Zines

              Zines are a type of crude and unpolished self publication that is passed around hand to hand as copies were often limited. The process of creating zines frequently includes cutting and pasting, Xeroxing, and drawings. The overall look is that of something similar to a collage of words and pictures. These days, some zines are even created on the internet and can be accessed by anyone. Riot grrrl was an underground punk movement that is sometimes referred to as the third wave of feminism. The riot grrrl bands addressed many political and personal issues and often promoted female empowerment. It was under the riot grrrl movement that zines began to proliferate. These homemade zines enveloped a number of feminist topics and included personal experience with these conflicts. Zines were an outlet for girls to express themselves freely and, in turn, be able to connect with other girls over this spectrum of political and personal issues. Along this vein, zines reminded me of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s artwork. Through his artwork he was able to spread his message and get people thinking so as to take that first step towards change. Zines also got people thinking as they expressed ideas and opinions of girls and, in essence, was the first step towards change. To me, rap is the modern day equivalent of zines. Today, female rappers, like Nicki Minaj, are using their music to share their thoughts. The idea is the same though the medium may be different. As I had never heard of zines, I became very interested in them and decided to create my own for my final.

            The name of my zine is The Writer’s Muse. I named it so because I like to think of myself as an aspiring writer and also because I filled my zine with things that inspire me. In my zine I include lyrics from Beyonce’s song “Who Run The World?” alongside a drawing of the earth with a girl on top. I liked this particular song of hers as I’m attracted to this whole idea she aggressively tries to portray of a female dominated world. There is also a section in my zine labeled “Rants and Raves” where I list the things I love or that I’m irritated by. I also include a letter addressed to the “Women of Pakistan” in which I vent out my frustration over the limits placed on women over there and encourage them to strive for what they want without fear of being maligned in malicious gossip and reproach. “Pants” is a section where I’ve included images of pants and a question that I am addressing to my mother. My mother is very old fashioned and so always forbids me to wear pants when visiting family friends as traditional clothing are worn and not “American clothes”. By wearing pants to such events, I am essentially drawing unnecessary attention to my body and the scrutiny of women who are liable to deem me immoral. Pants, for me, is a symbol of freedom of expression and simply being able to dress the way I wish to regardless of being judged by others. My right to wear pants is the one thing I will continue to fight for. “Why Jane Eyre Inspires Me” is where I list the reasons why this fictional character has become such a positive inspiration for me. Last but not least, I include a poem I wrote, “Frozen Rose Ballad”.

Works Cited

Josh Takano Chambers-Letson. “Contracting Justice: The Viral Strategy of Felix Gonzalez-Torres.” Criticism 51.4 (2010): 559-87. Print.

 

Neal, Mark Anthony., and Murray Forman. “Empowering Self, Making Choices, Creating Spaces: Black Female Identity via Rap Music Performance,” That’s the Joint!: The Hip-hop Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 2004. Print.

 

Rosenberg, Jessica, and Gitana Garofalo. “Riot Grrrl: Revolutions from within.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 23.3 (1998): 809. Print.

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“Artist Virus”

An interesting aspect to the work of Gonzalez-Torres’s work is how it is described as a type of virus, something that is meant to infect others and infiltrate “power” in order to take control of it and use it to change things for the better. His work is structured so as to resemble a host to the “artist virus”. Through the interactions of the audience with this work, the virus spreads to them and then to the political areas of their life where there is a possibility of social change. One of his works mentioned that I found clever was that of the Fruit Flasher candies that were meant to represent the dwindling body of his lover’s HIV body. By taking a piece of the candy the viewer and participant of this work has become infected and carries the “artist’s viral agenda” and spreads it throughout their political sphere. As the article goes on to talk about how, during the 1980’s homosexuality was often linked with AIDS and HIV and even thought to be a deserved result of it, I was reminded of a movie I had seen which portrays the struggle of being infected with this disease during a time when such unfair thoughts were rampant. Philadelphia stars Tom Hanks as a man living with AIDS. This movie explores the homophobia that prevailed due to the ignorance about AIDS and how a man must fight against this discrimination to win a lawsuit. I would definitely recommend this movie to anyone who has not seen it!!!  Here’s the link to the trailer : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cl4B9AU45P4

P.S 1/MOMA

                Out of all the exhibits we saw at P.S 1/MOMA the most interesting was the Tender Love Among the Junk. Half of its appeal came from the shiny and sparkling medium that these pieces were made out of. Upon entering the room my eye was immediately drawn to all the glittering concoctions that cluttered the area. Everyday items like tinsel and lollipops were thrown together with other objects to create something truly unique.

