100 Butches: an interview with Elisha Lim

0 Posted by - January 28, 2008 - Conversations, Features, Visual art

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine emailed me a link to Elisha Lim’s drawings on socal-networking-site MySpace, the preferred site for up and coming musicians. Singer, songwriter and visual artist, Elisha's MySpace page is filled with stories…

The drawings are original in their simplicity, offering snippets of butch-encounters, which come across much like entries from the artist’s personal diary. 100 Butches is probably circulating from one queer email account to another, and in my opinion, has yet to garner the kind of attention it truly deserves…

I had the opportunity to ask Elisha a few questions about her project.

Art Threat: So, where are you located these days? What are you up to?

Elisha Lim: I'm performing drag shows in London, bringing gay home to my family, and experimenting with sustainable unemployment.

AT: Where did this amazing idea of drawing butches come from?

EL: To be honest it was commercial. I noticed that Diva was accepting comic submissions and a catalogue of “100 Butches” seemed like a saleable product. But its wide appeal is inspiring me to a more worthy agenda…

AT: Who decides who is a butch?

EL: My friends shout in unison: The Individual Decides! But…actually “100 Butches” hasn't truly been about butches, I've just been drawing who I'm attracted to. People I'm attracted to as lovers, friends or role models, are often described as butches. So I often take whoever I find sexy and try to jam them into the panels. I hope it helps stretch definitions/ lets me ramble about my crushes.

People I'm attracted to as lovers, friends or role models, are often described as butches.

AT: Where does your fascination with butch identity come from?

EL: Ever since my first crush punched me. There was some definitely some early butch-lust there. This is a question that I hope the comic helps me answer. Maybe if I can line up 100 personal stories, at the end of the day I'll figure out why I let her punch me.

AT: I find it a really interesting to make the text part of the image. What are those stories about? Why is it important to tell/share stories? You also tell stories through songs, right? How does music and drawing differ in terms of how you can tell stories?

EL: Thank you. I was just hoping that these pictures would turn somebody on. However now I'm beginning to think about importance. I'm restless for social, gender and material revolution, so why not try to draw it? Music and drawing – that's a good question. I like drawings because they take the attention away from the self-absorbed singer/songwriter, and focus on the subject. Although I have to admit, I'm more honest in the songs. With text you can tweak and embellish. But it's harder to lie in a song because you can hear insincerity. That's why boybands died. I think.

AT: Do you feel like you are making butch history come to life through these drawings? Is there a way in which you are consciously playing on the idea of recording butch identity and experience through art, or archiving this under-documented part of queer/lesbian/women's history?

EL: That seems ambitious for anybody, doesn't it? But questions like this make me think. I'm thinking about it a lot. If this comic could attract attention, and unify some important ideas, which ones? What would my fellow queers like to hear about? Practical instances of gender deconstruction? Examples of successful queer communities? The extensive history of lesbians as activists? Laura Méritt quotes? I don't think I could really do justice to an “archive”, but the comic might be able to serve as a good community center. Which conversations would people like to start? Please send me suggestions.

I'm restless for social, gender and material revolution, so why not try to draw it?

AT: Have you gotten any feedback on your drawings? What are people saying?

EL: Wow. Feedback has quite blown me away. I mean sheesh, I'm scribbling these comics at my messy kitchen table and scanning them at the noisy local library – but the feedback has given me an amazing sense of validation and recognition. And it's been great and interesting to get this feedback from men and women, straight or otherwise.

Some was touching:

“It's been a while since something hit so close to home and brought back puberty with such force. And managed to encapsulate so many differently aged emotions. What you wrote about Number 4 summed up a good two years of my life. Especially about how she taught us to walk with our backs straight, slur and sit with our knees spread. I was never really friends with her, but that is exactly what she was to me: Resistance.”

“I didn't think your comics (which are incredible, beautiful, rich… I can't look at them without feeling warm and tingly) came across as stereotypical. In fact, completely the opposite. First I thought you were celebrating these women's pride in being butch, but past that, you provide the story with which we move past the label and meet the person.”

And some was thought provoking:

“every imperfect copy (e.g. butch) that nevertheless finds a possibility of being and being happy in the world, also bears a critique on the original (man, heterosexual) as the only unique and right way of being. You should read Judith Butler.”

AT: Will they be shown or published anywhere? Are they for sale?

EL: Yes, I'm publishing a series of books, featuring the Butch comics, and accompanied by relevant panels like Butch events, Butch heroes, and Butch theory, and I'm open to suggestions. They're also getting published in the Australian lesbian magazine LOTL, the London equivalent Diva, and various ladyfest zines. Meanwhile they've been reviewed at the wonderful Gayleague.com, featured on dykes on mykes, and there's a new panel weekly at myspace.com/worldsmostelisha and I'm looking for other more accessible sites for people to see them.

Be sure to check out Elisha’s beautiful butches on MySpace!

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