresser Jojo Baby died March 14 of liver, lung and stomach cancer. They were 51.
Baby was born April 10, 1971, in Chicago and grew up in the Logan Square neighborhood. Their mother, who was a Chicago Playboy Club bunny in the late '50s to early '60s, coined their pet name Jojo Baby. That name stuck, became their stage and later legal name, and was what everyone called them throughout their life. They went to Mary Kay parties with their mother, which is where they learned to do makeup.
They attended the now-defunct Quigley Preparatory Seminary North with the intention of becoming a Franciscan monk; however, when a priest told them they were too theatrical and should be in show business they took the priest's advice and dropped out of school.
Due to their father's homophobia, Baby left home at age 14 and lived with other club kids in a Lake View shanty.
A local legend and celebrity for their looks and performances, Baby was a constant presence in the Chicago nightclub scene for decades, including performing at River North's now-defunct nightclub Shelter where Jojo Baby the performer was born; Lake View's now-defunct Foxy's nightclub, where they found their niche in the underground performance art scene; Wicker Park's now-defunct Boom Boom Room @ Red Dog; Wicker Park's Debonair social club; and hosting Queen! at the Sunday night LGBTQ party at Lake View's Smartbar.
Baby hosted other parties and walked runways while also creating their art and dolls that were later showcased at their Wicker Park galleryand most recently at their Ukrainian Village gallery on Chicago Avenue. They were a model and muse to Nick Cave, Greer Lankton and Geoffrey Mac. Baby was also Lankton's apprentice. Baby had a studio space that they called Jojo's Closet, where they worked and also stored their finished products.
They also worked as a hair stylist at Milio's Hair Salon from 1992 to 2009, and was known for the psychedelic hairdos worn by Dennis Rodman.
Baby was in the 2012 film Scrooge & Marley as the Ghost of Christmas Future and was featured in the 2012 book, Getting into Face: 52 Mondays Featuring Jojo Baby and Sal-e.
In 2015, Clive Barker produced a documentary about Baby focusing on their history and the art they created. The documentary also included interviews with other drag queens and club kids who drew inspiration from Baby.
In January and February of this year, Baby's hand-made dolls were showcased at Chicago's West Town private gallery, Paris London Hong Kong. The exhibition, The Bandages Are Off, included dolls Baby made in between rounds of chemotherapy, among their other works. The title of the exhibition was inspired by Baby's battle with cancer.
In an interview with WBEZ late last year, Baby said, "I'm constantly absorbing everything from everywhere. I always said if you mixed Jim Henson, Clive Barker and Boy George in a blender, you'd get a Jojo."
Baby's work can also be found in collects at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Streeterville, the Illinois State Museum in Springfield, and the Luxembourg + Co gallery in New York City.
Additionally, Baby was a Sister with the Abbey of the Windy City Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a queer and trans drag queen nuns performing artist and community service group, for many years.
Baby was preceded in death by their parents Joy Ann (Adoski) and John Luis Arguellas. They are survived by brothers Jason (Jay Jay) Arguellas and Justin Arguellas and countless chosen family members and friends.
"If bars and clubs are the LGBTQ community's churches and temples, then Jojo was one of our priests," said longtime friend and nightlife personality Richard Streetman. "Jojo's performances touched thousands of people's hearts and minds but I am particularly honored I got to know the person behind the mask underneath all those fabulous wigs and costumes. Having been around Jojo for decades, I cannot recall a single negative moment in any of our interactions. Jojo was pure light, goodness, wonder and love. There will never be another person like Jojo, whom I will remember and miss for the rest of my days."
"I used to do what I called 'Byrd Bardot Presents King and Queen Nightlife' crowning ceremonies, and in the 1993-1994 season Bobby Pins was crowned King and JoJo Baby was crowned Queen," said longtime friend Bryd Bardot. "After that season, I ended that crowning ceremony and when people asked me why I always told them 'how can you top Jojo?' I am very honored to call Jojo one of my kids. When Jojo came to the Shelter doors where I worked, I spent time with them outside, since they were not able to enter due to being underage. At first Jojo was dressed in fashionable pants and shirts. Then when Jojo observed all the patrons in their costumes, they started to experiment with their own sense of dress and style. That began Jojo's journey and I am truly honored to have experienced it from beginning to end."
"JoJo Baby was an enigma," said longtime friend, roommate, fellow artist and collaborator Brant McCrea. "He was peaceful and kind, but his soul was carrying a heavy weight. His calm demeanor made you think he was looking into your soul. He prayed to the Virgin Mary, and sewed chakras into the dolls he made to give them life. He was one of the most popular Drag Queens and door hosts in Chicago.
"His living spaces were densely packed with his dolls, and the many things he collected. Varying from things of the morbid category like human skulls, taxidermy, teeth and prosthetic eyes. He also collected Cabbage Patch kids and had so many Raggedy Anne's it became an art installation of its own, a huge pile spilling from the corner of a roomeight contractor bags full, to be specific.
"He had every word he was ever called tattooed on his skin.
"As a close friend for years, I realized that behind the magnificently over the top looks, the thing he became iconic for was being a sensitive person. He was soft spoken, but steadfast in his views. He was not afraid of anybody and wore who he was on the outside. He was okay being vulnerable and fine knowing that life is a hustle.
"The last year he was dealing with a lot of health problems and took them like a champ. He was in a lot of pain but kept going, kept working in the Drag scene, until he could not. I asked him a few years ago what his pronouns were and he said, 'I prefer to be called an it.' He told me that when he was younger he was fascinated with being a woman. In his teenage years and early 20's, he wanted to be a woman. But as he got older, he got a lot more comfortable feeling that he was a gay man that does drag, makes art and is art."
A memorial service will be held at Smartbar. Details TBA.