Artist Angela Davis Fegan debuted her Lavender Menace poster project during Dyke March 2015. She created jumpsuits covered with words like “butch” and “womyn,” and she designed and distributed letterpress-printed signs saying things like “We want agency beyond the dance floor” and “We are the queers you fear, the ones who riot, fuck, and vote.”
Fegan came up with Lavender Menace while finishing up her MFA in book and paper arts at Columbia College Chicago. The idea was to address queer-visibility politics while creating art objects that are easily distributed. Fegan planned to place the posters in bar bathrooms and encourage others to tag their response to a specific question on the walls—that way, their thoughts and experiences could be shared with the masses. Through a grant from the Propeller Fund, she expanded Lavender Menace this year: She used the money toward creating more posters for each event and producing an eventual publication documenting the project.
“I always thought that bars and bar bathrooms are interesting spaces because queer people are always relegated to nighttime, or places where they can kill themselves through alcoholism or unite over a dance floor,” Fegan says. “So all the places I’ve picked have history to dance-floor or music performance, but also are dive bars.”
She adopted the name Lavender Menace for the project as a reference to the phrase that Betty Friedan, the president of the National Organization for Women, used in 1969 to describe the threat of lesbianism to the feminist movement. The handle has become a sort of rallying cry and now a social media hashtag within the queer and intersectional feminist community.
So far Fegan’s brought the concept to Cole’s and Danny’s Tavern. Yesterday’s project took over the bathrooms at the Empty Bottle. Along with covering the walls with her woodtype-printed posters, Fegan stenciled the question “How can music amplify resistance?” on the wall and encouraged others to answer in permanent marker. Responses ranged from “speak for the silent” to “question everything” to “making public space for different voices.”
“I’ve been here and seen Carrie Brownstein perform and JD Samson and all these other queer acts, so the idea that there are nights where it is very queer and I could stack the room and get that perspective on the wall in permanent marker,” Fegan says, “then it’s going to totally affect people I don’t know how to access because it’s a music venue and so many other people come here all the time.”
The next poster distribution and bathroom takeover will take place at Beauty Bar on April 24 during a Salonathon performance. Fegan has documented the successes of and responses to Lavender Menace along the way. The goal is to create a publication that summarizes the project so others can take what she’s started and create their own mixed-media programs.
“I started writing in this collective voice when it was just me, not knowing how it would be received, knowing that if I was speaking in a collective then I could grow one,” Fegan says. “That has panned out.”