Can you tell us about Texta and your amazing superhero aesthetic?
‘Texta’ means felt-tip marker in Australia and it’s been my pseudonym for nearly 15 years. I sometimes dress in a superhero costume, the first version, in 1997, got created when I was doing kids’ drawing and workshops and then I carried it over into my art world persona. Markers are an accessible medium, and the superhero adds to my accessibility in the often cold, alienating, elitist gallery. And personally being a texta superhero is a way for me to feel a bit empowered in spaces that I’m marginalised, as brown, queer and seen as female. I mostly wear my marker themed superhero outfit only for kids’ activities these days, though I have other spandex outfits too.
Tell us about your most recent solo project “Unknown Artist” and the shift from earlier works, particularly the nude form and critical engagement with white bodies to the self portraiture.
‘Unknown Artist’ is a series of self-portraits, where I drew myself as different characters exploring aspects of my identities, especially race, sexuality and gender. Many of them are about me trying to connect with cultural heritage and cultural identity. They include one where I’m Gandhi the literally imperfect leader as a zombie, one reclaiming Indian mythology around the hyena, a self-love self-portrait of a superhero me rescuing a nude me, and one about internalizied patriarchy and white supremacy of me with blonde hair, blue contacts, holding a Ken doll being puppetted by Animal from the Muppets. It is a pretty big concept shift from my previous work; nudes of mostly white queers posed in scenarios of their choosing. I guess I’ve changed a lot as a person in the last few years, engaged more in what it means to be a racialised person in mostly white environments, acknowledging the ways I’ve adapted to and prioritised white people, and trying to change that conditioning. The last few years i’ve been trying to focus on finding and creating queer people of colour ‘community’’, so my creative and friendship circles have shifted a lot, and my art has too. Before the Unknown Artist series I did a series called We Dont Need Another Hero, where Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous people of colour living in Australia posed as protagonists of post-apocalyptic movies, with colonialism obviously being our apocalypse. My earlier work celebrated queerness, and what some might see as radical queerness, but I now acknowledge that it was very white-centric ideas of queerness, bodies, and beauty I was honouring. Shifting to a queer POC focus in my art and drawing the self-portraits has been indescribably healing and empowering, especially when I’ve had relatively few images of brownness, especially queer brownness, around me for my entire life.
Can you talk some about your writing project “Harshbrowns” and my favorite piece “The Kreayshawn complex: cultural appropriation as counter-cultural expression”?
I started writing my harshbrowns blog kind of anonymously, when I had just begun to race rage, catalysed by a few specific events mostly around cultural appropriation and racial fetishism in the white-centric queer ‘radical’ Melbourne scene. The race rage had been bubbling under the surface for a long time but the reaction of most of my white close friends to my explanations of how these events had impacted on me, quite suddenly alienated me from most of the people who had been really close in my life as I realised their racisms. Writing the blog, I processed these experiences, and even though the posts or poems are often addressed to white people, they were as much a way for me to connect with others with similar experiences, to try to build new connections in the face of an intense disillusionment in the idea of community I had known.
The responses to the blog have been really overwhelming, not just the high visitor stats, but the touching personal messages from people positively connecting with it as well as the intense reactions to people who have been confronted by the content. I think that the Kreayshawn complex post, on how cultural appropriation often seems an expression of people’s counter-cultural identity, using hip-hop as it’s main reference, spoke to a lot of people beyond the specific Melbourne-based events the post referenced. My words as a non-black person writing about appropriation, using mostly the example of appropriated black culture in the predominately non-black context of Australia could never articulate the complexity of the issues, but hopefully through my own lens as a racialised person I wrote something relatable, putting into a broader white-appropriation-of-other-cultures’ context.
What is your writing process like and how does it lie in conjecture with your illustrative art? Are there any writing projects in the works?
