Thursday, December 17, 2015

Female Prisoners In California are Hunger Striking In Solidarity with Detained Immigrants

Rajeshree Roy with Carolyn Miller, a close friend, on a visit at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF).


Something very significant is brewing in California right now. Female prisoners in the Yuba County Jail are organising in solidarity with immigrants n detention.
Yesterday (Monday 14th December) a group of women began a hunger strike, joining hundreds of other detainees taking part in hunger strikes at facilities across the country.
You may or may not have heard about the fasting and hunger strikes going on in immigrant detention facilities across the country. Up and down the country–in the Hutto Immigrant Detention Center in Texas; in an immigrant detention center in the high desert city of Adelanto, California; in the Krome Service Processing Center in Florida; and in Alabama, in El Paso, Texas and in Lasalle, Louisiana, too.
Vikki Law has covered these as a trend. And they are. Collectively, the strikes are known as the #FreedomGiving Strikes and they were launched on Thanksgiving by hundreds of South Asian and African detainees at three separate facilities. The movement has grown.
Never before (to my knowledge) has the political resistance of detained immigrants run in cohort with the political action of citizens in county or state facilities. The Yuba County Jail rents space to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain people. For the first time, women in criminal custody are fasting with detainees in immigration custody as an act of solidarity. Phenomenal. Principled. Inspiring.
The Yuba Co. Jail hunger strike is led by, and in support of, Rajashree Roy (above). You can read a longer detailed account of Roy’s journey here.
To be brief, Roy faces deportation back to Fiji where she has not lived since she was 8-years-old. As a child, Roy suffered sexual abuse and upon relocation to the United States never received counseling or help. By the time she was in her teens she was both attempting suicide and robbing and beating people. She was very troubled and the undelrying causes had never been addressed.
Sentenced as an adult at age 16, Rajashree spent 17-years at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF). Nine years later, struggling to survive and feed her children while in an abusive relationship, she stole a garden hosepipe from a store, a misdemeanor petty theft.
Due to her priors, the District Attorney set bail at $1million and offered a 25-to-life sentence. In 2011, Roy accepted a plea bargain of seven years. In November 2014, she qualified for release under Prop 47. When Rajashree Roy stepped foot out of CCWF, she was picked up by ICE and slated for deportation back to Fiji, away from her children.
After years of silence due to shame and stigma as an abuse survivor and ‘criminal’, Rajashree Roy has gained confidence through peer and advocacy support and decided to be public with her story and fight for herself and others.
“We are locked up together and refuse to be divided into immigrants and citizens. None of us belong in this cage separated from our families. We join the brave immigrant hunger strikers across the country in fasting to force recognition of our humanity,” says the staement of Roy and her fellow hunger strikers at Yuba County Jail.


  1. Join community organizers at ASPIRE, the nation’s first pan-Asian undocumented youth-led group, at a fast in solidarity outside Yuba County Jail.
  2. Support the #FreedomGiving strikers by signing the petition.
  3. Help raise funds for Rajashree’s $10,000 bond.
  4. Write letters of support to the women on hunger strike:
Rajeshree Roy
Booking No. 229860
Yuba County Jail
P.O. Box 1031
Marysville, California 95901
Jessica Bullock
Booking No. 235161
Yuba County Jail
P.O. Box 1031
Marysville, California 95901
Tisha Sartor
Booking No. 233892
Yuba County Jail
P.O. Box 1031
Marysville, California 95901
Kyra Beckles
Booking No. 234664
Yuba County Jail
P.O. Box 1031
Marysville, California 95901
Juanita Thomas
Booking No. 235553
Yuba County Jail
P.O. Box 1031
Marysville, California 95901
Ana Marquez
Booking No. 235550
Yuba County Jail
P.O. Box 1031
Marysville, California 95901

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Tools For Action

"Tools for Action is a community project using inflatable sculptures as a tool for intervention."