              The other half of this exhibits’ appeal came from the hidden items within the pieces. For example, there was one piece where the theme centered around a fairy tale story about fairies, princes, and princesses. The story itself was on a piece of paper which had been cut up and scattered through the piece. In other words, in order to read and complete the story the viewer had to search through the whirlwind of glitter and find lines of the story in the most random spots. Accompanied with these story lines were pictures placed in hidden niches. This piece was definitely my favorite as I admired the creativity that went into it.

             Other pieces in this exhibit included photos that were merged into a collage, some with religious themes mixed with the most absurd images. Others were accompanied by handwritten notes that connected with the artwork.

Community and the City

It was interesting to read about how some performances of the Urban Bush Women create a community between the audience and the performers instead of the usual lines that divide the entertainer and the viewer. Another thing that struck me was how true this statement was regarding the communities formed by the internet and other such mediums, “there are more and more forms of mass communication and less and less communicating”. Thanks to the internet, we can now communicate with people from across the world without ever having to step outside of our homes. This, however, means that we don’t get to experience the originality of actually meeting people face to face. Another statement that rung true with me was that “We tend to know our neighbors less, spend less time with family, and give less money to charity”. Just looking at New York City one can’t help but to notice how isolated the individual is. One of the great things about the city is the independence exhibited by its people but this is also the downfall of its community. The subway is full of people who tend to keep to themselves and never engage in a friendly discussion with the people surrounding them. The fast pace aspect of this city doesn’t allow time for people to really slow down and create a sense of community with others, rather it’s all about looking out for one’s self and not one’s neighbor.

“Be Me”

Reading the article about Nicki Minaj was interesting, especially when Nicki brings up some pretty good points. She essentially summarizes what it means to have freedom of expression in her quote, “The point is, everyone is not black and white. There are so many shades in the middle, and you’ve got to let people feel comfortable with saying what they want to say when they want to say it. I don’t want to feel like I’ve got the gun pointed at my head and you’re about to pull the trigger if I don’t say what you want to hear. I just want to be me and do me.” I like how she doesn’t shy away from the problems of labeling that plagues us today. Instead, she aggressively defends her rights against the “mainstream” that is so popular in our culture. If something she raps about irks someone else then she will continually address that problem to the point of irritation until that person realizes how inane their comments are. Her very loud and “out-there” personality and style may not appeal to some people, however, many would agree that she has the freedom to express herself in whatever way she deems fit.

A Ball for Drag Queens

Paris is Burning is a documentary film directed by Jennie Livingston that explores the transgender and gay community of African Americans and Latinos living in New York City. We are invited to take a look into the invisible world of drag balls and are privy to the life stories of its members. In between flashes of the ball scene we learn more about its participants and what these balls mean to them. Though this documentary seems to celebrate this particular society, one can’t help but notice the flippancy with which grim situations are regarded such as the death of Venus Xtravaganza.

            The balls within this documentary are perceived to be the greatest event a drag queen can look forward to. The balls themselves are represented as an opportunity to live out a fantasy, a dream that can never be for these participants. Originating in Harlem in the 1920’s and 30’s, the balls would bring as many as 8,000 spectators. As it grew in popularity, religious leaders such as Adam Clayton Powell tried to close it down. During the 1960’s the balls would be held as early as 3 in the morning so that participants can safely travel through Harlem at an hour where everyone would be asleep. There are many categories within this ball such as Best Dressed, Butch Queen Vogue, and even Realness where participants are judged on how well they are able to camouflage themselves as straight females or males. The standard by which these members come dressed include high profile celebrities, often mimicking their styles. An interesting element of the ball includes voguing which is a form of competition in which the competitors try to outdo each other with a combination of poses and dance movements. As these balls require elaborate costumes, some people sew their own clothes while others resort to stealing. The fact that some members would steal clothing in order to participate in the balls shows just how significant this aspect of the drag queen community is to them.

            A highlighted feature within the documentary is that of the “Houses”. In the 1970’s the “houses” emerged onto the ball scene. It reportedly started when Crystal LaBeija declared her House of LaBeija, a title that is meant to emulate houses such as the House of Chanel or the House of Dior. The structure of these “houses” is meant to resemble a real home with parents and children. In this case, the members are not related by blood but by a bond of love and trust. The “children” are often young people who have run away from their homes because they have been rejected for their sexual orientation. The “parents” are those with enough experience to help guide their wards through their community and ball scenes. Members of “houses” often take their house name as their surname. In the film, Paris is Burning, Angie Xtravaganza is seen as the mother of her house, the House of Xtravaganza which Venus was a part of. There is also Pepper LaBeija, mother to the House of LaBeija. These houses often battled with each other in competitive categories at the balls. With the creation of these houses new people flooded in at the balls, like black designers who were eager to test out their garments in a new urban setting.

