@gothshakira, the feminist meme queen promoting emotional vulnerability on instagram
The self-proclaimed “high priestess of dank memery” talks to i-D about the political power of internet humor.
photography charlotte forbes/maikö rodrig for girl's club
For a form of expression that centers on jokes, memes have inspired some strangely serious conversations lately. The music industry is abuzz with how to handle the memeification of music, "dat boi" fueled a heated debate over the appropriation of African-American slang, and one of the largest meme accounts, @thefatjewish, sparked a discussion about reposting culture and how it affects intellectual property rights. Amid all the noise, some meme accounts have risen from the rubble in an effort to inspire progress and bring positivity to the table. Among them is @gothshakira, follower count: 20.4k. The account — run by a Montreal-based meme admin known simply as Dre — aims to change the internet with intersectional memes that broach topics including race, gender, and mental health. i-D talked to the 25-year-old creator about the internet, her art collective (Girl's Club), and what it means to truly relate to someone online.
How did the page get started?
It began as my personal Instagram. It was just my friends, really, nothing crazy. But last winter, I was going through some seasonal depression and I was pretty much only talking to two people and spending a lot of time on the Internet. I became really obsessed with memes. So I started making my own.
What's the end goal for a meme? Is it about being relatable?
I think it depends on what kind of meme you're talking about. I can only speak for the memes that I'm creating, but I made them as a sort of cathartic thing to deal with my feelings of inadequacy and my low-self-esteem issues. I thought it would be funny to just be overly personal in an uncomfortable way. Rendering my very personal feelings as something as inane and banal as a meme has helped me come to terms with them; seeing these very real things in meme format just allowed me to laugh at them. It helped me to not take myself and what I was going through so seriously.
Do you treat your account like a diary?
Yeah, I try to keep it very genuine to my thoughts and who I am. I've always wanted to keep it very open and sort of uncensored. I do go off of the third-wave feminist belief that the personal is political. I believe in that. It's a personal statement for me. But, as crazy as it sounds, @gothshakira has become sort of like a brand. As ridiculous as it may be, I'm starting to take my content and my memes in a more serious and professional direction, now that I have such a large following.
Do you consider yourself to be an "internet person"?
We're the last generation to know what life was like before the internet. Millennials came of age with the internet. So for me, news and culture and all of that stuff is completely intertwined with the Internet. When I think of being 13, I think of going through puberty as much as I think about Instant Messenger. That's strange for me, how deeply our personal histories are intertwined with our online selves. It's unsettling, but that's the way it is now.
Over the course of your life, how have you seen internet culture change?
I'd say it's just become more commonplace to have relationships with people that happen solely online. When I think of being young, I think of having a PC in the family living room that you would go onto with your dad watching. And then I would live the majority of the rest of my day without it. I didn't have a phone, I wasn't on a laptop. You used to have a set time, which made it a space that you would go to. But now it's just ubiquitous.
How about within the last year? What kind of internet trends have you been looking at?
A lot of internet humor based on absurdity. It's almost like surrealism. It's these fantasy images with crazy fonts, purposely done in poor taste. That's probably my favorite Internet trend right now. Anyone who spends a lot of time on the Internet is a little bit weird, which I love.
One phenomenon that I find really interesting is when you see something and you just say, "same." There's a total understanding between the person posting the content and the person interacting with it. That's all you have to say, and it says so much. That one word connects people with all these shared experiences in different bedrooms around the world, which I think is a beautiful thing.
Tell me about your other project, Girl's Club.
We're a collective of woman-identifying artists in Montreal who are focused on creating inclusive spaces for people who are usually marginalized in those same spaces. My friend who started the brand is a visual artist. She came to Montreal and was very disillusioned by the "boys' club" scene. That was what it was like for people who were DJing, producing, known for their art, and throwing parties. Our objective is to create spaces, whether they're online or in-person, that are inclusive of people of color, trans people, woman-identifying people, and anyone that isn't really acknowledged.
Text Annie Armstrong
Photography Charlotte Forbes/Maikö Rodrig for Girl's Club