I hadn’t officially been a writer before starting the blog, other than song lyrics, casual travel blogging, journalling and brief writing about the people in my drawings. I’ve come to realise that I really enjoy the writing process and am a pretty articulate yet accessible writer. I have long periods where I only write for myself, if at all, keeping a very personal and ranty journal, but this processing usually bubbles into a form that I share. Writing often helps me conceptualise my visual art, and my visual art is usually emotional tangent to my writing. However, my writing has been more outwardly critical while my art is more focused on construction of identity. I was race raging hard at the world when I was drawing the We Don’t Need Another Hero post-apocalypse movie poster series at the same time as I was writing uncomfortable-for-white-people-poetry, whereas I did a lot of self-reflective, private writing while making my Unknown Artist self-portrait series. The Unknown Artist series reflects a lot on what ‘cultural heritage’ means and on completing that series I wrote a new piece about cultural identity and the personal effects of cultural appropriation on my connection to cultural heritage. This will soon be published in Peril magazine online, on the harshbrowns blog and sometimes read on tour with Sister Spit while showing the self-portraits as projections.
I’m really interested in your oppositional gaze onto structures and populaces of power within your work particularly, your critiques of whiteness, normativity, patriarchy, and coloniality. How is this politics of critical dissent informed within your art and writing?
I hope that especially my visual art is about constructing queer, POC, feminist, decolonized identity and that the representation and centering of these identities is the focus. My art values empowerment (though also vulnerability) over directly de-constructing the structures of power that affect these identities, which I feel is an effective way of resisting those structures. My writing has more directly critiqued, especially whiteness, though I’ve been trying lately to focus my energies in constructing identity, so that the ‘you’ pictured in my writing are those I identity with rather than addressing those who don’t share my experiences.
You work a lot with youth- we met at Girls Rock Camp, Oakland in Summer of 2012- and do a great number of workshops in Australia. Can you tell us about the import of young people for your work and your involvement with volunteer spaces?
I teach youth (and adult) drawing workshops, superhero identity workshops, contour line drawing and other stuff, but most of my ‘work’ with youth at the moment is hanging out with my friends’ kids. I do like working with young people and my artwork is generally accessible to many of them, not just in the felt-tip marker medium, but the playfulness is a friendly vehicle to deliver the complex content.
I’ve worked creatively, made and put my artwork in DIY, punk, and volunteer spaces as much as I have in white-walled commercial art spaces. I wouldn’t be making a living from my art without the commercial contexts I show in, I’m really pleased that my last show sold out in Melbourne, but I don’t often feel comfortable in those spaces. I am happy that my work is in major public institutions because many people will see it that aren’t going to access it at commercial galleries or punk environments. There’s definitely much to negotiate in less commercial environments, but I have more hope to make connections with and be inspired by folks, and contribute something real to people through my art and inter-personally, when I’m with people and in spaces that share aspects of my own identity. I’ve put a bit of energy into figuring out what QPOC community means in Melbourne, helping organise some social and performance events, but lately I’ve mostly been reclusively working on my visual art.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a series of ‘Poem Portraits’, seeking out queer, trans and two-spirit people of colour writers and poets to pose in a scenario with their words. I’ve made a few in this theme, and it’s been a great challenge to bring together these two creative practices that I enjoy. I’m hoping to show the series in Australia in February at a great Indigenous run gallery called Blak Dot in Melbourne, and I’d love to show them somewhere in the US or Canada too, if anyone has any leads. Other than that, I hope to write more that I share, keep making art I’m proud of, look after myself and look out for my friends.
Essence Harden is a current graduate student in the department of African American Studies at UC Berkeley. When she is not researching articulations of Black masculinity through 1980/90′s hair and styling practices you can find her reading sci-fi and eating bagels in her back lot/garden.
Hello! And welcome to my Better-Late-Than-Never ART Monday. This week I’m so excited to recommend Spit and Passion by Cristy C. Road.
Spit and Passion is a graphic coming out memoir focusing on the often-overlooked moment of secret childhood queer-revelation, rather than the more common narrative of adolescent queer-declaration. This isn’t a story about coming out to others- it’s about coming out to oneself. And for some of us, coming out to oneself looks a lot like this:
You could say the book takes place in early 90s Miami- but the setting would be more aptly described as in the mind of preteen Cristy as she navigates, and second-guesses, the realization that she’s probably a dyke.
The story tracks Cristy as she reconciles her Cuban-American Catholic upbringing with her new queer punk leanings.
She seeks solace in Ren & Stimpy, Freddy Mercury, Broadway musicals, Rosanne Barr, and most fanatically, Green Day. Her story is filled with references, as varied as they seem, that all outsider-gays will identify with. Ren & Stimpy is the millennial Burt & Ernie, no?
I’m a HUGE fan of Cristy C. Road’s illustrations and this book does not disappoint with incredibly beautiful artwork. Each panel is a stand-alone piece.
