Author Archives: Eleanor Whitney

Cosmic Femme Punk Visionary: A Conversation with Taleen Kali

Taleen Kali photo by Emery Becker

I first encountered Taleen Kali at a small zine fair that was taking place in an open air courtyard in an arty Los Angeles strip mall. “How LA,” I thought. While browsing, I was struck by Taleen’s beautifully put together publication, DUM DUM Zine, and the sense of both playfulness and artistic gravitas surrounded her. So of course, after picking up a copy of the zine, I did what any fangirl would do: I followed her on Instagram. Through the images and stories she shares I learned about Taleen’s work as a yoga instructor, guitar shredder, dog-mom to an adorable pup named Leelo, her recent shoot with BUST magazine as a glitter makeup model, and got a sense that there’s almost a mystical girl gang that hovers around her. She seemed to embody the spirit of Weird Sister, so of course I had to talk with her more. We caught up over email about intersecting artistic identities and communities, cultivating creative rituals to survive these current political times, and the upcoming EP she is recording.

Eleanor Whitney: You do so much! You are a writer, editor, artist, musician, yogi, glitter makeup model and all around badass. Do you distinguish between your different projects or do you see them more as one integrated art practice?

Taleen Kali: The glitter makeup story for BUST Magazine was definitely a fun surprise!

As an interdisciplinary artist my projects have always been conduits, helping me to excavate and express different parts of my identity. I think it’s human nature to compartmentalize, yet the more stuff I make the more I realize it’s coming from the same source, even if it’s expressed through different mediums.

EW: You have played in punk bands around L.A. for a few years and now you are gearing up to record and release a solo EP and play a type of music you describe as “cosmic femme punk.” How did you hit on that description for your sound?

TK: All the writing and music projects over the years helped me figure out what I really wanted to write, and ultimately sing about: transcending the bullshit, comprehending the beauty of the divine feminine, and elevating my surroundings. Arriving at that mindset is what cosmic femme punk means to me.

Over time my music began to evolve from this “doom” persona, becoming less about bleak narratives and more about sonic expression and reclaiming femme visibility, and getting to decide what that means. As a first generation Armenian American it’s really important for me to use my voice and resources to uplift fellow women of color, queer communities, trans folx, and other marginalized voices. What we need to talk about will change too as media and culture evolves, so I thought: why not start with “FEMME AS FUCK” and go from there?

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Using Your Feminist Superpower: An Interview with the Pussyhat Project

pussyhat project weird sister, feminist activism, craft, knitting

Pussyhat Project organizers drawing by Aurora Lady

I handed my two skeins of bright pink yarn over the counter at the demure yarn store outside of Freeport, Maine, “And I’d like a pair of size eight needles please,” I said. The woman working there looked at me as she rang me up, “I think I know what these are for,” she said, quietly, nodding with approval.

I smiled, “Yes.”

“Are you going to the… ?”

I nodded back, “Yes.”

“Are you scared?”

“No way.”

“Good for you, I’m so glad you are doing that. You are doing that for all of us.”

I felt I had been inducted into a not-so-secret underground society of knitters who were uniting to change the world, and in a way, we were because that’s exactly what the Pussyhat Project is. Specifically, it’s a Los Angeles-based project co-founded by two friends, screenwriter Krista Suh and architect Jayna Zwieman, who are joined by artist Aurora Lady. Simply put, the project encourages people of all genders to knit, crochet or sew pink cat (pussy) hats and share them with marchers headed to Washington D.C. on January 21st for the massive Women’s March that will highlight the importance of a diverse, vibrant feminist movement.

But the Pussyhat Project is so much more than knitting hats to make a bold visual statement: it’s an accessible and inviting way to build community, to open a dialogue about women’s rights, and to come together to share and heal post-election. In bringing people together to make and connect, it draws on a history of radical crafting and activist art. It also demonstrates to participants that they can engage in activism starting from where they are, and contributing skills they already have. In advance of the historic march in Washington (and the many sister marches around the country), I caught up with the Pussyhat Project organizers over email (they are busy ladies these days!) about the ideas, experiences, and philosophies guiding the project, and the power of feminist doing and making post-election.

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Music & Radical Potential: Louisa Solomon of the Shondes

The Shondes

“I make music because the state of the world can feel so dismal,” says Louisa Solomon, singer, songwriter and bass player for the Brooklyn-based, feminist rock band The Shondes. For the past decade her band has been fusing politics into emotional, soaring rock songs. With their recently released fifth album Brighton (Exotic Fever Records), they have created their most successful melding of heart, soul, politics and rock riffs that also lays Solomon’s inner life out for listeners. “The act of creating is a coping mechanism, a survival tool, and I think some of what is most inspiring in political art is not the lyrics, or explicit content, or even the ‘topic,’ but the exposure of process,” she further explains. “We try to in some way be very up front in our music about how it affects us to create it, and how we hope it similarly affects listeners toward survival, toward hard work, toward hope, toward sustainable change.”

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Not Hiding Behind Her Skirt: An Interview with Aurora Lady

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.

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