            Many of the gays and transgender people presented in the documentary speak about the difficulties they must face every day in trying to live their life as they wish to live it. Venus Xtravaganza dreamed of living the lifestyle of a suburban woman. In harsh reality, however, she worked as a prostitute in order to make money. As a sex worker, her life was threatened by the discovery of her “little secret”. In the beginning of the film, a man discusses the words his father gave to him regarding his homosexuality, “if you’re black and male and gay, you have to be stronger than you can imagine”.  Most of the people portrayed in the film did not live a wealthy and stable life. The balls were a chance for them to escape reality for a while and be whoever they wished to become.

            It seems that the ball culture itself is no longer this elusive community but a commodity as exemplified by fashion shows with drag queens on the runway. In fact there is much anger in the ball world concerning the film Paris is Burning. Many critics believe that the film exploits those within it by turning their lives into a type of entertainment for the white race. There has also been confrontation over money as the participants of the film did not garner as much cash as the filmmakers did. Since this documentary was released, many of its stars have died at a young age. Madonna released her hit song “Vogue” which reflected the dancing styles performed by House and ball scene dancers. Madonna herself has translated the authenticity of voguing into something that has fascinated the white mainstream for years. Today, the ball scene is more accessible than it has ever been before.

           Reading bell hooks review of Paris is Burning moved me enough to agree with her perspective on how the oppression of the gay minority is highlighted throughout the film. According to bell hooks, the black gay community is supposedly suppressed by the “ruling” white class. Her review opened my eyes to the many subtle ways in which this community of black gays and drag queens are not as progressive as they are made out to be. While watching Paris is Burning, the thing that stuck with me was the way that participants defined their balls. It was as if the only important facet of their lives revolved around the balls. In these balls, one can live out an illusion and pretend to be whoever they wanted for one night. In one of the categories, members appear dressed up as executives. The narrator converses about how they dress as successful businessmen because it is the only time that they are able to prove that they could be executives if they desired it. The unfortunate aspect of this is that many members tried to imitate the dominant white upper/middle class culture. In the film, we listen as the participants gush about dressing up as their favorite models, actresses, etc. These role models whom they try to mimic are all noticeably white females. As bell hooks points out, this is a glaring sign of how white supremacy is still enforced throughout this particular community. If anything, by dressing up as idealized white females these people only underline how socially restricted they are. To never be able to achieve celebrity status in reality only depicts the limitations placed on their success. Much of the serious parts of the film, such as the lives of the contenders, are often overshadowed by the entertainment value that the ball presents. As hooks puts it when discussing Venus’s death, “There are no scenes of grief. To put it crassly, her dying is upstaged by spectacle” (hooks 155).

            Even today, through the various mediums such as movies and art, it is the white class that plays an important role. In almost every book I have read, I have never once encountered a major character whose race is that of a minority. Though our society has come a long way from where it originally started, we have still not achieved ultimate equality and acceptance. It is films like Paris is Burning which hints at the dissonance between races and class. If this community was progressive as it is made out to be, then why do the balls mirror a fantasy of being like white females? Why are the balls the only place where they can fulfill their dreams?

Rap and the Female

It was interesting to read this piece as I didn’t really know much about black female rappers before. For instance, I didn’t know about the four categories used to identify these female rappers. These categories are Queen Mother, Fly Girl, Sista with Attitude, and Lesbian. In the Queen Mother category, women often dress like former African Queens and their raps promote female empowerment and “demand respect…for black women”. In the Fly Girl category, women dress in a fashionable manner. The rap group Salt-N-Pepa often dress in clothes that highlight their bodily attributes that are often found distasteful in American mainstream culture which I thought was a pretty cool way of defying such standards while at the same time promoting black women culture. The Fly Girl category presents an image of independent women. People under the Sista with Attitude are known for being blunt. These women often portray this bad girl image. Some view these rappers as “misusing sex and feminism and devaluing black men”. However, despite this, these women are still praised for their figurative language and rhyme while refusing to “be second best”. The Lesbian category came out in the 1990’s and rapped about living as a lesbian through the eyes of a black female. There were still problems, however, that proved to be obstacles in the way of black females expressing thoughts on gay and lesbian culture. In a way, black lesbians must fight on two fronts, against white male society and against white lesbian culture. Now black female rappers have broken away from under the male dominated shadow, however they still face many challenges. Black female rappers often raise issues concerning the female black community as use rap as a medium through which they can address these conflicts and empower women.