This article originally appeared in i-D's The Creativity Issue, no. 348, 2017.
"serpentwithfeet is a mantra," Josiah Wise explains. "It's about reminding myself to embrace and celebrate my femininity, to possess my fluidity, and to marry it with thunder." If the image of the serpent is biblical, then Wise's creation acknowledges the poetry of religion, but intentionally walks away from the dogma he experienced as a churchgoing child in Baltimore. "That language has informed how I see the world: the language of devotion, of sacrifice, of love," he says. "I've just changed the subject, and the agenda."
The agenda is not to go to heaven, and the subject isn't Jesus; serpentwithfeet instead glorifies surrendering to sensuality, his lyrics raw dissections of romantic love and what it means to truly inhabit your body. His beautiful, ecstatic and heartbreaking EP blisters draws on his extensive classical training, layering the drama of classical instrumentation with the vocal gymnastics of R&B and the hand claps and harmonies of gospel, all with suitably reptilian production from The Haxan Cloak.
The lyrics meditate on toxic masculinity, describing men who won't allow themselves to be soft. "blisters is a lot about me reclaiming my body; rejecting all ideas of manliness," he says. Since being told as a preteen in the Maryland State Boychoir that his long hair was causing problems, because he 'looked like a girl' (his mum told them he could wear it how he liked), and finding out in high school that he was artificially, and harmfully, lowering his voice, Wise has committed to being unapologetically himself. His 'Heaven', 'Suicide' and pentagram head tattoos are often underlined by an undulating brushstroke in place of his eyebrows, a heavy bull ring hangs from his septum, and his beard is usually filled with glitter.
"It's all performance for me," he says, "I want people to see the way that I feel on the inside".
Text Charlotte Gush
Photography Tim Walker
Styling Max Clark
Josiah wears jacket and trousers Balenciaga. Gloves Pittards. nose ring model's own. Boots Costume Studio.