Meet the queen of intersectional memes
I’m sitting in a room with half a dozen teenage activists when one of them mentions a meme. I'm the oldest person in the room and the first one to ask: “Wait, what am I missing?” “Oh, you don't know Goth Shakira? She’s so on point,” one of my younger friends jumps in. They pull out their phone, tap rapidly on their screen, and victoriously thrust the device into my hands. I scroll through the feed, which is filled with J. Lo, Selena Gomez, and other pop icons hilariously accompanied by detailed captions on the experience of being a young Latina feminist. “You have an Instagram. How is it you don't know about her?”
Known as the high priestess of dank memery, Goth Shakira reigns. The 25-year-old lives in Montreal, but lately she has been making a huge splash all over the internet. Walking the line between highbrow and lowbrow, the obscure, familiar, and the esoteric all sit together on Goth Shakira’s feed. Mercury’s in retrograde, the etiquette of polyamory, smash that like – if you’re young and woke there might be something in there for you.
We talked with Goth Shakira about her fans, her inspirations, and where she sees the whole meme thing going.
How did meme making become a creative outlet for you?
Last winter, I was struggling with seasonal depression and eschewed from IRL human contact in favor of spending time online. Retreating into relative solitude has always been how I process my feelings and emotions. I had just experienced a big romantic disappointment, had a mundane job and was sitting in my very small and humble studio apartment on my secondhand furniture. Meanwhile, I was in my mid-20s seeing my peers move in with their partners and buy cars and pay off their Visa bills. I felt like a really big loser and I figured that I might as well accept my loserdom and find a way to laugh about it.
I became obsessed with memes and eventually started making my own, thinking that maybe my close girlfriends would find them funny, but mainly doing them as a way to make fun of myself in a self-deprecating way. After I made two or three I realized that making them was incredibly cathartic, and so I started getting deeper and more personal and specific, like a diary. I was saying all the things I had been thinking and feeling for a long time, but rendering my thoughts and feelings in the absurd and banal format that is the meme somehow made them seem less intimidating. They were, and still are, a tool to help me take myself and my “grievances” less seriously.
What other creative projects are you involved with?
I’m the Content Editor for the Girl’s Club blog. I’ll be in group shows this summer in Toronto and London, England, and one in Montreal in partnership with Vans and the Osheaga music festival. I’m making things here and there for feminist publications like Leste Magazine. I’ll be contributing to a book curated by Molly Soda and Sara Sutterlin that will be out in November, which I’m really excited about.
I’ve noticed that since you’ve entered the scene, the trend of feminist memes have really started taking off on Instagram. Who do you consider to be your comrades in the “meme scene”? Have they turned into IRL comrades?
Binny (@scariestbugever) and Shannon (@sensualmemes) have been my colleagues in feminist memecraft since the beginning. Since then, I’ve seen more accounts than I can ascribe a number to popping up. @strippermemes and @bunnymemes are two Latinx whose memes I dig. @classicalmeme is amazing. @whitegirlfuccboi is funny too. Binny and Shannon and I would love to meet up, and we’ve talked about it at length. Binny is in Baltimore and Shannon is in Portland. I really hope it materializes.
You tend to use famous Latinas like Shakira, J.Lo, and Selena Gomez a lot in your memes. Is this intentional?
I started using these pop stars because I saw a trend of using images of black celebrities as reaction images, which I think is fine if the person making the meme is black, but often they’re not. When I was making my first memes, it felt disrespectful to me to use an image of a black person, so used ones of Latinx celebrities instead. Years ago now, one of my best friends said I looked like “goth J.Lo”, and so that was a thing for awhile, and then when I bleached my hair blonde it became “goth Sofia Vergara” and then “goth Shakira,” and so it was funny and made sense to me to use images of them. I use Selena because she’s very expressive and emotional in certain photos, in all her Cancerian glory.
What is the role of people of color representation in meme culture and the internet at large, considering most popular memes appropriate and mock marginalized groups?
It’s very important. In fact, internet humor created and perpetuated by black people should be credited for many, if not all of the meme formats we use today. So I would argue that POC have always been represented in meme culture, but elements of their vernacular and experiences (and especially those of black people) have been appropriated, bastardized, and parodied for the sake of “humor,” which is extremely offensive, unfortunate, and backwards. I’m trying to present an alternative to that by speaking strictly from my own experiences and being as genuine to my own modes of expression as possible.
I recently saw that you’re up to 20.4k followers. Congrats! Us millennials know more than anyone how layered and bizarre “social capital” can be. How do you navigate and manage your URL and IRL personas?
Thank you! The internet is a wild place, dude. I’m still learning how to navigate the weird phenomenon of “internet fame,” which, contrary to what some may think, is not something I ever aspired to or tried to attain. “Goth Shakira” is comprised of parts of me, but it isn’t everything I am. Quite a few people have commented to me that I am much more calm and easygoing than my online persona suggests. And that makes complete sense to me. The world of ideas and Aquarian oddities that exists inside my head can’t necessarily exist in the three-dimensional world, and I think we all learn to socialize ourselves to form and maintain relationships with people. This doesn’t make our social selves any less genuine, but rather one part of the complex whole that comprises the “self.” But at my core I am an introverted, private, and gentle person who derives more pleasure from observing and thinking than pretty much anything else.