Monday, December 14, 2015

The “Terrorist Drag” of Vaginal Davis


The most comprehensive archive of the artist Vaginal Creme Davis is on YouTube, where fans have uploaded hundreds of clips of her videos and performances. “That Fertile Feeling,” a video from 1986, follows Davis and her close friend, Fertile LaToya Jackson, after Fertile’s water breaks while the two women are watching television. At the hospital, Fertile is turned away because she doesn’t have state health insurance. Eventually, at the apartment of Fertile’s boyfriend (who is always naked), Davis coaches Fertile through giving birth to eleven-tuplets. After a successful delivery, Fertile rides away on a skateboard down a Los Angeles street, Davis calling after her.
“Fertile!” Davis yells, “You’re so fertile! You’re the first woman in the world to give birth to eleven-tuplets!”
Fertile’s delivery is an ambiguous miracle: both because of the large quantity of babies, and how Davis and Fertile perform an uncertain womanhood. Are they mocking the fact that they have bodies that may not be able to give birth, and that are turned away at hospitals? Or are they mocking a cultural fixation on pregnancy as the marker of womanhood? Either way, the two artists parody an entire epoch of divine births. Maybe Mary was a virgin; just as possible, perhaps, is that she was trans.
Davis’s new exhibition at Invisible-Exports, “Come On Daughter Save Me,” includes sixteen blood-red wall sculptures. Like her performance and video work, Davis’s sculptures do not ascribe to distinctions between artist and hobbyist, sacred and amateur. She made these objects in Berlin, where she has lived for almost a decade, out of quick-drying clay and whatever else was lying around: red nail polish, hydrogen peroxide, perfume, witch hazel. Some are melted faces; others look like genitals that you’ve never seen before. All could be the work of an ancient-maker or an obsessive child. She doesn’t consider herself “a sculptress like Louise Nevelson” but has always made objects to keep herself amused.
The show’s title, “Come On Daughter Save Me,” is taken from a phrase the artist’s mother said to her often when she was a child. According to Davis, her black Creole mother—then forty-five years old—met her twenty-year-old Mexican-American father only once: under the table at a Ray Charles concert at the Hollywood Palladium, sometime in the early nineteen-sixties. The artist was born from this encounter.
Davis was born intersex, at a time when doctors assigned children with her anatomy a gender of “male” or “female” through surgical intervention. (These procedures persist today, though at lower rates.) Her mother refused to let doctors operate. So Davis grew up with the word “male” on her birth certificate but with her mother and four older sisters referring to her by female pronouns. Their household in South Central Los Angeles, Davis said, was a “Druid Wiccan witches’ coven” where her identity as a daughter was not questioned but affirmed.
Davis got her start in L.A.’s predominately white punk scene as the front woman of an art-punk band called the Afro Sisters, where she referenced and drew inspiration from iconic black radicals like Angela Davis, after whom she named herself. Throughout the eighties, Vaginal Davis developed multiple personas and performed incongruous identities. She was a black revolutionary drag queen, a teen-age Chicana pop star, a white-supremacist militiaman. These characters often referred to one another: against her better judgment, Vaginal Davis pined for Clarence, a rabid white supremacist; Clarence, too, harbored secret affections. Their dynamic caricatured that illicit desire that exists despite—or, perhaps, because of—racism. This kind of political critique, simultaneously absurd and hyper-real, made Davis a muse to a generation of queer writers and critics, like the late José Esteban Muñoz, who died in 2013.
Muñoz was the first person to use the term “terrorist drag” to describe the work of Davis—in particular, the way she interrogated rather than obscured her cultural otherness. Referring to herself as a drag queen, a hermaphrodite, and a “sexual repulsive,” Davis used her performances to critique the many contexts in which she was undesirable. “I don’t fit into mainstream society, but I also don’t really fit into ‘alternative culture,’ either,” she told me recently. “I was always too gay for the punks and too punk for the gays. I am a societal threat.”
“Terrorist drag,” as performed by Davis and theorized by Muñoz, feels especially relevant in a security age when people continue to be surveilled due to their gender identities. In 2003, amid post-9/11 overhauls, the Department of Homeland Security warned the Transportation Security Administration that “male bombers may dress as females in order to discourage scrutiny.” In airports, trans people continue to be pulled aside at far higher rates than cis people: body parts like a trans woman’s penis or a trans man’s chest-binder register on body scanners as “anomalies.” Just last week, the Republican Presidential candidate Ted Cruz incorrectly suggested in a press conference that the attacker behind a recent mass shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood was “a transgendered leftist activist.”
Concurrent with this rhetoric and policy, a generation of gay Americans appears to be benefitting from rights and protections that were an impossibility for previous generations. The laws that didn’t save the elders, it seems, are going to save some of the children. The title of Davis’s show, “Come On Daughter Save Me,” is a bittersweet plea, and a cautionary warning. As she told me last week, “You can’t change institutions from the inside, as they always wind up changing you.” This is why she is content with her place as an outsider of the institutional art world, and of culture at large. She does what she wants, makes what she wants, and mocks who she wants; she rejects inclusion, and its limiting factors.
Davis continues to be prolific: in addition to the sixteen wall sculptures, “Come On Daughter Save Me” included a radical re-staging of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” at N.Y.U.’s 80WSE Gallery, in collaboration with the director Susanne Sachsse. “The Magic Flute” was the first opera Davis saw, at the age of seven, at the famed Shrine Auditorium, in South Central Los Angeles. Around this time, she was an active youth member at the Theocratic Ministry School, a division of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. There, she learned what she liked (the historical significance of the Bible, the principles of rhetoric) and rejected what she didn’t: namely, any doctrine that did not make room for her entire existence. Davis is not religious, but her work is a sacred mythology for the outsider.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

