Interview with Goth Shakira

Right before I sat down to type this, I refreshed my Instagram Feed and turned my phone back on Airplane mode, knowing that I could go back later tonight after this $4.00 worth of Internet expires and scroll myself to sleep.  In the five days I’ve been in Havana, I’ve been keeping busy learning as much as I can about this world that is so unfamiliar to me. It seems bizarre for me to come home from a day under a pounding sun, surrounded by street harassment, fresh guayaba juice, and throbbing drum beats and stare at my phone for my daily dose of meme, but I’ve realized memes are my television.

Meme pages have become ideal, providing me with news, celebrity gossip and comedic catharsis that take only a few seconds to consume.  Is it sad? Yes.  Is it my millennial-living-in-the- center-of-the-Capitalist-Cesspool-reality? Hell yes.  And now, being in Cuba with limited access to Internet and feeling (thankfully) so disconnected to the United States pop-culture sphere, the importance of memes in my own life is becoming more clear to me. In a way, memes are able to capture culture before television or film.  A successful meme is quick and smart, enjoying a full cycle of creation, distribution, copy and death within days (weeks at the most), so they’re at the forefront of comedy. Memes also have the unique ability to center stories of marginalized communities that aren’t going to be told otherwise.

I’m not exactly sure when I realized the meme as my daily entertainment substitute for Netflix and pirated movies, but I do know that I made the complete switch upon seeing Goth Shakira’s  page on my feed. The “anti-heteropatriachal/ anti-capitalist nonbinary meme priestess” is based in Montreal and makes brilliant memes that explore her own life and position within the world of immaterial digital labor. Sociopolitical and raw, these memes speak to me on an astrological / spiritual level as they highlight the existence of a diasporic queer Latinx person living in the 21st century. I sat down with Goth Shakira to talk about Latinx identity, digital anti-Blackness and meme-production for La Liga Magazine.  Peep the interview below:

Luna Olavarria Gallegos: A lot of your memes focus on your experiences, so a lot of them are about your parents and being part of a diaspora and being Latina. Can you talk about that a little bit?

GS: Yeah, I think it just goes back, again, to what I said about writing about my own experiences. I had all these thoughts and ideas that I had kinda written about before in university papers. You know when you’re at a party and you feel like “oh, what that person said was really wack or really dumb and I wish they could just understand where I’m coming from,” right? So a lot of it is just pent-up frustration, which I’m sure you can relate to; a lot like years of microaggressions, people just not getting it and trying to function within. Montreal is a really interesting environment because you have a lot of people coming from all across Canada, kind of like a creative hub; socioeconomically, it’s diverse. I would like to say you have people who are struggling artists for sure, but then there’s also this weird atmosphere of, “oh, I have to dress a certain way or commodify my tastes in a certain way to fit in.” So it’s sort of this weird paradox that I’ve found. I grew up in Calgary which is way out in Western Canada and it’s a mid-sized city and Alberta, where Calgary is, is like the Texas of Canada so we’re known as being backwoods, sort of, y’know I guess, country. So coming out here -- I had a really humble beginning and upbringing-- and just being faced with all of this, like “wow I’m so far from a lot people who actually understand what I went through.” And so things like taking home two bites of your dinner and that person, that boy in front of you who grew up in prosperity, in like this totally different city, could never possibly understand why you do that. In that moment there are so many things that are going through your head and you wanna say. I don’t know, I’m just rambling but I hope you kind of get what I’m saying.

LOG: No, I totally agree and I think that’s also something that’s really interesting because I do see a lot of race analysis in your memes and that’s something we don’t usually see or talk about in such sarcastic ways. I’m also wondering about your choice of images. I saw a few Shakira memes towards the beginning but it seems like there’s an intentional choice to mostly use J.Lo and Selena Gomez.

GS: In my travels through the internet, one would see a lot of memes that use images of black or African American people as reaction images. Meme culture is very interesting in how it’s very anonymous and how you don’t always know who’s behind the computer making that meme. And in my mind I’m like “wow that’s really problematic if this meme featuring aspects of AAVE and a black person as the reaction image is not made by a black person.” How do I know, right? That made me really question my presence on the internet and really think, “if this is my story, I need to use this image or persona that will be widely recognizable but someone who I feel I can relate to,” so that’s why I go by the name Goth Shakira because she’s half Colombian, which I am as well. And the reason that I gravitate to J.Lo and Selena now is because J.Lo has had such an expansive career and there are so many great images of her, like her reactions are so great she’s so expressive so I just have more material with her. Selena Gomez is a little younger and I find that --I’ve gotten to know these images very well-- she’s a Cancer, so she’s a lot more emotional, there’s more emotional images of her. That’s why I move toward those two. I don’t know if Shakira has a really good PR team, but it’s very difficult to find the same level of expression in Shakira than those of J.Lo and Selena.

LOG: What is your goal? Do you have a goal, with your instagram right now? Or are you just chilling and making memes?

