I first encountered the work of Aurora Lady, an LA-based artist, illustrator and writer, when I read her zine Don’t Hide Behind Your Skirt, a powerful, personal work on her close bond with her mother and her story of surviving family violence. In the zine she shares how she came into her own power through art, music, feminism and forging intense bonds of friendship. After I read it I had to know her better. Who was this brave and creative woman? We met up for the first time the day before the LA Zine Fest in 2014 at a copy shop in Pasadena and spent our morning frantically gluesticking together flats and folding our copies before the fest. In Aurora I found the tradition of intense relationships and understanding I forged in the late 1990s with other girl zinesters continued. Perched on stools in the quiet copy shop, I felt we were in a secret girl gang, preparing our manifestos to let them loose on the world.
The next time I caught up with Aurora she was bedazzling a pink boombox to use in a photoshoot in preparation for the launch of her t-shirt line which features her illustrated, bold, sassy and very serious feminist messages. Aurora doesn’t just create beautiful t-shirts, she creates worlds filled with diverse, glamorous girl gangs and gauzy, glitter filled sleepovers. In her world these are places where blanket forts are built, secrets are spilled between best girlfriends, sisterhood is strengthened, and revolutionary dreams are put into motion. Her lookbooks and styling are impeccable.
Her attention to detail, emotion and subtlety, as well as her embrace of all the DIY, witchy, punk weirdness that is Los Angeles, all contributes to the power and pleasure of Aurora’s art. Through her work Aurora understands how the exhilarating, strange, and too often dark world of girlhood can become a powerful source for connection, love, creativity and feminist solidarity. I caught up with her over email in order to know more about the process and inspirations that drive her feminist world making.
Eleanor Whitney: Your work has a very specific aesthetic – tell me about your influences and inspiration. How did you form this vision of a tough, beautiful, feminist dream world that is so present in your work?
Aurora Lady: I came of age in the 90’s, and I never really let that go. Courtney Love was a huge gateway for me— she lead the way to a million other influences. Her story, her music, and her look were a prime example of how a vision can completely crystallize and work on a million different levels. I can recognize that now in different ways and apply it to my own work. Courtney’s look was so overt that I was able to wrap my junior high mind around it and really sink into it. I’m still low-key obsessed with her. I check in every few years to see who she’s working with, who she’s referencing.
My other influences came through my experiences with my friends and my family. Most of my friends growing up were my pen pals. Because of this idea of written communication in letters and zines and mix tapes as “feeling interpretations” really resonates with me still. I still feel like music is this grand gift we can give to ourselves or our friends to help grow and heal. I had the benefit of being raised by my mother, who had a tough life but acted gently and thoughtfully while getting shit done. My family moved around a lot as I grew up, and I learned how to acknowledge and adapt and just soak things in. Mostly, I just aim to be honest about what I’m feeling and what’s guiding me. If something makes me uncomfortable or is painful, then I know I need to work deeper in that direction.
EW: What are some of the more political philosophies, ideas, or thinkers, that drive your work?
AL: I’m a feminist, so everything goes through that lens, but a political identity is something I am always exploring. I didn’t consider myself an overtly political person, but the truth is that my existence is a political act. I love that the personal is political. When I read Angela Davis in college and understood more about the intersections of identity and politics it was like a burden had lifted off from my shoulders. I’m an intersectional feminist and so I do spend a lot of time reading, researching, discovering my own shortsightedness and doing my best to educate myself about power structures and dismantling them in my everyday life. This can mean negating something in conversation, not allowing people to dehumanize me on the streets, or building a collective of like minded folks who want to create a new world through their work.
The more I think about this question, the more the true answer is that my friends and peers are my influences. They are the ones educating me and opening my eyes from the ground up. They’re fucking badasses and I’m so glad to be around them. And the internet has been imperative in this way as well— I’ve had the opportunity to see communities online open discussions about things I had only been mulling around in my head, people explaining things to one another, people being articulate and honest about their own experiences and the changes they are trying to enact.
EW: Let’s talk about your artistic process. Your work incorporates specific iconography and slogans – how did you come up with them and how do you pair them with designs and imagery?