Buy a copy of Spit and Passion RIGHT NOW and come see Cristy C. Road when she’s on tour with Sister Spit 2013! (For those in the Bay Area- come to the Sister Spit Kick Off at The San Francisco Public Library on March 31)
AND ANOTHER THING: Cristy C. Road is also working on a tarot deck with our own Michelle Tea! Check out some of the drawings in the works- THEY ARE AMAZING.
Amber Dawn is the winner of Radar’s 3rd annual Eli Coppola Memorial Chapbook Contest. I recently got a sneak peak of her winning chapbook, How I Got My Tattoo, and it’s completely lovely. Amber will be coming all the way from her native Vancouver, Canada to read at the Radar Reading Series on March 6th. She will also be on hand at the East Baydar Literary Cabaret to answer your Hot Probs advice questions. In the mean time she took the time to answer some questions I posed to her about her zodiac, artistic process and upcoming projects.
When did you begin writing and/or identifying as a writer?
I began writing in my late-teens, but it took years before I had the confidence to call myself a writer. Maybe by the time I was in grad school, completing an MFA in Creative Writing, I identified as a writer. Before then, I just identified as a loud mouth, who sometimes wrote shit down on paper.
Would you recommend doing a Creative Writing graduate program to budding writers?
I think it’s a way to develop one’s writing practice and complete a book, but it’s not the only way. For me, the structure and institutional support was a gift. I still reflect on my grad with fond feelings. My grad cohort was populated with fantastic writers, who I miss dearly. Since graduating, I still haven’t found a writing group or community quite the same. I should also say that Canadian university fees are significantly lower than in the USA. While I always had a job, or two, during university, I never took out loans. I’d feel pretty peeved if I had to go into debt to write!
Which writers, and artists, have inspired you and your work?
Beth Goobie, Lynn Crosby, Larissa Lai, Nalo Hopkinson, Barbara Gowdy, Hiromi Goto, Persimmon Blackbridge … I’m naming Canadian authors because I encourage folks in the USA to read CanLit. What do all these authors have in common, you may ask? They all unflinchingly understand that complex identities and literature make wonderful companions.
What is your process like? Do you have a favorite place you like to write? Do you have any interesting quirks, or rituals, regarding how things should be to have a good creative session?
I’m lazy, and I was raised Italian-Catholic. So I procrastinate when writing, then I guilt and shame myself for not being as productive as I should be. Currently, my wife is also writing a book-length project, so the two of us support each other. Sometimes we joke about our writing projects in the bedroom, like “I wrote 1500 words today, so now you totally owe me a blowjob …” It helps us not slip into writing-depression.
Your piece, “To All the Butches I Loved Between 1995 and 2005: An Open Letter about Selling Sex, Selling Out, and Soldiering On,” in the anthology Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme is one of my favorite pieces of writing about sex work. In it you discuss many of the personal sacrifices that come with working in the industry, especially in regards to relationships, and it reads as a sort of confessional. Often times we sex workers must justify our occupation in the face of societal judgment so we play down the darker sides of the trade. Has this been true for you at all, and if so, did you ever find it difficult to write about the challenges of the work with this external pressure at play?
This has been very true for me. Sex workers are a silenced population and so I understand the privilege I have in being about to use my voice and speak up around sex work. With this privilege comes a sort of duty to represent sex workers as the dignified peoples that we are. Being worthy of esteem and dignity does not mean that I haven’t grappled with many personal low moments, in sex work and in other areas of my life, and these stories of vulnerability are important to me too. It’s bullshit that sex workers (or anyone) have to represent themselves infallible. More recently, I decided that I am forwarding sex workers’ by showing myself as a complex human being. I hope readers see strength and find solidarity in what I write about—even the darker parts.
What was one of your favorite memories from touring with Annie Oakley’s Sex Workers’ Art Show?
That tour was is rich with memories for me, it’s hard to pick one. I toured four times with SWAS. I said things on stage I had never actually told anyone before. I developed my voice as we went from city to city. Young women in the audience would disclose their own truths to me after the show. It was truly empowering. But I guess my favourite memories was simply sharing stories and wisdoms with the other performers backstage. Here were other sex workers who were making outstanding art and leading inspiring lives. My tour mates gave me such hope, you know, SWAS tour made it okay to be who I am.