This woman got a prime seat at a Trump rally, and spent the whole time reading a book about racism

This woman got a prime seat behind Donald Trump Monday at a rally in Springfield, Illinois and spent her time reading a book.
Not just any book though, she was reading "Citizen: An American Lyric" by Claudia Rankine, which contains poetry focused on race.
A couple behind her was infuriated, and tapped her on the shoulder asking her to stop. She wouldn't, and gave an explanation that clearly did not please the two. The exchange went on for the better part of 30 seconds, followed by the couple staring her down for the rest of the rally.
Story by Allan Smith, editing by Stephen Parkhurst

Monday, November 9, 2015

Women Protested The UK’s 'Tampon Tax' By Bleeding In White Pants

Feminine hygiene products are considered a "luxury item" by the British government.

Three British women took to the streets on Friday Nov. 6 in white pants to make a statement against the EU's tax on feminine hygiene products. And they made sure to leave their tampons at home. 
Charlie Edge, 22, led the protest along with two friends. The young women stood outside of the Parliament building in London to protest the government's refusal to classify the sanitary products as a essential items. 
According to their Facebook post, the women decided to publicly forgo tampons and pads while on their periods "to show how 'luxury' tampons really are."
Feminine hygiene products are subject to an extra tax in the UK -- meaning that women are charged an additional fee whenever they purchase tampons and maxi pads, on top of the costs incurred by retailers and upped by profit margins.
This is because sanitary products are still considered a "luxury item" by the government, even though other toiletries like razors and incontinence pads are not subject to the same tax. 
"We're getting lots of dirty looks and someone just shouted at us to get a job. But everyone keeps saying 'haha omg how quickly would we get free tampons if everyone stopped wearing them?!' So, I'm giving it a go," Edge wrote in her Facebook post.
The extra 30 pence -- nearly 50 cents -- on each box of tampons and pads may not seem like a lot, but research suggests women spend nearly $28,000 on period-related products, with around $2,000 on tampons alone. 
The British government won a vote by just 305 to 287 on Monday that prevented the removal of the 5 percent "tampon tax." 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Interview // QAF artist Coral Short

