Vaginal Davis

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Vaginal Davis
Vaginal Davis As Bricktop.jpg
Vaginal Davis as "Bricktop" in 2004.
Background information
Also known as Dr. Vaginal Davis, Vaginal Creme Davis, Mistress Veronika V'intrest, The Walking Installation Piece, Graciela, Miss Bricktops
Origin Los Angeles, California
Genres Punk rock, experimental, queercore, performance art
Occupation(s) musician, zinester, hostess, gossip columnist, author, performance artist, experimental filmmaker
Years active 80s – present
Labels Amoeba Records & Filmworks
Spectra Sonic Records
Mr. Lady
Chongo Records
Dischord Records
Website vaginaldavis.com

Vaginal Davis is an American intersex-born, genderqueer performing artist, painter, independent curator, composer, and writer.[1] Born and raised in South Central, Los Angeles, Davis became gained notoriety in New York during the 1980s,[2] where she inspired the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn's prevalent drag scene.[3] She currently resides in Berlin, Germany.[4]

Life and career[edit]

Personal life[edit]

Davis has kept her exact birth year, as well as the name she was given at birth, private. Growing up, Davis lived with her mother, originally from Louisiana, and four older sisters. Her father was of Mexican descent, and her grandfather of German descent, Davis claiming his ancestors were of the von Hohenzollern dynasty. Davis' mother was a revolutionary feminist and community activist in the South Central area, and planted food gardens in vacant lots to help feed the homeless, impoverished, and marginalized peoples of the area. As a young child in the Los Angeles public education system, Davis was accepted into a program for gifted students, where she was first exposed to and developed a love of theatre and opera.[2][3]

Davis' name pays homage to activist Angela Davis, and considers Davis' involvement with the Black Panther Party and activism as a whole to be one of her biggest inspirations, explaining, "They came into the schools, they had guns, and they took over. They were teaching us all these revolutionary songs and chants and what not. At that time, when Angela Davis was the most wanted woman in America, I was just fixated with that image of her. By the late ’70s I had decided I sort of wanted to sexualize her name and become her, more or less. So I started in the late ’70s calling myself Vaginal Davis. I started to perform– or tried to perform– at these gay clubs in Los Angeles, in Hollywood. The people in these clubs, they would look at me and say, ‘Vaginal Davis? Well who are you supposed to be?’ And I said, ‘Well, Angela Davis– it’s a homage to that.’ And they’d say, ‘Well who’s that?’ They didn’t know who Angela Davis was."[3]

1970–1989: Career beginnings[edit]

Vaginal Davis' band the Afro Sisters released their first seven-inch EP Indigo, Sassafras & Molasses, produced by Geza X with Amoeba Records in 1978.[5][6] The Afro Sisters opened for the Smiths on their first American tour, as well as the Happy Mondays.[7]

Vaginal Davis is often associated with the formation of the Queercore zine movement.[8] From 1982 to 1991, they self-published the zine Fertile La Toya Jackson,[9] focused on the imaginary adventures of a skateboarding, pregnant Jackson, and hailed by The Advocate critic Adam Block as “A veritable John Waters film of a skinny ‘zine.”[10] Bruce LaBruce described the zine as "an underground rag that featured SoCal punk scene gossip, photos of hot Huntington Beach surfers and wistful musings by Miss Davis themself."[11] Through Davis' job at UCLA's Placement & Career Planning Center, she was allowed free access to a Xerox machine to publish the zine.[12]

1989–1999: Bands[edit]

In 1989, Davis formed the band Pedro, Muriel, and Esther (PME) with Glen Meadmore.[13] Davis had previously sung backup vocals for Meadmore, with RuPaul. PME disbanded after releasing a four-song EP on Amoeba records.[14][15]

Davis formed the band Black Fag in 1992 with Bibbe Hansen. Black Fag's album Passover Satyr was released by Dischord Records that same year and was produced by Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon.[8] The band's 1995 album 11 Harrow House was produced by Hansen's son Beck.[5]

In 1995, Pedro, Muriel, and Esther reunited for a performance at the Queercore '95 festival in Chicago.[15] The band later released their first full-length album The White to Be Angry, produced by Steve Albini in 1998 on Spectra Sonic Records.[5]

2000–2009: Move to Germany[edit]

In Los Angeles, Davis has hosted and DJ'd a range of performance and music events, one of the most prominent being "Bricktops" (2002–2005), a weekly salon/speak-easy inspired by vaudevillian Ada "Bricktop" Smith.[11] they also hosted and DJed a Sunday afternoon music event called "Sucker" (1994–2000). Davis and artist Ron Athey curated and hosted GIMP (2000–2001), a monthly night of performance art.

