Member
Your donation supports our high-quality, inspiring and commercial-free programming.
Support Icon
Discover all the ways you can make a difference.
Support Icon
The Leadership, Advancement, Membership and Special Events teams are here to help.

Alien She: Spotlighting the History and Influence of Riot Grrrl

Support Provided By
AlienShe04.jpg
 A segment of the zine collection in "Alien She." | Photo: Liz Ohanesian

In the 1990s, Ceci Moss was a teen in the San Francisco Bay Area who was introduced to Riot Grrrl through bands like Bikini Kill. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Astria Suparak had also gravitated towards the youthful, punk and indie rock-influenced feminist movement. Years later, the two curators have joined forces to build "Alien She," a traveling exhibition currently stationed at Orange County Museum of Art that explores the history and influence of Riot Grrrl.

"Alien She" is a testament to the power of young people motivated to spreading a message. It also reflects how artists evolve after discovering their power in the midst of a large, international youth movement. For the curators, there are personal aspects to the show.

"Riot Grrrl instilled within me the idea that if you're not seeing yourself represented in your community or in popular culture, or your interests and values reflected, then one of the things you can do is to create your own version of whatever it is you want to, or need to, see," writes Suparak, who is currently based in Montreal, in an email. Suparak says that her work as a curator is related to her connection to Riot Grrrl. "I see curating as a creative practice and a platform for artists and projects, ideas and politics that I believe in. And curators can make important choices about under-representation," she writes. "They can bring new audiences to these works and ways of thinking."

A segment of the zine collection in "Alien She." | Photo: Melody Soto
A segment of the zine collection in "Alien She." | Photo: Melody Soto

Riot Grrrl's origin story is largely tied to the Pacific Northwest and musicians like Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Allison Wolfe of Bratmobile, but the movement spread quickly and globally. Thanks to small, homemade publications called zines, young people were able to communicate with each other about topics ranging from pop culture to politics. Touring bands brought messages of feminism and activism to their shows as they traveled from city to city. College radio stations played the new, politically-charged music, while friends turned each other onto the songs through mix tapes. People banded together to form their own Riot Grrrl chapters and build local events focused on feminism and music. Through this DIY network, people were able to exchange ideas and make statements about body image acceptance. They could stand up against violence and for LGBT rights.

By the end of the 1990s, Riot Grrrl had faded from the public eye. The original group of young women affiliated with the movement, though, never dropped the message. Hanna went on to form Le Tigre, who made electronic dance music with a strong feminist message. Wolfe kept on with music too, and has played in a few other bands since Bratmobile. Miranda July, who made zines along with film and performance related art projects in the 1990s, became a critically acclaimed director. Sleater Kinney, one of the better known groups of the Riot Grrrl Wave, became better known in the early 2000s. Guitarist Carrie Brownstein, though, is perhaps best known as half of the duo responsible for comedy series "Portlandia." Indeed, the Riot Grrrls of the 1990s went on to lead interesting careers and have used their influence to inspire another generation of young people who are currently making their own zines and spreading their political messages on social media platforms like Tumblr. All this informs "Alien She." July is featured in the show. So is photographer Tammy Rae Carland, who produced the influential zine "I ¤ Amy Carter" in her early career.

Photo: Melody Soto
Photo: Melody Soto
Stephanie Syjuco's "The Counterfeit Crochet Project" in "Alien She." | Photo: Liz Ohanesian
Stephanie Syjuco's "The Counterfeit Crochet Project" in "Alien She." | Photo: Liz Ohanesian

The exhibition includes both historic pieces and newer works. Pieces like Stephanie Syjuco's "The Counterfeit Crochet Project" reflect the look of more contemporary designer handbags. Allyson Mitchell's t-shirt pieces, titled "Women's Studies Professors Have Class Privilege" and "I'm With Problematic" reflect issues of class and privilege that have marked many recent spirited debates within feminist communities.

Yet, there is a wall filled with flyers that date back to the 1990s Riot Grrrl heyday. There are advertisements for shows at venues like 924 Gilman Street in Berkeley and long-gone Los Angeles space Jabberjaw. There are cases filled with old zines and cassettes and various band-related memorabilia. There are works that originated in Washington and Brazil, California and the U.K. Some came from the curators' personal collections, but much of the ephemera was acquired for their networks and calls for submissions. Suparak says that she hears from people who have spotted their own zines and flyers for their old bands' gigs in the show, items that they hadn't seen in years.

Co-curator Ceci Moss says that one of the goals was to present Riot Grrrl as "a living history." There are still active chapters, including groups in Los Angeles and Long Beach. Plus, there is a new generation inspired by Riot Grrrl and channeling that influence into music, art and writing. The exhibition celebrates the new school in its zine section. Each stop on the tour features a selection of locally made zines. For the OCMA exhibition, the curators worked with Aimee Murillo of OC Zine Fest and Fatima Manalili (former assistant curator for OCMA) to develop this section.

"I think that we still struggle with misogyny and sexism in our culture. As long as that exists, feminism is still real and still vital and important," says Moss. "I think that, unfortunately, a lot of the things that people were rallying around and the issues that people were angry about in the '90s are still with us." Just as feminism is still necessary, so is Riot Grrrl, which makes "Alien She" as relevant now as the movement was when it started.

"Women's Studies Professors Have Class Privilege" and "I'm With Problematic" by Allyson Mitchell | Photo: Liz Ohanesian
"Women's Studies Professors Have Class Privilege" and "I'm With Problematic" by Allyson Mitchell | Photo: Liz Ohanesian
Flyers on display in "Alien She." | Photo: Liz Ohanesian
Flyers on display in "Alien She." | Photo: Liz Ohanesian
Photo: Melody Soto
Photo: Melody Soto
Photo: Melody Soto
Photo: Melody Soto


Dig this story? Sign up for our newsletter to get unique arts & culture stories and videos from across Southern California in your inbox. Also, follow Artbound on Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube.

Support Provided By
Read More
A man in a suit with his hands behind his back looks on to a digital art piece on a large LED screen mounted on a black gallery wall. The digital art piece features a large red dot resembling a setting sun with floating white "icebergs" on a black water surface.

2022 L.A. Art Show Looks to the Future with NFTs and the Environment

Questions around the rise of NFT-backed art and the looming threat of climate change are big themes that permeate the 2022 L.A. Art Show which runs from Jan. 19 to Jan. 23.
Four members of Weapons of Mass Creation pose for a photo, lit in golden hues by a setting sun. The member on the far left is Enrique. He is wearing a navy blue cap with a skull on it. He is dark-skinned and has a beard. To Enrique's right is Josh who is wearing a woven brown and cream bucket hat over his dreads. He is also dark-skinned and has a beard. To Josh's right is Julia who has long black hair and is wearing a crushed velvet orange zip up hoodie. She is looking directly at the camera. To Julia's right is Moses who is wearing a black jacket and rose-colored sunglasses. His hand is up to his brow, shading his eyes from the sun.

How Anaheim-Born Hip Hop Group Weapons of Mass Creation Started the Revolution at Home

Born and raised in Anaheim, WOMC is a form of resistance among the mass-produced world of music. Their collective talent oozes originality and intent; their lyrics amplify the Anaheim communities they grew up in and tell stories of police brutality, generational trauma and misogyny.
A colorful topographic geography map of the Amargosa Chaos.

Two Death Valley Geologists Mapped Chaos. What Their Work Taught Us About Life.

Late geologists Bennie Troxel and Lauren Wright's signature accomplishment was their mapping of the Amargosa Chaos in 1984. But perhaps what will resonate the most is the mentorship they've given to young geologists and how their imprint will carry on generations after.