When I first met inter­na­tional Queer per­for­mance artist Coral Short at the Queer Arts Fes­ti­val’s open­ing art party, she was wear­ing box­ing shorts and a deter­mined expres­sion. Don­ning her gloves, she walked onto stage and began to per­form her open­ing piece, Stop Beat­ing Your­self Up, a lit­eral box­ing match fought entirely–and mercilessly–against her­self. When I met Short a few days later for our inter­view, she was a rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent per­son. Relaxed, smil­ing, and as I dis­cov­ered later, a lit­tle con­cussed, Short was noth­ing like the fierce fighter I remem­bered from a few nights ago.
As we talked per­for­mance, med­i­ta­tion, and travel over after­noon cof­fee, I real­ized that Short is actu­ally both of these peo­ple: open and friendly, but also strong and, hon­estly, intim­i­dat­ing. Despite her gen­tle nature, Short clearly has no prob­lem being ruth­less when it comes to what really mat­ters: cre­at­ing pow­er­ful, boundary-pushing art.
Coral Short performs Stop Beating Yourself Up, photos by Katie Stewart
Coral Short per­forms Stop Beat­ing Your­self Up, photo by Katie Stew­art
SAD Mag: You first per­formed Stop Beat­ing Your­self Up in 2013 at Edgy Women in Mon­treal. In a recent inter­view with Daily Xtra, you said that you chose to add some mod­i­fi­ca­tions to the piece for this year’s per­for­mance: decreas­ing the length from the orig­i­nal three hours to one and keep­ing a para­medic on hand. Why did you choose to per­form the piece again, if it was so dam­ag­ing the first time?
Coral Short: I actu­ally never wanted to do this piece again, but Artis­tic Direc­tor SD Hol­man, through the Gen­eral Man­ager, Elliott Hearte, really wanted me to do the piece and offered to fly me out here. And my lit­tle sis­ter Amber just had a baby–the first baby in the Short fam­ily, so I said, “Okay, I’m going to do this for this nephew.”
SM: You mean, beat your­self up for her child?
CS: Basi­cally! After [the per­for­mance] I sent my sis­ter a text that said, “This will make a good story one day, but my head really hurts.”
SM: Did you get any­thing new out of repeat­ing your per­for­mance? Has your orig­i­nal inten­tion or rela­tion­ship to the piece changed since 2013? 
CS: I think it did. The first time I did it, I didn’t do it with full body aware­ness. Since that time I’ve been to three vipassanas–ten day silent retreats–and I have a daily med­i­ta­tion prac­tice. Being more inside my body than I used to, [the per­for­mance] was more impactual on the cel­lu­lar struc­ture than it did orig­i­nally. Each time has been a rit­ual, but I think this [time] was more like a clo­sure: “I will stop doing this now–stop doing this very lit­eral performance–stop beat­ing myself up.” We all need to move for­ward from this inter­nal strug­gle, myself included!
It’s also really, really hard on the audi­ence. This per­for­mance, peo­ple are more with me than any other per­for­mance I’ve ever done. They’re hor­ri­fied, but they’re with me. There’s blood spurt­ing out of me, but peo­ple try to stay the course with me. Psy­cho­log­i­cally, it’s really hard on peo­ple. I can’t make eye con­tact with them, so I have to look at the wall or the cam­eras or the floor. I’m a chan­nel for the audience–a vis­ceral sym­bol for the strug­gle inside themselves.
They want to pro­tect me–they want to stop me. But no one does. When I first did the piece in 2013, I was asked by my cura­tor, “What if some­one stops you?” And I said, “It will just become part of the piece.” But no one stopped me then, and no one stopped me now. I think the audi­ence becomes trans­fixed with a hyp­notic mor­bid fascination.
Photo by Katie Stew­art
SM: Do you think that’s because it’s art, or do you think that’s just human nature?
CS: I think there’s a “This is art” thing going on. But, I think if some­one would have tried to stop me, I would have stopped. I think all it would take is just one person.
I think peo­ple almost want to see it play out. If you look back across human­ity, or to Game of Thrones, there’s always been a love of fight­ing and blood. The fight­ing pits, the colos­seum, the behead­ings –I think there’s an ele­ment of human­ity that wants to see that. Blood is powerful.
SM: In addi­tion to per­form­ing at the festival’s open­ing party, you also curated a film night this year called TRIGGERWARNING. How did you find the “fear­less Queer video art” for that event? 
CS: I travel a lot. I have about ten home bases. I move with a lot of ease in the world due to the priv­i­lege of being a triple pass­port holder. I have all these dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties that I have lived and worked in, so I meet so many more cre­ators than the aver­age per­son. While I’m mov­ing, I talk to other cura­tors, inter­act with other fes­ti­vals, other artists, every­where I go. I come across incred­i­ble film­mak­ers some of whom I have been work­ing with for almost a decade.  I’m part of a huge Queer net­work of cul­tural pro­duc­ers in Asia, North Amer­ica and Europe who I can reach out to at any time on the inter­net. We are all there for each other.