I know you must be busy gearing up for promo for the spring release of your new book, How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir, but what’s next? Do you have a new project in the works?
After launching a memoir, I’m looking forward to returning to Speculative Fiction. I love fantasy and magic. I’ve recently begun writing a queer ghost story that takes place in my birth home—Crystal Beach, Ontario—a small amusement park town that went bankrupt and lost the amusement park in 1989. The book will be something of a salute to my childhood.
Rhiannon Argo is a writer of fiction, a schooled librarian, and a seasoned Sister Spitter. She is the author of the Lambda Award winning novel The Creamsickle and a forthcoming novel, Girls I’ve Run Away With, (September, 2013) about two teenage girls in love and on the run. More info can be found at www.rhiannonargo.com.
OMG, I bussed over to North Beach to record a video for Banned Book Week at City Lights (I read from Genet’s The Thief’s Journal ) and what did I find on the counter but Sister Spit: Writing, Rants and Reminiscences from the Road, Sister Spit’s first anthology AND the first book out on the new Sister Spit / City Lights imprint!
City Lights is the pub house that Lawrence Ferlinghetti built, and I got to shoot my video in his office, which looks the way you’d want it to look, replete with a broken-down Poet’s Chair in the corner. You guys, the Poet’s Chair is off it’s rocker! Like, it’s a rocking chair and one of the thingies came off the bottom and if you have any carpentry or handy-person skillz you should offer your services to City Lights and save the Poet’s Chair! I can’t even imagine all the illustrious poet behinds that have rested on this hallowed piece of furniture.
Mr. Ferlinghetti’s chapeau.
Here is where I sat and read Genet. Apparently, John Waters sat there only a bit before, reading one of the smuttier parts of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I caught Facebook posts from Kevin Killian (he read The Chocolate War, a book nearly challenged by my catholic school in the 80s) and Sister Spit contributor MariNaomi talking about their Banned Book Week videos – this project is going to be soooo cool! Banned Book Week begins September 24th.
Check it out – a box of Sister Spit books! We’ve come a long way since the days of stealing our annual zines from Kinko’s! I can’t wait to hand these out to contributors at all our upcoming book parties – Skylight in LA Oct. 18, Capitola Book Cafe Oct. 22, right here at CITY LIGHTS Oct. 24, Pegasus Books on Shattuck in Berekely Oct. 25th, Powell’s in Portland Nov. 8, Greenlight in Brooklyn Nov. 14 and Bluestocking in NYC Nov. 15! See you there!
Hey, look! It’s the very first book cover of the very first publication by Sister Spit Books! Sister Spit: Writing, Rants and Reminiscence from the Road will be out this October, and we’ve already got some book parties lined up – mark your calendars for October 24th at City Lights (let’s take over Spec’s after!) and Pegasus Books on Shattuck on the 25th. We’ll also be doing events in Los Angeles, Portland, Santa Cruz, Sacramento and in Boston during the AWP this winter. The anthology contains new and old work by people who’ve been hopping in the van with Sister Spit since 1997: an excerpt from 3-time Spitter Ali Liebegott’s forthcoming novel Ch-Ching! (out next year on Sister Spit books), witchery from Kirk Read, art from Cassie J Sneider, a crazy European tour diary from Rhiannon Argo and a hilarious US tour journal from Blake Nelson, and waaaaaay more – Cooper Lee Bombardier (whose iconic 90s Spit art graces the cover!), Eileen Myles, Tamara Llosa-Sandor, Tara Jepsen, Kat Marie Yoas, Sara Seinberg, Elisha Lim, Nicole J Georges, Lenelle Moise, Myriam Gurba, Ben McCoy, Beth Lisick, Harry Dodge, MariNaomi and Cristy C Road. WOW! And these are only some of the people who’ve jumped in the Sister Spit van! More volumes are forthcoming, as are new works from Ali Liebegott, Beth Lisick, Dia Felix, Lenelle Moise and more! Just wanted to brag. I’m excited!
And check out Sister(Spit)hood is Powerful! – 15 Years of Sister Spit on the Road featuring Michelle Tea, Texta Queen, Brontez Purnell, MariNaomi, Nomy Lam, Tamara Llosa-Sandor and Kat Marie Yoas! Friday, May 18th at La Pena Cultural Center, Berkeley, 8pm. Get tickets here!