- My Womanly StoryVaginal Davis in conversation with Lewis Church
Ms. Vaginal “Crème” Davis has come to occupy a unique position in the parallel and intertwining histories of performance and live art, punk, and queer subcultures. As lead singer of the Afro Sisters, black fag, Pedro, Muriel & Esther (PME), and ¡Cholita! The Female Menudo, she developed a fearsome reputation and cult following on the alternative music scene of the late 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, emerging as a prime antagonist of the post-punk subgenre Queercore. Alongside this musical practice, she directs and stars in her own independent films and theatrical productions, and was a central figure in the burgeoning fanzine culture of the 1980s, producing both home-printed magazines and the influential video-zine Fertile La Toyah Jackson. Davis also ran and hosted several highly influential performance/club nights in Los Angeles throughout the 1990s and 2000s including Club Sucker, G.I.M.P., and Bricktops. Now living in Berlin, Davis continues to produce work as a performer, visual artist, sculptor, and writer, and as a musician with her most recent bands Tenderloin and Ruth Fisher. Davis produces work that blends a peculiarly Angeleno understanding of celebrity, glamor, and showbiz with the cultural politics of race, sexuality, privilege, and class, all made within a DIY ethos that stretches back to the earliest days of Californian punk. This interview was recorded in a cold Berlin on December 3, 2014, at Davis’s home in Schöneberg.
I want to ask first about the process through which we arranged this interview—through our letters to each other. We’ve kept up a written correspondence since 2010, and you have many other people you regularly write to . . .
Hundreds and thousands of people, it seems like!
The post has largely been supplanted by email as a primary method of keeping in touch for most, but it seems like letter writing is quite an important part of how you communicate. Do you think of it as part of your artistic practice?
Of course. I think it’s one of the main components of what you would call my “art practice.” I always shy away from those academic terms other people use, [End Page 80] like “art practice” and “my work.” But letter writing for me is so paramount. I first started writing letters when I was around seven or eight years old. I always thought of myself as being a child of the world confined to the inner city, South Central Los Angeles. I knew that there was a wider world out there and I wanted to be a part of it, so I actively became involved in letter writing campaigns, and found pen pals in other countries. I was writing to kids my age behind the Iron Curtain in Russia and East Berlin, and in Japan, in South America, Argentina, and Brazil, all the places that I had imagined. And of course in England, because I was an Anglophile at a young age. I was obsessed with castles and all that imagery. It’s weird because almost all of those early correspondences from childhood I’ve still kept going all these years. Those relationships have been really helpful. A lot of them have become prominent people, and these are relationships I’ve had since we were nine or ten.
People of our modern age, who are only obsessed with smartphones and gad-getries, devices, and apps, they should realize that this analog way of being is something that you shouldn’t underestimate or ignore. That’s one of the things that I really stress when I teach, and I keep in contact with all my former students and continue collaborating with them. A lot of that is through letter writing with people your age, “millennials.” For people born between 1982 and 2000 (I guess that’s considered a “millennial”) writing a letter via the post is something that’s so novel and so unusual that it has a weight to it. A letter is like a little gift coming to you.
As a young person in Los Angeles these letters were coming in to you from all...