Photo by Katie Stewart
Photo by Katie Stew­art
SM: And how did you choose which ones to include? What qual­i­fied the videos as too triggering–or not trig­ger­ing enough–for the event?
CS: It’s actu­ally really hard to find trig­ger­ing work. I cut out pieces that I found prob­lem­atic in terms of race and trans issues. I didn’t want any­one to feel unwel­come in the space. In the end, I cre­ated a bill that I felt com­fort­able with and I felt other peo­ple would be com­fort­able with, but there were def­i­nitely pieces that push the limit in terms of sexuality.
SM: Were there a lot of strong reactions?
CS: Well, actu­ally it’s funny, I feel like my bill was not trig­ger­ing enough. Per­haps I have to try harder! There was blood and piss and some­one kiss­ing their par­ents and per­for­mance art on the verge of self harm. But it was a fine line, because I didn’t want to make any­one feel so uncom­fort­able that they would walk off in a bad state alone into the world.
SM: What’s been your expe­ri­ence as some­one who works both with film and per­for­mance? Do you think peo­ple react very dif­fer­ently to the two art forms?
CS: I think peo­ple are wary of per­for­mance art, because they feel that it’s an unpre­dictable medium–which it is — that is the joy of it!  A lot of my video cura­tions make per­for­mance art more palat­able in a way. And video makes it pos­si­ble to get all these artists with dynamic per­son­al­i­ties from dif­fer­ent loca­tions on one bill. That’s why I love video: all that tal­ent within three min­utes. It’s amaz­ing. For exam­ple: Mor­gan M PageEduardo Resrepo, and local artist Jade Yumang.
Photo by Katie Stewart
Photo by Katie Stew­art
SM: In that same Daily Xtra inter­view, you refer to Van­cou­ver cul­ture as “very PC com­pared to the east coast,” and in another inter­view with Edgy Women, you describe Mon­treal as “one of the few remain­ing metrop­o­lises that is afford­able to live cheaply and cre­ate art.” Van­cou­ver cul­ture receives a lot of this sort of criticism–among the well known, of course, is the Econ­o­mist’srecent inclu­sion of Van­cou­ver in the list of “mind-numbingly bor­ing” cities. Do you think our atti­tude will ever change, or are we for­ever doomed to be small-minded, unaf­ford­able and ulti­mately, boring?
CS: I feel like the Van­cou­ver art com­mu­nity is thriv­ing these days! There’s been a much needed show of city sup­port: a bunch of money given to VIVO and the art orga­ni­za­tions in that area. There seems to be some new stuff hap­pen­ing; there’s always some great work. I always like to find out what’s hap­pen­ing here–who the new upcom­ing artists are, like Emilio Rojas, Helen Reed and Han­nah Jickling.
Photo by Katie Stewart
Photo by Katie Stew­art
SM: Obvi­ously you’re famil­iar with the theme of this year’s fes­ti­val: draw­ing the line. As a per­former and artist, you’ve crossed many lines: from hole-puppet protests to phys­i­cal self-abuse, you don’t seem afraid to “go too far” when it comes to your craft. This might be cliche, but where (if ever) do you draw the line? And why?
CS: When I was a young artist, I used to repeat some kind of mantra that went some­thing like this:  to keep push­ing through my lim­its to go to the other side. I really wanted that to be my work: to not be afraid of any­thing. Push it as far as you can go and then push it far­ther.  That’s where it begins and where my prac­tice has grown — when I take risks and walk my own path.
But my artis­tic prac­tice has changed since I did vipas­sana. I’ve started to make places for peo­ple to sit down, because peo­ple want to relax; it’s a really fast-paced life. So I made a giant, portable nest. I give peo­ple rides with these brown, vel­vet cush­ions while they hold this egg, and they become very bird­like. Peo­ple love to sit in it. I’ve also started mak­ing this incred­i­ble earth fur­ni­ture that is opu­lently grow­ing with plants on rad­i­cal faerie sanc­tu­ary land in Ver­mont and at IDA. I’m build­ing places for peo­ple to repose, relax and be comfortable.
SM: Is this expe­ri­ence of com­fort some­thing you’re try­ing to com­mu­ni­cate in your art? Is that your intention?
CS: I think it just kind of hap­pened. I have almost 15 years of sobri­ety, and each year I grow into my body and cel­lu­lar struc­ture a lit­tle more. That’s com­ing through in my work. It’s all tied into med­i­ta­tion and slow­ing down. The Queer scene is soaked in sub­stances and lack of self-awareness, so liv­ing inside our bod­ies as queers is rev­o­lu­tion­ary. Self-love is radical.