GS: Well, my goal, my number one goal is in my bio; the first thing you read is “tough double Aquarian guy learns to love herself through memecraft.” That’s been my main goal since the beginning. When I was making that first meme in a cafe I was like “this is a way of loving myself, this is a way of making fun of myself and really examining the experiences I’ve had,” as an outlet I guess. From someone who’s had a lot of self loathing over the years, it’s a really therapeutic way to release a lot of the things I’ve kept pent-up. And it’s just happened to resonate with so many people which is crazy.

LOG: I’m really interested in the labor that goes behind making memes, which you’ve talked about before. What I find interesting is that a lot of black people and people of color are the ones making memes and vines but a lot of the sponsorships we see people get go to mostly thin, white women and men; they’re the ones that get paid for a lot of the digital, immaterial labor. I live in New York City and go to design school so it’s in my face all the time, hyper-visible I guess. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on digital labor, making a lot of the entertainment for a lot of people.

GS: I’m really glad you asked me that, that’s a really thoughtful question that I’ve only briefly explored in my mind, like “hey a lot effort is going into my instagram now,” and you can’t help but think “I’m not being renumerated in anything tangible.” But I agree with you completely, I think that’s an excellent point: a lot of internet humor is created by people of color, in particular black people. We see so many non-POC taking it and enjoying it, the fruits of it, but not really contributing back in some way or honoring that, things are stolen etc. I don’t know. I guess those are my thoughts on it, that I just totally and completely agree with you, and that I don’t know what’s gonna happen with my instagram, I don’t have a plan for being paid although that would be cool but I don’t see how that would happen or who would do that.

LOG: You post a couple times a day, which I feel is a lot. Do you have a lot of really incredible experiences so that you can have the capacity to make so many memes?

GS: It’s just been a really long time coming. I write about stuff that happened yesterday as much as I write about stuff that happened 3 years ago as much as I write about stuff that’s happening to my friends. At the height of it I was making about 3-5 now I’m trying to do 3 and take 1 day a week off. When I’m on the metro or walking I’ll think of something and I’ll just write it in my phone; it just comes to me, I don’t know. I’ve thought about it and I’ve talked to the universe about it and I’m like “alright, this is happening,” and we came to this conclusion of whenever they stop, they stop. But as long as they keep coming, they keep coming and I’m just gonna enjoy that organic creative flow as long as it happens.

LOG: You’re an Aquarius. Have you always been interested in horoscopes?

GS: No I haven’t always been. I was actually raised in a very conservative Evangelical Christian environment so everything related to New Age beliefs and spirituality and occult knowledge, things like astrology, was all evil and Satanic and I was never ever allowed to even consider the possibility of that. It wasn’t until about 3 years ago that I started to just think about it and I was with someone at the time who introduced me to a lot of mystic, spiritual concepts and that was really eye-opening for me. I’ve only been delving deeply into it only the past 2 years but for me it’s a tool of self-knowledge which in turn is a tool of self-love, right? Going back to that whole concept of learning to love myself and learning to appreciate all the nuanced and beautiful aspects of my chart as well as everyone else’s.

LOG: I think that’s really cool because I haven’t ever really seen any other memes that focus on horoscope charts and that’s something I’ve always been really into. Spaces are really white a lot of the time so to see a meme have a racial analysis in America and also horoscopes and also fuckboys, like all together, it’s unique.

GS: [laughs] That’s awesome! I’m so glad you can relate to that. How long have you been studying astrology for?

LOG: My mom’s best friend is a palm reader and I remember being five years old and being told about my chart.

GS: Wow! See, that’s really cool. I’m envious of that.

 

LOG: You posted something once about farting in the middle of the night when you were studying abroad in Colombia. That was really interesting to me because I realized there’s discussion on the latinx diaspora studying abroad back in Latin America that I’ve never had before. I studied abroad last year in Nicaragua and I travel back a lot and that's something interesting that I never get to share with people, that I’m from a diaspora and what is it like for me to go back but not to visit family.

GS: Oh my goodness, yes! Absolutely! I’m so glad you said that. It really touched my heart that someone else identifies with that too. I was born in Colombia to a Colombian father and a Portuguese-American mother who  was raised in Ecuador and Colombia and born in Colombia so I have a lot of identity things to work out in terms of  being a mixed person of color and identifying as latina/latinx but knowing that I’m white-passing and my mother is white. I was born there and we stayed for 5 months with my family and then we left and I lived in Seattle for a couple of years with my parents and then I lived in Calgary for most of my childhood pretty much. When I was 21, I went back to study in Colombia and it was this very very intense eye-opening, I mean, I was staying with family and I spent time with family for sure, but it was the first time I had ever really been on my own in Colombia and I grappled with a lot of pent-up emotional stuff over years: my relationship with my father and his relationship with his family and relating to people who were also Colombia but them viewing me as Canadian. It was a lot of stuff and it was a very important, formative experience and I’m so glad you could identify with that. If spreading that story helped even one person, then it’s all worth it to me. For me, I feel very isolated sometimes, I’m sure you might feel the same way. I’m surrounded by a lot of amazing people but no one who’s story I can relate to on such a specific level I guess.

