'The Life and Times of Butch Dykes' explores identity politics through graphic zines

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Celebrating herstory and inspiring political art

At the recent Montreal Anarchist Bookfair, where another (better) world of incredibly inspiring, provocative and boundary-pushing art and media is on display each year, I stumbled upon Eloisa Aquino and her wares -- a series of zines on awesome butch dykes, appropriately called The Life and Times of Butch Dykes.

The teeny books are what every great zine should be, for me: oozing with the love and devotion the creator, as well as political, punchy, fun, informative and accessible. It's a fantastic series -- eight and counting -- that brings to life the lives of important butch dykes from herstory.

Soon after the Bookfair I had a chance to ask Aquino a few questions about her fantastically miniature and worldly project.

How/why did you come up with this idea to (a) focus on butch dykes and (b) use the format of art and text in fanzines?

Zines are easy and fast to make, and they are very satisfying for scratching a creative itch. When you're done, you're left with multiple art objects that you can distribute yourself for cheap.

I always made zines, on and off, mostly collaborative zines of fiction and poetry. But I wanted to explore the idea of a non-fiction zine, and biographies seemed like a good challenge: how to tell someone's life history in eight panels and eight pages of short text? This idea of synthesis was very appealing to me.

I thought of butch dykes because at the time I was very much into identity politics, and few identities are as challenged in so many fronts as the identity of the butch dyke.

The booklets are really beautiful, informative and intriguing. My only wish is that they were longer. Do you plan on doing longer ones or maybe a longer format book combining multiple herstories?

Thanks! I actually would love to write a couple more and have someone else publish all of them together as a small book. And in French too! I am also planning on starting a graphic novel now that will be longer, but it'll be fictional.

The combination of capitalism and patriarchy with a good dose of heteronormativity keep these kinds of amazing figures from reaching the public sphere in a meaningful way. Can you talk about the role of art and the artist in correcting this ongoing problem?

That's the million-dollar question, innit! Can you make art that changes people's minds?

I honestly doubt it. People will continue making political art, though, not so much to change minds but to nurture other people who already think like themselves, and that is sufficient and necessary.

I grew up in a dictatorship (Brazil in the 1970s and 1980s) and the huge amount of political art being made at the time kept the flame of hope alive for many people -- especially the political songs.

But can you get marginalized figures better known publishing a zine with a run of 100 copies? Of course not. Most people who read/buy my zines already know many of these women.

So in terms of correcting any problem, particularly a political problem, I tend to think that art is very inefficient. But it is efficient in maintaining or fuelling a sentiment that's already there, in reducing the feelings of apathy or isolation and in inspiring more art to happen.

You started with Chavela Vargas -- can you speak about why she in particular inspired the first zine?

It's hard to pinpoint just one thing. I am a big fan of Chavela, and everything about her was inspiring: her incredible voice, her fascinating life history and her fabulous looks.

Also I have a weakness for drama and humour, and Chavela has plenty of both.

With digital media displacing print media, is there still a place for zines, and if so, how can people find them (yours in particular) and buy them?

There's always a place for zines.

Paradoxically, digital technologies are making the production of short runs of printed matter much cheaper. For the last ten years, every couple of months, there's some article being circulated about "the renaissance of the micro presses" or something to this effect.

Indie book and zine fairs are mushrooming everywhere, and the appeal of holding an interesting, beautiful, readable object is far from diminishing.

You can find the zines in my Etsy shop or in any of those reputable online booksellers and brick and mortar shops.

I'll also be tabling at the Montreal Queer Bookfair on Saturday August 17 (Queer Between the Covers)!

Art Threat is your guide to political art and cultural policy. We write about art that seeks to interpret, influence, or reflect upon society. We discuss policy as it pertains to culture. And we showcase artists whose work inspires social change.

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This interview originally appeared on Art Threat and is reprinted here with permission.

Images are courtesy of Art Thread and the author press page.

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