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HomePhotographyOn Utopian Womyn's Lands, Lesbians Dwell on Their Personal Phrases

On Utopian Womyn’s Lands, Lesbians Dwell on Their Personal Phrases


About 13 years in the past, the photographer and scholar Leah DeVun and her associate, who’s transgender, lived in Texas. “Very similar to now, there was plenty of anti-LGBT rhetoric within the air,” she tells me. They had been in search of secure, protected locations to remain whereas touring when a buddy advisable womyn’s lands—historic and revolutionary communities constructed by lesbians within the Nineteen Seventies and ’80s.

That suggestion would take DeVun on a journey that has spanned greater than a decade to this point, taking her to non-traditional dwelling areas the place inventive actions had been born and proceed to thrive. For instance, Rootworks in Oregon, considered one of these womyn’s lands (typically “wimmin’s lands”), performed a pivotal position within the historical past of pictures, internet hosting workshops that inspired individuals to strive new strategies and assume past the confines of the male gaze.

Lesbian LandDeVun’s ongoing collection, brings collectively documentary images from the womyn’s lands of at the moment and staged performances impressed by photos made on womyn’s lands within the Nineteen Seventies and ’80s. When exhibiting the work prior to now, the artist has additionally proven among the unique lesbian zines made throughout this time.

Quickly after first studying about womyn’s lands again in 2010, DeVun ordered photocopied listing of those lands, initially written by a girl by the title of Shewolf. She nonetheless remembers the second it arrived within the mail.

“It was stuffed with hand-made drawings, lovely names like Wiseheart and Evening Sky, and a large listing of addresses and telephone numbers,” she tells me. “I began writing and calling folks, and a complete world of queer house and neighborhood opened as much as me.”

We requested her to inform us extra about these revolutionary womyn, who dared to create a brand new world for themselves a long time in the past—and what we will be taught from them at the moment.


Are you able to share a bit in regards to the historical past of womyn’s lands?

“Womyn’s lands (additionally referred to as wimmin’s lands) are ladies’s intentional communities (we might additionally name them communes) that had been created as a part of the back-to-the-land motion that began within the Sixties. Though it’s not all the time so nicely remembered, it was an enormous motion: there have been supposedly over 2,000 communes within the U.S. within the Nineteen Seventies!

“The communes had been principally centered on experimental, anti-capitalist dwelling, however they weren’t essentially so nice at dealing with gender points, and so some ladies cut up off from mixed-sex communes to create their very own all-women ones. Every girl’s land was distinctive, however they normally rejected capitalism and centered on gender and sexual liberation, attempting to place feminist theories and homosexual rights into motion.

“The lands had been facilities of creativity, they usually made visible artwork and music, printed their very own books and journals, and ran workshops and festivals. They had been additionally a secure place for ladies to remain on the highway whereas touring. That’s how I got here to satisfy up with land dykes who had been gracious sufficient to share their areas with me and let me {photograph} them and ask 1,000,000 questions.”

How lengthy did you spend on the womyn’s lands?

“Not very lengthy however even a brief keep made an enormous impression. I used to be blown away by how self-reliant the ladies on the lands had been. A few of them constructed their homes themselves from scratch, and constructing a home is one thing you could’t simply do by your self. It takes a complete group of individuals working collectively to boost the wall of a home, so you need to create and depend on a neighborhood for essentially the most fundamental components of survival, like simply having a home to stay in.”


Are you able to inform us about among the womyn you met and their tales? What impressed you most about them?

“Once I instructed the land dykes that I used to be a instructor and dealing at a college and displaying my artwork as a result of I wished to be out on the earth and create societal change, I used to be shocked as a result of they form of laughed at me. They had been like, ‘You may’t change society—it’s rotten to the core.’

“Ayla, Gwen, and Gail, among the ladies I met who’re within the photographs, mentioned I used to be a ‘reformer,’ somebody who wished to work inside the system because it exists. ‘We’re revolutionaries,” they mentioned. You may’t reform this. You need to scrap it and simply begin another time.

“I’ve considered this dialog so many occasions over time. It’s the rationale that many land dykes withdrew from society. It appears at first like their purpose was small—-to stay in their very own protected locations—nevertheless it was really an unlimited psychological and bodily enterprise, to attempt to make a complete new world from scratch.

“It’s like elevating up the partitions of the homes—it takes a dedication to work collectively to construct one thing. They didn’t all the time succeed, however this sort of world-building as a lifestyle is one thing I’d like us all to consider.”


Have you ever remained in contact?

“Sure, I spoke to Ayla and Gwen not way back, they usually shared with me that, sadly, Gail handed away through the pandemic. I used to be only recently studying an essay that she wrote referred to as Working Collectively, the place she mentioned that due to our aggressive, capitalist programming, one of many hardest issues for ladies to do after they go to work or stay on the land is to let go of the concept that independence is superior to interdependence. Gail lived in interdependence with different ladies on the land for one thing like 40 years.

“Their land is in a reasonably conservative space total. I had as soon as requested Gail if anybody ever threatened them for being lesbians in such an remoted place. She mentioned, kind of, that after they first moved there, some folks tried to run them off the land, however she went to the top of the driveway together with her gun, after which nobody ever bothered them once more.”

You bought your palms on some lesbian zines from womyn’s lands, which you’ve exhibited together with your photographs prior to now. How did you discover them?