In 2006, Vaginal Davis moved from Los Angeles to Berlin, Germany.

In 2009, Pedro, Muriel and Esther reunited in a 20th-anniversary show presented in New York City by Participant Inc. as part of Performa 09.[13]

2010–present: Performance, visual art, and teaching[edit]

Davis' performance piece "Speaking from the Diaphragm" ran from May 15 to 27, 2010, at Performance Space 122. The show parodied television talk shows and featured interviews by Carole Pope, Jamie Stewart, Joel Gibb, and Glen Meadmore [16][17] and was co-hosted by Carmelita Tropicana and Jennifer Miller.[18]

In January 2012 Davis participated in the J. Paul Getty's "Pacific Standard Time Performance Festival, with "My Pussy Is Still in Los Angeles (I Only Live in Berlin)"[19] at Southwestern Law School, Louis XVI-style Tea Room (originally Bullocks Wilshire Department Store). April 2012, Davis debuted live her band Tenderloin as part of the festival "Camp/Anti-Camp: A Queer Guide to Everyday Life" at Hebbel am Ufer. Tenderloin's line-up consisted of Felix Knoke, Jan Klesse, Joel Gibb, and Vaginal Davis performing under the alias "Dagmar Hofpfisterei.".[20] In August 2012 the band was invited by curator Anthony Hegarty to perform at this year's Meltdown Festival at the Southbank Centre in London with Kembra Pfahler and the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black. After the performances Tenderloin released the music video for "The Golden One" that featured drag queen the Goddess Bunny and was directed by Glen Meadmore.[21]

From November 9 to December 16, 2012, Davis opened her first major solo exhibition of solely visual art (as opposed to performance art), titled "HAG – small, contemporary, haggard" at the Participant Inc. in New York. The name of the show is based on the gallery that Davis hosted in her Los Angeles apartment from 1982–89.[22][23]

Davis has also taken to traveling to various universities and other educational institutions in recent years to give lectures on her life experiences, having hosted a talk on youth hosteling at New York University's Performance Studies complex in November of 2015, along with German actress and friend Susanne Sachsse.[3][24] From December 1 to 5 of the same year, Davis teamed up with avant-garde music group Xiu Xiu when they composed the score for her radical re-imagining of Mozart's opera The Magic Flute, performed at the 80WSE Gallery at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, in partnership with Berlin's CHEAP Kollectiv.[25]

In mid-October of 2016, Davis was a keynote speaker at the Creative Time Summit in Washington, D.C., a conference on art and social issues which featured workshops and speeches on topics ranging from the Black Lives Matter movement to electoral politics.[26]

Artistry[edit]

José Esteban Muñoz has identified Davis as a progenitor of "terrorist drag," for Davis was neither "glamour" like New York performers Candis Cayne and Girlina, nor "clown" (camp) like drag queens Varla Jean Merman and Lady Bunny. According to Davis, "I wasn't really trying to alter myself to look like a real woman. I didn't wear false eyelashes or fake breasts. It wasn't about the real-ness of traditional drag – the perfect flawless makeup. I just put on a little lipstick, a little eyeshadow and a wig and went there."[27] Dominic Johnson of Frieze said, "Ms Davis consistently refuses to ease conservative tactics within gay and black politics, employing punk music, invented biography, insults, self-mockery, and repeated incitements to group sexual revolt." Davis critiques the co-opting of African, Hispanic, and LGBT culture by the mainstream.[28]

Davis' performances are also, according to journalist Ali Fitzgerald, "giddy, satirical stabs at the old-world order, leveling criticism at white privilege and the patriarchy with nuanced wit and game-show-style camp. The Vaginal Davis persona is a complex mixture of queercore punk antics and MGM studio glamour, reflecting Davis’ socially engaged and aesthetically consistent interests." [10] She was also a muse to German choreographer Pina Bausch, as well as fashion designer Rick Owens and photographer Catherine Opie.[28] Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu also stated that "I am bi and found artists that were androgynous hit me hard -- Peter Murphy, David Bowie, Morrissey. But there was a drag queen named Vaginal Davis that changed my life. I had no idea you could be punk and a drag queen and ultra intense and insane and hot and brilliant all at the same time."[29]