The Van­cou­ver Queer Arts Fes­ti­val runs from July 23 — August 7. Event list­ings are avail­able on the fes­ti­val web­siteFor more infor­ma­tion about Coral Short, fol­low her on Twit­ter and Face­book, or visit her web­site.

A Queer Feminist Haunted House Filled with Riot Ghouls and Polyamorous Vampires

KillJoy's Kastle, Toronto 2013 (photo by Sarah Westlake)
KillJoy’s Kastle, Toronto 2013 (photo by Sarah Westlake)
LOS ANGELES — As Halloween season approaches, haunted houses spring up around the country, turning people’s darkest fears into entertainment. While it’s common to address fears about death and the afterlife, other fears remain outside of the standard seasonal fare, namely those surrounding gender and sexuality. These are precisely the fears confronted head-on by KillJoy’s Kastle: A Lesbian Feminist Haunted House, an installation created by artists Allyson Mitchell and Deirdre Logue.
Mitchell first got the idea when she was traveling around Canada with another artwork of hers, “Ladies Sasquatch” (2006–10). That piece is composed of numerous oversized she-beast figures covered in faux-fur and pelts, complete with cartoonish breasts and, in some cases, plush genitalia. The figures are menacing and whimsically inviting at the same time.
Allyson Mitchell, "Ladies Sasquatch" (detail), as featured in Alien She at the Orange County Museum of Art, February 15 - May 24, 2015 (photo by the author)
Allyson Mitchell, “Ladies Sasquatch” (detail), as featured in Alien She at the Orange County Museum of Art, 2015 (photo by the author)
Mitchell was surprised when venue after venue asked her to include a warning about sexual or adult content. “What is it that raised an alarm bell for them, that there was something wrong here?” she asked when I sat down with her and Logue last week. “For me, it’s this point that breaks through the polite veneer of contemporary gay acceptance. It’s OK for two white people of the same sex to get married and have a mortgage and pay taxes, but they don’t want dirty, unassimilated dykes. That’s what those sasquatches are — because they’re feral, they’re a coven. After that, it was ‘lesbian feminist’ everything. Let’s push these boundaries and see what happens.”
Mitchell said another influence on the project was the historically common evangelical Christian “Hell Houses,” one of which was featured in the 2001 documentary Hell House. Unlike traditional haunted houses, these are moralizing experiences, highlighting the dangers of “sinful” activities such as drug use, premarital sex, abortion, and homosexuality. At KillJoy’s Kastle, Mitchell and Logue turn this model on its head, replacing a didactic, narrow-minded experience with one that combines playful irreverence with an open-ended exploration of radical feminism.
“We’re using camp aesthetics, sculpture, installation, and performance to undermine those ridiculous stereotypes, but also to investigate some real monstrosities of queer activism and feminist organizing,” Mitchell said. “We’re trying to strike a balance between not only being celebratory, but also trying to dig up some of the more painful ghosts and spirits that are part of our legacies.”
KillJoy's Kastle, Toronto 2013 (photo by Lisa Kannakko)
KillJoy’s Kastle, Toronto 2013 (photo by Lisa Kannakko)
When Killjoy’s Kastle premiered in the pair’s native Toronto in 2013, it was wildly popular, with 800 visitors on opening night. It also attracted the attention of the Canadian right-wing media, who were outraged that tax dollars were going to support such a crass example of debauchery. They also seemed completely oblivious to the self-reflexive humor in the piece, unable the look past the tired stereotype of the humorless feminist. (The conservative press finally lost interest when a bigger story broke: the release of a video capturing Rob Ford, then-mayor of Toronto, smoking crack.)
The installation then traveled to the BFI in London for a much smaller show, after which the duo vowed they would never put it on again, as it was such a massive undertaking. But then earlier this year, the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives invited them down to stage it in LA. The pair found a perfect location in West Hollywood’s Plummer Park, in a building that served as a meeting place for ACT UP, the activist organization formed in the ’80s to combat the AIDS crisis. For the past few weeks, the artists and a team of volunteers have been working on assembling a spectacle that will fuse craft traditions — tie-dye, papier-mâché, crochet, hand-signage — with lighting and music, all brought to life by a rotating cast of fifty performers.
KillJoy's Kastle, Toronto 2013 (photo by Lisa Kannakko)
KillJoy’s Kastle, Toronto 2013 (photo by Lisa Kannakko)
When the house opens this Friday, groups will be escorted through the experience by a “demented women’s studies professor.” On their trip they will encounter such characters as lesbian zombie folk singers, riot ghouls, and polyamorous geriatric vampires. While the artists have kept many aspects from earlier versions alive in this one, they’ve also made some updates. The Crypt of Dead Lesbian Feminist Organizations — a hallowed burial ground for groups whose moment has passed — will be augmented with institutions specific to LA. Partially in response to questions of transphobia, they have also modified the “Ball-Buster” — a character who smashes plaster casts of truck nuts in a critique of white patriarchy. They’re hoping to enlist a prominent local transgender performer to step into that role, putting a new spin on it.
At the end of the tour, visitors meet with real-life feminist killjoys who talk to them about their experience. “Rather than asking people to accept an ideology, we’re asking people to have a critique, to have an opinion, to question it, to question us,” Mitchell said. So we asked a question: What exactly is a feminist killjoy?
“The killjoy comes from Sarah Ahmed, a cultural theorist who wrote this book The Promise of Happiness,” Mitchell told me. “She talks about how feminist killjoys are identified as humorless, as having something wrong with them because they won’t play along. We have a cast of killjoys who are academics, activists, and artists.”
Killjoys are the ones who “ruin Christmas dinner by calling Grandpa out on his racist joke,” Logue adds.
“Or the woman of color in a feminist gathering who asks why she’s the only woman of color there,” says Mitchell.
“They have reputations for holding people accountable and being very vocal and public about that,” says Logue.
“The bottom line is it’s not a trial by fire in the killjoy room,” Mitchell reassures me. “They’re actually really nice and super sweet.”
KillJoy's Kastle, Intersectional Feminist Room, 2015 (photo by Sarah Westlake)
KillJoy’s Kastle, Intersectional Feminist Room, 2015 (photo by Sarah Westlake)
More than simply poking fun at tired clichés, KillJoy’s Kastle is about critically and playfully reassessing both the history and the future of feminist and queer politics. “There are some ideas from 1970s feminism that are far more radical than the ideas coming out of contemporary lesbian and gay organizing,” Mitchell said. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but let’s try to understand a lesbian feminism that includes trans people, that is anti-racist and sex positive. It’s about trying to create a queer new world.”
KillJoy’s Kastle continues in Plummer Park (1200 North Vista Street, West Hollywood, California) through October 30.

