JD Samson Breaks it Open
JD doesn't fuck around. And she paints. And the other stuff. All of it. And all in the service of the creative bent. That itch. That's what's inside her and has been the whole time. But the other thing that we know - the ginormous elephant in the room - the Big One. Justice. ...old school do-good, or get the fuck out of the way. From her foundational role with electropunk groundbreakers Le Tigre, to her recent creative partnership with Pussy Riot, JD has been marrying art with the bigger picture her entire career. She is a lead architect on building the world we want. One stroke, one loop at a time...
Thanks for taking some time with us. You always seem twice as busy as busy -
multiple irons in various fires.
OMG you have no idea….
So how do you juggle all these various media roles? Or are DJing, live music, film, performance art etc. now just part of a single oeuvre? - Call it JDing ;)
Haha. I pretty much see it all as the same thing. Right now I’m trying to understand the thread that runs [through] all of my work... I tend to consider the idea that I want to create safe and positive space in the LGBT community that is for everyone and that brings us to ecstatic moments of joy...while being smart and thinking about radical politics... I think then, I consider it all to fit into one persona. It gets a little more complicated when I want to take a break from that persona and go deeper into something else, but I think that’s something I’ve been working on more recently and find room for within other aspects of my life.
You came out at 15, and subsequently became involved in LGBT and social justice issues at a young age. And of course you began developing your creative identity early
on as well. Was the combination of art and activism a choice you grew into, or an obvious connection from the start?
I don’t remember there being a defining moment for me of “deciding” to put my art and activism together. I remember the moment I “decided” I was a feminist when I was about 10 years old, and I think my feminism embodies all kinds of activism. I was the environmental club president in High School, and continued other activist work within my community as a teenager. The first time I noticed that it was brought into my artwork naturally was a piece in class where we had to draw a hand, and instead of just drawing a hand, I found myself creating a piece about the AIDS crisis. I was 14 years old at the time, and for some reason I found that I was able to loop these two aspects of my life together and that it meant so much more to me than I had ever realized it could. Art was always my favorite toy, my favorite class, my favorite way to spend time. I would stay up until 2 in the morning drawing and my mom would have to come in and take my paper away. Also, I always wore my heart on my sleeve. My empathy, my sympathy, and the dream of equality were so strong to me that I was able to bring these two elements of passion together to create work that meant something to me even as a young child.
How do you see the two related? Why are artists and creative communities so
compelled to give a shit?
I think it's hard to say why other people give a shit. I know for myself it's an inherent quality of my personality. I just give a shit...I have always hoped to be a part of creating peace and pushing people to be their best selves.
At MEANS we often cite formative voices like Nawal el Saadawi, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Patti Smith. Who are your heroes in the fight?
...I feel like when I was a teenager, I only had magazines to offer me guidance... As soon as I came out it was The Advocate, and Curve, and Out Magazine, and I was informed almost 100% by what they gave me. I listened to music they suggested, I read the books they reviewed. My heroes in the fight were Lynnee Breedlove from Tribe 8 who created work within the queer punk scene that was stimulating to me in terms of feminism as well as gender identity, and to be honest Ani Difranco. Her music was so inherently political [and] unapologetic... it completely pulled me into a specific subculture and got me ready to build myself as a political artist.
Last year, you collaborated with with Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina
of Pussy Riot, and were very vocal during their trial and subsequent imprisonment in
2012. Why is it important for us to unite beyond borders? To proclaim our alliance?
It was so interesting for me to travel to Europe during the time period directly before their sentencing and see how much the media there was [focused on] their story. When I arrived back in NYC I saw absolutely nothing in the papers, so I worked with Robert Lieber of pussyriot.org and...my friend Inge Colsen (a publicist) and put on an event at the ACE Hotel where several writers/activists/performers read the texts of the women from prison, their lyrics, their past works, and the actual trial testimonies. The event was so well attended...[and] this was so important to me, because I myself am a feminist musician and performance artist, and the songs that I have sung on stage and at rallies and protests, could have put me in prison...had been living in Russia.
...Freedom of expression and freedom of protest are things that we still do have to [demand] in the USA and in New York City… This kind of activism wasn’t only about Russia, it was about our country too, and standing up for our freedom to fight.
What campaigns are you proudest of? What deserves our attention most today?
I feel super proud of the work I did for Pussy Riot and just being able to spread the word about their [art] and activism, and how fucking smart they are! ...I also feel good about being able to write about money and music for the Huffington Post... I think it was really influential to the community to be able to open up and talk about such a taboo subject.
In your next life, who will you come back as? Will you be more restful, or will you still
be turned to eleven?...
Oh wow, I hope to come back as myself and learn from all the mistakes I have made, and do twice as much work next time. There’s always something else that can be done!
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