LOG: The other thing about that story was that I felt weird fetishized as an American when I went, with the guys that I was seeing. But I don’t feel American and when I’m here, I never feel like I’m from the United States. I don’t know if that makes sense.

GS: It makes 100% sense! It’s one of my memes that I have lined up actually. I’ll give you a little preview actually. I want to start a mixed-POC day of the week so I’ll just make memes about being mixed or first or second-generation POC. One of them is exactly about that: I always feel like a token latinx among my white friends or non-latinx poc and I always feel like the token white girl among my friends, always.

LOG: I think it’s also interesting to travel abroad and see poverty, a lot of shit. Traveling abroad is intense for me. And then acknowledging how much privilege you have living not where your parents are from, at least in my experience. I travel abroad and see where my parents came from and being like “fuck, that’s so much, that's so fucking much, I’m in such a different place.” But also I’m going to take back these last two bites of my plate because I can’t waste food.

GS: Yes, absolutely! I identify with that 100%. It’s like being from everywhere and nowhere and you have this collection of amalgamated experience. You feel like you just have so much on you, from your parents and their culture but that's also your culture and how you grew up. There’s just so much going on in this fishbowl that is the human self and it’s a lot to unpack, for sure.

LOG: I’m just so grateful that you’re making memes about it, I think that's a really great art form and writing form. Is there anything else you wanted to say?

GS: Yeah, in all the interviews I’m doing I do want to talk about the elements of social media performance art and how I came to be acquainted with that concept and taking it upon myself to do the same. There are two female-identifying artists in Montreal and Toronto that I was really influenced by. The first one is Jessica Simps, she’s used to go by the moniker GirlOnline (editor’s note: GirlOnline is no longer active but Simps has started a new art collective promoting inclusion for women/POC/queer people called "Girl's Club"which you can follow here). She started by taking a very radical stance on instagram about sex worker’s rights, body politics; she started a movement called Sluts Against Harper which here was pretty much aimed toward distributing nudes in exchange for not getting this radical, right-wing prime minister in power which was a huge success. Her very brazen identification as a social media performance artist really opened my eyes in a lot of ways and helped me unmask myself online and realize that there’s nothing to be afraid of if i’m being totally and completely myself in order to make a point about what I believe in. The other artist is Thick Nina; I think she goes by Thick_Nina_Art on instagram (editor’s note: this account is no longer active), she’s a photographer. She started by having a personal account where she openly chronicled her life with a mental illness. She was very open about it, same as GirlOnline, and very overtly sexual to make her point. Those are two women who really influenced me. If you saw my instagram a few years ago, it was very tame. I think we as women have a lot of pressure on us to cultivate this image in person but also online that’s sanitized by also appealing to the heterosexual male gaze. We’re afraid of being weird and being ourselves in a lot of ways and those two women really opened my eyes and pretty much showed it was ok to be your weird, awkward self because your story is powerful and what you have to say is important.

LOG: I think that’s super important to talk about and I also think about that a lot. I also think it’s also very complicated because seeing the hyper-visibility of the Kardashian family or other female celebrities like Selena Gomez, if you look at their instagram, you wonder, “is this a performance, is this who they really are, is this art?”  And then, what does it mean to be an authentic self on the internet? Have you ever grappled with that? Is this actually me or is this a really concentrated, campy version of myself?

GS: Yes! That’s an awesome question and it’s one that I think about daily. In 2016 when the lines between your online identity and your in-person self are very blurred through the internet. Friendships start online and then progress to being in person. I wondered that a lot about myself and I try to keep myself accountable and I try very very hard to be the most genuine authentic self that I am on instagram. But I also think I have many selves and I think that’s what I’ve learned through this project. I feel like I am that person that I am online but it’s also not everything about me, which makes sense. I don’t think I want an instagram profile to be the be-all, end-all about my identity. You should have to sit down and have a coffee with me to get to know me; have several coffees, yknow? People have commented to me -- what did this boy say to me the other day?-- we met on instagram and then went on date and he texted me afterwards and was like “don’t take this the wrong way but you’re actually so much more sweet and genuine and kindhearted than what your instagram suggests” and I was like [laughs] “ok thanks, I guess?” I’m still grappling with it. I keep myself in check everyday, before I post everything I’m like “is this real? Is this real?” It has to be real otherwise people will be able to tell and I won’t be able to sleep at night.

LOG: Are you getting a lot of DMs? Are guys hitting you up through this instagram now?

GS: Yeah, more than before when I had like 2 thousand followers. But I actually get more messages from girls, very supportive messages from girls. Someone the other day sent me a message that said, “your memes helped me through depression.” And I was like “aww, that’s awesome!” That’s crazy to me, that warms my heart, that’s the reason why I exist.

LOG: That’s so awesome. Thank you so much for letting me interview you, I really appreciate it.

GS: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this!

 

*Interview conducted by Luna Olavarria Gallegos

*Transcribed & Edited by Mia Rodriguez and Luna Olavarria Gallegos

[photo by nick alexander/@visagevoyeur]