Davis also claims, in a 2015 interview with Bedford and Brooklyn's Nicole Disser, that much of her artwork and performances are inspired by her late mother's artistic ability, stating, "I’m so intertwined with my mother. My whole career as an artist, and all of my visual art, is basically co-opting my mother. My mother didn’t consider herself an artist, she just made stuff. Looking back to the things that she did, they were installations, assemblages – things in the art world that have proper names to them – she was doing this way back then. If I get any notice for any of my artworks or any of my performances, it’s because I just copied my mother."[3]

Discography[edit]

The Afro Sisters[edit]

  • Indigo, Sassafras & Molasses (1978)
  • Maxis on Melrose (1980)
  • So Black I'm Blue (1981)
  • Too Black, Too Strong (1982)
  • Shoulder Pads, Maxi Pads (1983)
  • Magnificent Product (1984)
  • Armed & Extremely Dangerous (1985)
  • Wet Lesbian (1986)

Black Fag[edit]

  • Parerga y Paralipomena (1992)
  • Atlas Shrugged (1993)
  • Passover Satyr (1994)
  • 11 Harrow House (1995)

¡Cholita! The Female Menudo[edit]

  • ¡No Controles! (1987)
  • Chicas De Hoy (1989)
  • ¡Cholita! (1996)

Pedro, Muriel & Esther[edit]

  • PME (1991)
  • The White to Be Angry (1998)

Solo[edit]

  • Small Whyte House (Vaginal Davis and Robespierre) (1994)

Other appearances[edit]

Title Year Album
"Well, Well, Well" (Le Tigre featuring Vaginal Davis) 2004 Feminist Sweepstakes (2004 re-issue)[30]
"I Could Have Sex" (Technova featuring Vaginal Davis) Electrosexual[31]
"Mama's Not Dead" (Technova featuring Vaginal Davis)
"My Pussy is a Cactus" (Technova featuring Vaginal Davis)
"Mangina" (Technova featuring Vaginal Davis)
"Bitterest Pill" (Technova featuring Vaginal Davis)
"Girls Like Us" (The Julie Ruin featuring Vaginal Davis) 2012 Non-album single[32]

Filmography[edit]

Film[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1994 Designy Living
1994 Three Faces of Women Director- Rick Castro
1995 Super 8½
1995 Live Nude Girls Pool Man
1996 Hustler White Buster Boote
1998 Hallelujah! Ron Athey: A Story of Deliverance Herself
1999 The White To Be Angry Director; short film
1999 Can I Be Your Bratwurst, Please? Director; short film
2001 The Other Newest One Director; short film
2001 Le Petite Tonkinoise Director; short film
2001 Fra unter Einfluss Director; short film
2005 Beyond Lovely Bruce B. Short film
2006 The Pikme-Up Herself
2008 The Lollipop Generation Beulah Blacktress
2010 The Dream of Norma Norma Short film
2010 The Bad Breast; or, The Strange Case of Theda Strange Short film
2011 The Advocate for Fagdom Herself
2012 Rosas Welt – 70 neue Filme von Rosa von Praunheim Marta Feuchtwanger
2012 She Said Boom: The Story of Fifth Column Herself

Television[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1993 Tales of the City Endup Emcee
2001 Gideon's Crossing Eddie Episode 9: "Is There a Wise Man in the House?"

Zine-ography[9][edit]

