Vaginal Davis: An Interview

2013 | 01:17:00 | United States | English | Color | Mono | 4:3 | Video

Collection: On Art and Artists, Interviews

Tags: Activism, African-American, Camp, Gender, Humor, Language, Performance, Race, Trans-Sexuality, VDB Interviews, Visiting Artists Program

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In this interview, American artist, independent curator, writer, and experimental filmmaker, Vaginal Davis reflects on her initiation into the punk rock and art scenes of Los Angeles during the 1980s and 90s, her stylistic influences, and her ongoing efforts to theorize queerness and visuality. Caught between the opposing poles of Hollywood classicism and the rawness of punk, Davis defines her unapologetically gender-bending, campy, and at times aggressively critical performances as scenarios, rather than spectacles or entertainment.

She describes the establishment of HAG Gallery, an alternative exhibition space run out of her apartment building during the 1980s, and the motivations that mobilized the gallery’s events. Davis also shares stories from the early days of writing and circulating Fertile LaToya Jackson, a queercore zine, illuminating her contribution to the emerging internationalism of the zine movement. 

In addition, Davis’s interview offers salient insight into the larger challenges she and other artists of color and alternative sexual orientation faced due to the racial, economic and gender politics of the Reagan era. These pressures provided Davis with motive to invest in the critique of language, laying the grounds for the artist’s development of an idiosyncratic “Vaginalese Ebonics” and various drag personas.

Davis’s first major solo exhibition opened in 2012 at the Participant, Inc. in New York, and her work continues to attract critical acclaim from universities and scholars in the U.S. and abroad. The artist lives and works in Berlin.

-- Faye Gleisser

Interview conducted by David Getsy in May 2013, edited in 2014.