About the exhibition: "Party Out of Bounds: Nightlife As Activism Since 1980"

The Politics of Partying: Nightlife as Activism

visual aids
Sometimes the most powerful political action is simply self-expression. It seems like an apparent enough notion when you stop to think about it but in this age of the ubiquitous selfie, self-expression often feels like a narcissistic exercise in self-admiration.
New York in the late seventies and early eighties was quite different. To be seen in public playing with gender and freely conveying your sexuality was nothing short of radical and often had severe consequences. When the AIDS epidemic hit, political action turned militant and as scores of the downtown population died-off, nightlife played refuge to an embattled community and provided crucial cathartic release. It is precisely this convergence of sex, politics, death, grief and--at the same moment--celebration that is at the heart of this year’s annual Visual AIDS exhibition at La Mama Galleria, titled Party Out of Bounds: Nightlife As Activism Since 1980 (through Oct. 10). Co-curator Emily Colucci beautifully eulogizes the era with this invocation:
“We dance for The Saint, The Anvil, Mineshaft, the Toilet, El Mirage, J’s and the Hellfire Club. We dance for MEAT, the Clit Club and Pork. We dance for club Chandelier, Squeezebox, the Mudd Club, Peppermint Lounge, Danceteria, AREA, the Roxy, the Tunnel, Limelight, Palladium and Paradise Garage. We dance for those spaces still operating that have been irrevocably altered by the ever-evolving city. And finally, we dance for those spaces that continue in the legacy of the formative, campy, radical, revolutionary vision of the bygone days and nights, sustaining nightlife’s legacy of activism.”
The show includes artworks and artifacts by such luminaries as Keith Haring, David Wojnarowicz, Peter Hujar alongside — and in conversation with — contemporary work by Kia Labeija, John Waters, Wu Tsang, and Chloe Dzubilo among others.
I sat down with the co-curators Colucci and Osman Can Yerebakan to talk about Party Out of Bounds, the exhibition’s conception and the current state of New York City nightlife.
Photo with head of Emily Colucci by M. Sharkey
XXM: Can you tell me a little bit about the intersection of activism and nightlife as it pertains to the show?
Emily Colucci: These clubs were places for community very early on in the crisis. Before they even knew what to call AIDS, clubs threw benefits for the community members and performers who were getting sick. There were benefits for Hibiscus, who was part of The Cockettes, at Danceteria in 1981 or ‘82.
Osman Can Yerebakan: Keith Haring designed cards for benefits. It was a place to see that you were not the only one. A person living with AIDS or HIV could share their diagnosis with other people, their experience.
EC: A lot of clubs had ACT UP benefits. GMHC’s first benefit was in a club. This really was for community to come together. That narrative is sort of lost in what people think of AIDS activism. People think of ACT UP’s Stop the Church and these kind of very public moments. I think the show is looking at nightlife as a subset of activism that has not been looked into much.
When I think of nightlife I tend to think of performance, both by the patrons and also the paid performers. Something that comes to mind is Leigh Bowery. Can you talk about personal expression and how that relates to politics? 
EC: I was just going to say, someone like Leigh Bowery or Ethyl Eichelberger or John Sex… even if what they were doing was not obviously political —they weren’t carrying around signs — I find these transformations into their personas to be political. It was a safe space for people. You can be whoever you want to be inside the space. Looking at Nelson Sullivan’s videos you see that it was a special place where people could try on different identities without fear. While this is not political in the sense of capital “P” Politics, I find that it is political. Put on these different expressions, play around with gender, sexual identity…
OY: The act of being who you are is a political way of saying “fuck you.”
EC: And that is part of our show. I see that as activism. And art as well.
OY: Even outside of AIDS, gay nightlife culture is what we do.
EC: That is why we specifically called the show “Nightlife As Activism” rather than just AIDS activism, because while that is part of it, there are other sorts of activism happening.
OY: Gender.
EC: Sexuality.
Osman Can Yerebakan
Photo with head of Osman Can Yerebakan by M. Sharkey
This is a powerful idea and I think it is also a very interesting way to frame performance moving into the future. I noticed going through the catalog that there are a number of historical artifacts, which act as touchstones for the contemporary artists in the show. Can you talk about the dialogue between these historical remnants and contemporary interpretations or reactions?
OY: We wanted to bring it to now because definitely there is a legacy that is still being referred to, artists like Kia LaBeija or Conrad Ventur are still holding onto a legacy.