Do you ever get recognized in your social scene when you’re out and about?
I do get recognized in public with increasing frequency, and admittedly I’ve stopped going to parties or bars as much as I used to partly because of that. However, I am genuinely grateful when someone takes the time to approach me in person and give me positive feedback! I appreciate every person who does that in a respectful way, and I try my best to honor that and respond with genuine kindness. I’ve been asked to host a very “trendy” event or two, but that’s not my style. I won’t show up somewhere and perform “Goth Shakira”. That performance is meant for online spaces. I’d rather my ideas and words receive the spotlight so I can be free to be just Dre in real life.
In your memes, you mention noted feminists like bell hooks, Audre Lorde, and Gloria Anzaldúa, whom some of your young femme fans might be hearing about for the first time. What literature helped shape your views early on in your life?
The literature that shaped me is inseparable from the art and music that influenced me. I started exploring feminism as a teenager, and in the early-to-mid-2000s a lot of what was readily available to me was resources with a decidedly white feminist perspective, which I never identified with. But I had to start somewhere. I began with Sylvia Plath and Jessica Valenti, and then I delved deep into works by Frida Kahlo and Ntozake Shange. Hole’s album Live Through This was intrinsic to my becoming. As controversial as Courtney Love was and is, I remember watching live footage of her from the ‘90s as a 16-year-old and being absolutely terrified and mesmerized by her aggressive and unapologetic performances of femininity. As I matured intellectually I would discover Sandra Cisneros and feminist ethnographic discourse, especially ones that focused on the Latinx diaspora, which I devoured.
looks at self in mirror WHY ARE YOU LIKE THIS... w/e it's probably best that i make room on the roster in preparation for the day that i curve the smooth-talking postal worker who comes into the hair salon i work at until a series of events leads us to unwittingly embark on a road trip in a mail truck with our two friends where, after crashing a family cookout, we end up on a seaside cliff where we become mediators for an altercation between our friends involving alcohol and partner violence and since this intimate experience brings us closer we finally share a tender yet passionate kiss
Intersectionality seems to play a big part in your memes. Would you mind telling us a little bit about your growing up and where you’re from? How have intersecting identities manifested in your life?
First of all, it's important to acknowledge that we are able to use the term "intersectionality" to describe how systems of oppression are intertwined thanks to the labor of critical race theorist and civil rights advocate Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw. I have always felt like I exist at an intersection – of white and non-white, of immigrant and citizen, of man and woman, of country and urban, of poverty-stricken and affluent, of harlot and virgin, of spiritual and worldly. I identify as a mixed Latinx. I was born in the Colombian capital of eight million people to a Colombian father and Portuguese-American mother, and due to civil unrest and my father’s work we emigrated first to the Pacific Northwest and then to western Canada.
I grew up in the Texas of Canada, if you will, surrounded by the opulence of the oil and gas industry, the “wholesomeness” of cowboy culture, and country music. My father was and is an ordained minister, and I was raised in a church community made up almost exclusively of recent Latinx/Hispanic immigrants fleeing similar circumstances of unrest in Latin America. I no longer identify with pretty much any aspect of organized religion or Evangelical Christianity, but the collective nature of my upbringing and the solidarity and closeness we experienced together were and are very dear to me. All of these things made me the person I am now, and when I was younger I hated never feeling like I completely belonged anywhere. But I know that God, or Goddess, or the Universe, or the forces of creativity that be made me to dwell in many worlds, and therein lies my strength.
What were some of your earliest experiences with the internet?
Neopets. MSN Messenger – getting home from school and immediately logging on to the family PC in the living room to talk for hours to the same people you had just spent the whole day with. Talking to boys while listening to that first JoJo album and quickly minimizing windows when my dad walked into the room. Nexopia! Oh man, I would probably give my left boob for screenshots of my old Nexopia page now. As I’m saying this I’m weirded out by how nostalgic my memories of the internet are. People from my cohort and I make up the last generation that will know what life was like before and after the internet. We witnessed the internet become a place. It’s creepy and wild and wonderful and messed up, man. Nowadays, my most elaborate and pored-over fantasies don’t involve, like, Frank Ocean in a flowing white robe singing into my ear and feeding me Pogo sticks, or never paying for weed or gel nail fills ever again. (Well, they still do.) Instead, they involve me living in a place close to an ocean with no internet and being happy with books and people I love.
How would you describe the niche you make memes for?
From the very beginning, I have made memes for myself and for the homegirls. A homegirl is any person who sees a meme I made and thinks, “Same”. That’s it.
How far do you see this meme thing going? What are some of your future plans and aspirations both personally and professionally?
Ideally I would like the “meme thing” to expand into more consistent and paid writing work, and it already is and I’m so stoked on that. My future aspirations involve living as many different lives in as many different places as I can. It would be cool to acquire enough earthly resources to be able to never go on the internet again. I would love to practice astrological interpretation professionally. I aspire to write a book, more than one if I can get my shit together. I aspire to learn how to share my life with someone. And to like kids. I feel kinda bad about that one, but it is what it is. I aspire to pay off my student loans, get a master’s degree, and fulfill the terms of my contract with the universe to fuel thought revolution through words and practice how to love well.