Jerome Caja

"Jerome Caja (1958-1995) was an American mixed-media painter and Queercore performance artist in San Francisco, California in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Early life and education

Caja was born on January 20, 1958 in Cleveland, Ohio and raised in a large strict Catholic family. One of 11 sons, Caja called it a family of jocks, although he himself was a frail sickly child. Caja attended Cleveland State University where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1984. He then moved to San Francisco to continue his art education and graduated with a Master of Fine Arts degree from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1986.


In the late 1980s, Caja became a well-known artistic personality within the radical gay scene in San Francisco. Caja performed as a drag queen and go-go dancer in San Francisco's queer punk nightclubs, where his performance art has been described as "post-apocalyptic deconstructive drag." In one Easter performance at Club Uranus, Caja in drag performed an elaborate reenactment of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
Caja crafted miniature mixed-media artworks which he created from everyday materials, especially those used by drag queens such as nail polish, sequins, lace and glitter. Many of Caja's works were influenced by Catholic iconography and satirized Christian morality. Professor of Communication Fred Turner described Caja's paintings as "fragments of a private allegory -- often dizzyingly grotesque, but also glorious, gentle and sad."


According to Caja, he tested positive for HIV around 1989 and began to show symptoms of sickness around 1992. In September and August 1995, the Archives of American Art recorded an oral history interview with Caja. He died of AIDS in San Francisco on November 3, 1995. His memorial service was held at the Hole in the Wall gay bar in South of Market, San Francisco.


The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) twice provided exhibits of paintings by Caja. Before his death, Caja gifted his unsold artworks to the SFMOMA. Caja's personal papers and effects are archived in the Smithsonian Institution."