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.