Vaginal Davis
Vaginal Davis Credit: Joel Gibb

No man but a blockhead ever wrote except to get laid, Samuel Johnson said—or something like it, I’m pretty sure. Similarly, when the genderqueer performance artist Vaginal Davis started showing her art publicly, in 1980s Los Angeles, it was for reasons lesser than glory, as she explained last year in an interview: “I know! I’ll use my apartment as a gallery. . . . And at the openings I’ll meet a cute, gorgeous boy, and he’ll be my boyfriend.” That didn’t work, but her star rose such that by 1998 she was planting a kiss on Gwyneth Paltrow at a Fluxus-inspired “happening” at the Roxy. “You are a beautiful white woman!” Davis enthused.

Davis’s career is not easily summarized. She’s a zinester (Fertile La Toyah Jackson), visual artist, queercore originator, filmmaker (The White to Be Angry), lecturer, club kid, musician (the Afro Sisters, Black Fag), and proponent of “terrorist drag,” which seeks to disrupt the annexation of drag by the cultural mainstream. Her name is a tribute to Angela Davis. She’s been a muse to the filmmaker Bruce LaBruce as well as to queer theorists like Jose Esteban Munoz.

Davis now lives in Germany, her website reports, where her “fraternal German grandfather was the black sheep of the Hohenzollern dynasty.” She speaks in Chicago as part of the School of the Art Institute’s Visiting Artists Program.