AL: I make lists of everything, all of the time because I want to write everything down before it leaves my head. I have a small notebook I carry with me and I write everything down that makes me laugh or I need to look up later. I have lists for things that I hear, that I see, that I read. I have lists for ideas, for stories people share with me, for things I need to try. It goes on and on. I am not really a collector of physical stuff, but I guess I do collect things to put on lists. Sometimes one of these things will just hit me so hard that I will meditate on it and that’s often where the imagery starts. Sometimes I am so verbally stunted that I will draw a picture to remind myself. My type of mediation is a deep stare. I find some place where my gaze can lightly rest, and let my brain go from there. I also will take that idea to my partner, who is good at asking questions and picking apart ideas. We have this rad little bar that has been in LA for ages. The inside of it hasn’t changed since it established itself in the 1940’s. The floor is uneven. It’s better to sit at the bar than at a table. I go there for the sole purpose of the picking apart of ideas.
EW: You’ve recently written about the need, as an artist, to be true to yourself and not obsess over things like social media and likes on Instagram. How do you find a balance between selling and promoting your work and having the time and space to reflect and make?
AL: I don’t have a balance! I don’t know if I ever will. It is a constant state of awareness and work in progress. Last year I was really caught up in the idea that if I gained more followers and my posts got more likes that would add up to a better shot at living as an artist. After giving my best effort, I’m not convinced that’s a sound plan. In fact, I believe that it’s a waste of my time in that my efforts are better spent elsewhere— like making cool shit. I try my best to meet the universe halfway by making cool shit and getting it up online, sharing with friends, using hashtags, and connecting via my email newsletter. I feel like email newsletters are the most underrated form of connection— their power usurps social media. It is where I can be my most excited, articulate self with those who really want to stay in touch with me. Instagram is fun but there are too many factors I don’t have control over, and so I post with hashtags and then leave it be. I need as much time reflecting and putting together ideas as I do creating, but I have to say that I am pretty good at sourcing pockets of time to do this— for instance, I am writing back to you in a car outside my day job, 20 minutes before I am due to enter the building. I’m hellbent on the idea of Einstein time. I create time. It comes from me.
EW: Your work was recently featured in Teen Vogue in a spread about feminist fashion. What inspired you to choose t-shirts (and accessories like pins) as a vehicle for your work? Do you think the pop-culture focus on feminist fashion is just a trend or do you think it can have a deeper impact in how we think about and view women and fashion as a culture?
AL: When I learned about feminism it was on the heels of the third wave, and it was mentioned in a zine that I had read about in a Seventeen magazine article. I was in junior high and I was READY for it! I can’t imagine how my life would have been if I had found feminism ten years later, or you know, now. People who need it are finding it, and if it resonates with them, they’ll continue learning and educating others. The fact that I was featured in that article was a total fluke— Teen Vogue found my site and liked my work. Did they feature me because feminism is trend right now? Yes? Sure? Really, I don’t care because ultimately the potential is someone saw it who needed it. I don’t know if Teen Vogue will keep doing features about feminism. I hope that they do. I chose t-shirts because I enjoy having art being a catalyst for conversation. Text or an unusual or funny image on a shirt automatically draws the eyes— it creates instant connection if that message or idea resonates with you. T-shirts create instant alliances, instant friends. I love that. They’re generally not seen as highbrow and I love that they are also customizable using simple tools like scissors or safety pins or fabric dye or needles and thread. T-shirts are for everyone, and at the same time, can be so specific.
EW: One of the t-shirts from your first line celebrated the idea of the girl gang. Who is in your girl gang (people both real and imagined, dead and alive)?
AL: I love my girl gang and it is very real for me, but the thing is that it is always expanding and breathing and growing. If you identify as an intersectional feminist, then you are welcome to be part of my girl gang. You don’t have to say you are a girl. You don’t have to say you want to be part of the gang. I carry around Girl Gang buttons in my jean jacket and I have left these are tiny gifts for people I connect with, no matter how small or large our interaction is, so long as we are present in that way that helps me to know where you are coming from and that we are on the same team. It’s like when you are a teenager and you find someone from another school who idolizes the same writer or artist you do— you feel like you are in on a beautiful, shared secret that can make you break out into a giddy smile just thinking about it. That’s the Girl Gang. You’re definitely part of it, Eleanor. And I feel like everyone at Weird Sister is too.
Check out Aurora Lady’s beautiful work at http://www.auroralady.com/, and while you are there be her BFF and sign up for her excellent newsletter.
Eleanor Whitney is a Brooklyn-based writer, musician and Community Manager. She is the author of Grow, a practical field guide for starting a creative business and is working on a collection of personal, feminist essays, which will be published by Microcosm Publishing in 2018.