EC: It was important to show these not just as artifacts. I think a lot of people approaching the show think it is just about the '80s but it was really important to bring it into the present, to show that activism – and specifically AIDS activism – is happening now too.
OY: It is an ongoing dialogue.
EC: The HIV/AIDS crisis is not over. It was important to put all these objects in communication with each other.
OY: This is the period to make that bridge between the past and the present.
What are some of the highlights?
OY: I really like Conrad’s piece. It is basically a YouTube performance projected onto a disco ball. It is a new piece, so we don’t know exactly what is coming. I also love Chloe Dzubilo’s drawings.
EC: It’s like choosing your favorite child! I am really excited about Hunter Reynolds. He is doing a new work based on photographs we found in the Visual AIDS archive which are documents of his first mummification he did at The Lure for a Visual AIDS benefit. He has a solo show that opened that uses some of these mummification photos from the present. To be able to see that historical legacy… I don’t think anyone has seen these photos before. So this is a really important moment in his career and his history, in Visual AIDS’s history, in activist history, and it really shows the merging of these things together.
As I was explaining earlier, I was lucky enough to see a mummification performance around the time these documents were created, in 1998. Because it was so long ago my mind is a bit fuzzy about who was doing the performance. I had always remembered it as Ron Athey, which it may well have been. For the audience reading this interview, can you talk about what this performance is?
EC: Hunter has done these mummification performances at The Lure and everywhere. Typically what happens is he stands while assistants cover him in plastic and tape and completely mummify him expect for one arm. He is completely mummified head to toe and then he is laid down, or he is taken somewhere. The tape they use is usually very glittery or some interesting mix of colors. Eventually, after the performance goes on for awhile, they cut him out of it and these mummification skins are also exhibited [in the P.P.O.W. show running concurrently]. It has many meanings: rebirth and there is also the fetish aspect, which you can’t ignore.
OY: We also have a London leg of the show. Artist John Walter is doing  a funny psychedelic video.
EC: And we can’t talk about highlights and not talk about John Waters! That is my favorite piece.
Poster art by Aldo Hernandez
The giant Claes Oldenburg-esque bottle of…
EC: Poppers.
OY: It is a symbol for the whole thing actually.
Can you talk a little about the performance schedule?
OY: There will be an after-party called No Pants No Problem by Jessica Whitbread, who is also in the show. She does these parties around the world, basically as the name suggests: No pants…
EC: And no problem. It is basically an underwear dance party.
OY: It started as a metaphor for getting over prejudice, your worries. You are free. You mingle. You meet people.
EC: Jessica is an HIV-positive queer woman and an AIDS activist. She started doing these parties in part because she felt alienated from nightlife and didn’t know how to navigate the different clubs.
OY: It is usually a man’s world.
EC: So she started to do these parties to break down barriers around sexuality and gender. There are kissing competitions and party games to make people….
OY: Relax.
EC: And to be vulnerable.
OY: To think: I am not the only one.
EC: That will be right after the opening on September 18 at 10:30 p.m. On October 8 is Linda Simpson's Drag Explosion. I like to explain it as your drag mother showing her vacation photos. She projects slides of photos taken from backstage at the Pyramid from the 1990’s to now. It goes from backstage at the Pyramid club to performances to ACT UP protests. Everything we are talking about in the show in the frame of drag. And she narrates it.
OY: Kia LaBeija will be one of the performers. Fredrick Weston will be doing a collage around the bar at Leftfield on the Lower East Side.
When I think about contemporary nightlife, I am thinking about performance and also blowing-off steam, but it is hard to imagine physical spaces today that feel actively political. Where do you think interesting political expression is taking place today?
EC: That is the question. I think Jessica’s parties are that. I think the Drag Ball scene is still doing interesting stuff.
OY: But you don’t see it when you go out.
Why is that? 
EC: I think because of Grindr and Tinder and all of the people online.
I think the landscape has changed because of the apps and, in the city at least, gentrification.
OY: Maybe it is happening online? They group-up and then they gather.
Party Out of Bounds: Nightlife As Activism Since 1980September 18-October 10. Gallery Hours: Wed.-Sun. 1 to 7 p.m., or by appointment at La MaMa Galleria, at 47 Great Jones St.
Follow M. Sharkey on Instagram @msharkeyfoto