  • Dowager (1972-1975)
  • Crude (1976-1980)
  • Fertile La Toya Jackson (1982-1991)
  • Shrimp (1993)
  • Yes, Ms. Davis (1994)
  • Sucker (1995-1997)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Perlson, Hili. "Vaginal Davis speaks". Sleek magazine. Retrieved August 11, 2012. I’m intersex, born with both female and male genitalia, so I’m a strange hybrid creature. I’m also part German, quarter Jewish, my father was born in Mexico and my mother is French Creole. 
  2. ^ a b "Let Her Teach You: Questions For Vaginal Davis". Retrieved October 22, 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Disser, Nicole (November 23, 2015). "Vaginal Davis Returns to New York, Taking on Sculpture and Mozart". Bedford and Bowery. Retrieved December 3, 2016. 
  4. ^ Says, Kindergeburtstag Mannheimer Zeitung. "A Look Back at the Career of Vaginal Davis". Retrieved October 22, 2016. 
  5. ^ a b c "Vaginal Davis Dot Com: Discography". VaginalDavis.com. Retrieved March 12, 2013. 
  6. ^ Sanchez, John (May 15, 1997). "In Performance: Vaginal Davis unplugged". Chicago Reader. Retrieved March 12, 2013. 
  7. ^ LaBruce, Bruce. "Vaginal Davis". BUTT. Retrieved March 12, 2013. 
  8. ^ a b Cooper, Dennis (July 1994). SPIN. Spin. pp. 16–. ISSN 0886-3032. Retrieved March 11, 2013. 
  9. ^ a b "Vaginal Davis Dot Com: Zineography". VaginalDavis.com. Retrieved March 11, 2013. 
  10. ^ a b Fitzgerald, Ali (June 25, 2013). "A Look Back at the Career of Vaginal Davis". Art21 Magazine. Retrieved December 3, 2016. 
  11. ^ a b Trebay, Guy (May 23, 2004). "Ready to Fade into Obscurity. Wait, He's Already There". The New York Times. Retrieved December 11, 2009. 
  12. ^ Maher, Karen (October 2011). "Mono. Issue No. 6 – October 2011: Page 2". Mono. Retrieved March 12, 2013. 
  13. ^ a b "Advanced Capitalism Reunion: Reparations And Retardations" (Press release). Participant Inc. November 16, 2009. Retrieved 2013-03-23. 
  14. ^ "Pedro, Muriel & Esther – PME / EP (Vinyl)". Discogs. Retrieved March 12, 2013. 
  15. ^ a b Kot, Greg (September 1, 1995). "What a Drag". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved March 12, 2013. 
  16. ^ "Vaginal Davis Is Speaking from the Diaphragm". Time Out. March 15, 2012. Retrieved March 12, 2013. 
  17. ^ H, Erika (April 29, 2010). "Jamie Stewart guest stars in performance piece by Vaginal Davis; Xiu Xiu tour, make antiquated entreaty for a lock of your hair". Tiny Mix Tapes. Retrieved March 12, 2013. 
  18. ^ "Vaginal Davis". Studio Museum in Harlem. July 6, 2010. Retrieved March 12, 2013. 
  19. ^ My Pussy Is Still in Los Angeles (I Only Live in Berlin) - was produced by West of Rome Public Art for Pacific Standard Time, and curated by Emi Fontana
  20. ^ "Camp/Anti-Camp sets up in Berlin". Expatriarch. April 12, 2012. Retrieved March 12, 2013. 
  21. ^ "The Goddess Bunny und Tenderloin". YouTube. November 29, 2011. Retrieved March 31, 2013. 
  22. ^ Donnelly, Ryann (November 26, 2012). "The Teachings of Vaginal Davis". Art in America. Retrieved March 11, 2013. 
  23. ^ Rao, Mallika (November 7, 2012). "Vaginal Davis' 'HAG' Exhibit: Cult Artist Gets Major Solo Show At Participant Inc (SLIDESHOW)". The Huffington Post. Retrieved March 11, 2013. 
  24. ^ "Youth Hosteling with Vaginal Davis". www.facebook.com. Retrieved December 3, 2016. 
  25. ^ "Steinhardt and Berlin-based CHEAP Kollektiv Reinvent The Magic Flute at 80WSE Gallery". NYU. December 1, 2015. Retrieved December 3, 2016. 
  26. ^ "Creative Time Summit DC: Occupy the Future". Creative Time Summit. Creative Time, Inc. Retrieved December 3, 2016. 
  27. ^ José Esteban Muñoz (2003). The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. Psychology Press. pp. 217–224. ISBN 978-0-415-26706-9. Retrieved March 12, 2013. 
  28. ^ a b "Vaginal Davis' Biography". VaginalDavis.com. Retrieved March 12, 2013. 
  29. ^ "Vaginal Davis -- the newest stuff". www.vaginaldavis.com. Retrieved December 3, 2016. 
  30. ^ "Le Tigre – Feminist Sweepstakes (Vinyl, LP, Album)". Discogs. Retrieved March 12, 2013. 
  31. ^ "Technova – Electrosexual (CD, Album)". Discogs. Retrieved March 12, 2013. 
  32. ^ Pelly, Jenn (December 28, 2012). "Listen: Kathleen Hanna's Band the Julie Ruin Share First New Track: "Girls Like Us"". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved March 11, 2013. 

Sources[edit]

  • José Muñoz, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999) ISBN 0-8166-3015-1
  • Jennifer Doyle, Sex Objects: Art and the Dialectics of Desire (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006). ISBN 0-8166-4526-4

External links[edit]