“I ordered a few of my magazines straight from Jean Mountaingrove earlier than she handed away. Jean and her associate Ruth had been the founders of a land in southern Oregon referred to as Rootworks, they usually printed a few of my favourite magazines, WomanSpirit and The Blatant Picture, which had been the sources of plenty of the inspiration for my reenacted images. WomanSpirit and The Blatant Picture was onerous to search out, however now plenty of these magazines can be found on the web.

“Considered one of my favourite tales of the womyn’s lands pertains to Rootworks. Rootworks is the place a bunch of lesbian photographers, together with the Mountaingroves, Carol Newhouse and Tee Corrine and a few others, hosted the ‘Ovulars,’ which had been week-long pictures workshops that began in 1979. They had been a feminist model of the ‘seminar’—they wished to eliminate the masculine root of the phrase seminar that comes from ‘semen’ in order that they named the workshops Ovulars!

“The ladies who went to the Ovulars had been referred to as ‘ovulators’ they usually realized the way to work cameras, the way to experiment with totally different chemical processes, the way to take images outdoors of a male gaze, they usually ended up publishing a groundbreaking (although short-lived) feminist pictures journal, The Blatant Picture, which ran from 1981-3.

“The Blatant Picture had plenty of how-to information in it and it additionally printed photographs by Barbara Hammer, Honey Lee Cottrell, JEB (Joan E. Biren), and Carrie Mae Weems, who had been to go on to have such essential careers. The photographs captured plenty of underrepresented ladies’s experiences and subjects, like intimate associate violence, incapacity, caring for kids or sick members of the family, ladies’s sexuality. This is a vital chapter within the historical past of pictures that many people have by no means realized about.”

What did you be taught out of your time at womyn’s lands? What did you are taking with you?

“I feel folks have a tendency to consider the Again to the Land Motion because the previous: it was a time that got here and went, it was an try to create a brand new society, nevertheless it failed, and folks moved on. However I need to consider it not as a previous that’s completed however as a seamless radical imaginative and prescient of life, no less than ideally, that we might exist outdoors of nuclear households, capitalism, and even personal property.

“That’s a part of why I did the restaging of among the classic photos within the magazines, to assist us to essentially interact with this historical past in an embodied, experiential method, hopefully giving us a way of how we supply our histories with us, and what potential there may be in these histories.

“Given the shifts which are taking place now, with the local weather disaster, and the large enhance in the price of dwelling, particularly in cities, I do know lots of people have been revisiting this era with questions on the way to create co-living homes, land trusts, intentional communities, and different methods of eager about utilizing property in a extra equitable and fewer commodified method. We might use extra utopian considering as a result of the best way we’re dwelling on the earth proper now isn’t working.”

This work was exhibited on the Stonewall Nationwide Museum and Archives within the spring. What did it imply to have it proven there?

“My present, which was curated by Ophelia Appleton and arranged by Robert Kesten, additionally felt particular as a result of it opened the primary evening with a public dialog about lesbian lands, and a bunch of great Florida land dykes confirmed up, they usually shared their reminiscences of dwelling on the lands.

“We’ve got rather a lot to be taught from our queer elders and, with the closure of so many homosexual bars across the nation, which was intergenerational gathering spots for LGBTQ folks, we’ve much less and fewer likelihood to get to speak to our elders and listen to their tales.

“Among the many subjects that stand out from that evening, among the ladies instructed us about how they handled communal dwelling. Clearly, similar to any group of individuals, they’d their disagreements, however they managed them by a system they referred to as ‘honest combating’ in order that they needed to get to a consensus as an alternative of constructing selections by majority rule.

“So everybody was in the end included as an alternative of being outvoted, which was a revelation to me and jogs my memory that we’ve rather a lot to realize politically from constructing on what our activist elders have realized.

“We additionally talked about the best way that lesbian communities have developed—and must proceed to evolve—to turn into extra inclusive of gender variety, together with transgender folks, and I feel actual change is occurring there. The founders of a land in Oregon referred to as WomanShare have handed their property over to a brand new era of Indigenous two-spirit of us, and different lands have additionally turn into trans inclusive.”

Are these lands protected in any method? How can they be protected?

“Because the lesbians on the land become old, and if new folks don’t take up the mission, there’s an actual hazard that the lands will die out. I feel that’s why among the land dykes, who’ve been very personal up till just lately, have been prepared to succeed in out to youthful folks, to share their data, and to attempt to construct broader communities. I ought to say that there are additionally queer lands and radical faerie lands within the spirit of this custom which are additionally on the market.”

Is there a query you want I’d requested that I didn’t?

“Another factor: Visibility is essential for any neighborhood, however lesbians have skilled plenty of historic erasure. We simply don’t get to see sufficient photos of lesbians or find out about lesbian historical past.

“The photographers on the lands, like those in The Blatant Picture and different publications, tried to work in opposition to that by making their very own photos of lesbian life, and I’m attempting to do this with my work too.

“And, by the best way, after we do see any LGBTQ folks within the media, they’re normally younger folks. However what will we appear like after we become old? I feel we’d like photos of outdated LGBTQ folks too so we will see life throughout the entire spectrum of our lives and movie our personal survival on into the long run.”

All photos © Leah DeVun

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