Livingly's Game-Changing Women series asks female artists, activists, and influencers to share how they're using their platform to incite change in today's political climate.
You might wonder how it’s possible for someone like me to wax poetic about a movement that started a year after they were born. Easy, when it’s something as incendiary as the riot grrrl movement.
What’s "riot grrrl,” you ask?
Let me fill you in: It all started with the Riot Grrrl Manifesto. Published in 1992, this manifesto, written by punk singer Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre fame, established the movement as a sort of grass-roots, everyday revolution. She was only 21 years old at the time.
Pioneered by other badass girl groups and artists like Sleater-Kinney, Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, Patti Smith, PJ Harvey and more, this underground feminist movement stuck its middle fingers up to the dictates of capitalism, the patriarchy, and the status quo. It was also documented and spurred on by the DIY fanzine (homemade magazine) culture of the '90s.
In the manifesto, Hanna wrote: "BECAUSE I believe with my wholeheartmindbody that girls constitute a revolutionary soul force that can, and will change the world for real."
And by the time I was 14 and listening to Le Tigre in my room, imagining what it must have been like for these women making waves in that volatile '90s scene –– unafraid to both speak up for their rights and to throw elbows at a punk show –– it was everything. It was the fearless feminism my teenage self was looking for; urgent, loud, and completely unapologetic.
Today, Giliah Librach Nagar is one of many women keeping the rambunctious spirit of the riot grrrl movement alive. She’s currently hard at work curating the Riot Grrrl Project, a traveling book-zine infused with the feminist consciousness, pissed-off punk flavor, and nostalgic DIY art of vintage zine culture, in keeping with this revival. Read on to learn more about the work she’s doing on the Riot Grrrl Project, and why it’s still so important today.
livingly: How did The Riot Grrrl Project get its start? Can you share more about how the project’s traveling books work, and the decision to cultivate them via snail mail?
GLN: A few years ago I started to get really inspired by the revival surrounding riot grrrl. Books like Sara Marcus's Girls to the Front, Sleater-Kinney getting back together, the Riot Grrrl Collection at the Fales Library in New York, were all making me so nostalgic for such a meaningful and pivotal time in my life. I wanted to contribute in a way that would really honor and bring together the voices of the people who helped to build and create riot grrrl.
As a social worker I've always been fascinated by the concept of narrative history –– of giving a platform to the people who lived the history and allowing for their honest, unaltered voices to tell their own stories.
This love for original stories is what gave me the idea for a book of contributions from grrrls and bois involved in the original riot grrrl experience, whether it was through music, zines, meetings, conventions, or other types of meaningful connections with the movement.
Also, the riot grrrl movement was the primary backdrop of my relationship with my best friend Stefanie growing up, so I got her on board and we decided to make the book together.
There are a few reasons why it was decided for the book to travel by mail. First of all, I wanted for the entries to be created as a nod to original zine making –– scrapbook-style, handwritten, masking-taped photos and original artwork. As much as I knew it would be much easier to compile a collection of online submissions, that wasn't what riot grrrl was. In a time where we are so over-saturated with technology, instant clicks, constant editing and quick creating, I wanted for this to be different and to honor the organic, artistic part of riot grrrl.
The book has visited around 30 women both in the United States and abroad, who have each taken a couple of weeks to document their experiences with riot grrrl. It is full of stories, old photographs, drawings, stickers, artwork and memories. I haven't seen it in a really long time but have been told it is incredible! I think my favorite part about it is the fact that each person who receives it gets to spend time looking at what everyone else has contributed so far.
I created the Instagram because I love the idea of documenting the photographic history of the movement in a format that constantly grows and develops. There weren't any accounts specifically documenting riot grrrl history and culture and I wanted to fill that void. It has been so much fun for me to relive moments and find old pictures to share with everyone. I love that it has resonated with so many people and honestly I never imagined it would grow like it has.
In what ways do you think the revival of fanzine culture can find its place and resonate more strongly within our contemporary social media generation? Where does it fit in, and how can we keep it alive?
I think we are in the midst of a steadily growing backlash against the technological over-saturation of everything. I even saw that Nokia is rereleasing their original phone because they are confident that so many people are ready for an internet detox. Fanzine culture fits so perfectly into this movement! I think there is something quite different about creating by hand. The meticulous care it takes, the physicality of it. I have always enjoyed working in a darkroom much more than editing photos online and I think this speaks to zine creation as well.
There is something so beautiful about the fact that handmade zines only reach the people who are given them. Some of my favorite memories from middle school and high school are making and trading zines with girls all over the country –– it was the most exciting mail to get! These days, I love going to zine fairs and seeing what people have created. I hope the culture continues to grow. Long live zines!
The counterculture Riot Grrrl revolution, and its modern-day revival, is more relevant than ever for girls and women in today’s unpredictable and chaotic (at best) political climate. In that context, what does female agency mean to you, and has curating this project changed or affected your view of it in any way?
While riot grrrl started as a specific reaction to the male domination of the punk rock scene, it grew and evolved and I think its example can apply to any circumstance or industry where female voices are lacking. For me a big part of female agency is making sure that we have equal representation among those making decisions. We need to look out for each other –– and that kind of collective support and cooperation helps to empower women to make their own choices.
There is an Ani DiFranco quote that has always resonated with me: "Who says I like right angles? These are not my laws, these are not my rules." So much of our lives have been decided by men, and by a patriarchal system in general. I try to look at all decision making through this lens.
The Riot Grrrl Project has introduced me to so many women doing incredible, brave, creative, beautiful things, by women and for women. I've had the opportunity to share some of these with others, to make new friends and to be constantly inspired to continue to support women, women in business, women's rights for bodily autonomy, women in politics, women's art, etc.
At Livingly, we strive to “live life beautifully.” What does living beautifully mean to you?
I really love the concept of cracks and flaws letting the light through. During this tumultuous and devastating political climate in the United States, I’m seeing so much bright, colorful, magical light leaking out everywhere. That’s beautiful to me –– collaboration, support, diversity, respect, protest, integration, intersection, creativity, resistance, and love. I try to focus on being in the midst of that, to live in that beauty.
Other resources you’d suggest to readers looking to learn more or get involved?
As mentioned previously, Sara Marcus’s Girls to the Front is an excellent resource on the history of Riot Grrrl. The Riot Grrrl Collection compiles zines from riot grrrl and is also really excellent. Best read while listening to Bikini Kill, Huggy Bear, Bratmobile and Heavens to Betsy. Allison Wolfe (of Bratmobile and currently Sex Stains) is doing a Riot Grrrl Oral History project that she features on her Instagram –– also super!
We are still searching for people who want to document their experience with riot grrrl and are best reached through email, at firstname.lastname@example.org. <3