Text by Katie Cercone
Photos by Luke Abby
Call it sex-positive feminist art, call it whoreful service… Labanna Babalon was “Born a Fucking Sex Goddess.” (1) The visionary, genre-defying “Abominable Mother” has a lot to say about rekindling her allegiance to booty-poppin’ after getting served by the p/c left, her nymph dreams of a femme-led bathing community and how she elides sex magic with alien sexuality.
Plumbing the sacred whore archetype – extracting every last succulent droplet of forbidden fruit – it only felt natural to interview Labanna. When it comes to pretty-in-punk cis women putting their sexuality on blast, nobody does it better. Despite androgyny being all the rage, despite sexual harassment, rape, and haters, Labanna, colloquially “the Whore of Babylon” is determined to keep putting on her “high femme battle uniform” and harness the collective “wild divine femme.”
Labanna’s mother made a strong impression on her early on in life, from relying on her daughter’s psychic energy for healing when she lost a child to kindling in Labanna the mega Sex God she would become. Her mom would strap on her six inch heels and wear them to art openings trying to get Labanna’s father a New York solo show. Calling it “hypnosis,” and “pretty privilege,” alternatively, Labanna figures this goes way beyond sexuality and is an issue of our “general human need for being seen” – holding space for those feminine attributes of nurturing, caring for, and being with. It could be as simple as making eye contact and putting your hand on someone’s shoulder when you’re talking to them.
Labanna doesn’t identify with any one religion, nor New Age culture. Like most millenials, the perma-positivity of the industry matched with its super-commodified approach toward selling wellness, falls short of the spiritual. “I wouldn’t say that I was Christian but I still believe in angels, ya know? If you’re willing to listen there are lots of things that will speak to you from the wind, to my brother that passed.” She says that being open to receiving from angels and guides is a matter of meeting their vibration and allowing yourself to be both “permeated” by the outside forces of this vast Multiverse and “malleable” to their input. “When I’ve been able to receive the messages the easiest is when I’m surrendering to…all that is,” says Labanna.
In terms of inter-dimensional alien sexuality, Labanna explains, “I believe earth is like a terranova. Aliens from different planets have mixed in… some of them are obvious and some of them aren’t…our planet really is so biodiverse… everyone’s trying to gradually get to 5-D but the only way to do that is by interbreeding their heart center back in.” Although this might be too trippy for some, we can all agree with the underlying message of LOVE. Labanna explains the human heart is “like our gold…the fact that we can love so deeply.” Think of 4-D and 5-D as weigh stations along the spectrum of human evolution. 3-D is an awareness of the material realm, 3rd Chakra Ego and I AM. 4-D is Heart Center and connection to all beings. 5-D deals with the throat and manifestation through words and thoughts. For Labanna, it’s all about heart, “No one wants people who are going to wish nasty things on you when we can teleport places.”
Mid-rise of the internet girl, Labanna was one of the first radical feminist women to rapidly create a huge fan base within what at the time seemed like a free, accessible, mutable, virtual and communal space. With her popularity growing, in 2012 VICE described Labanna as:
“a far-out den mother-slash-whore for all the aliens, robots, and unhinged seekers devoted to art”VICE
Whether zeroing in tunnel vision on the artist’s big thoughtful blue eyes or juicy booty, Labanna’s image beckons masterfully.
A “Full on sex kitten,” sex magic is a daily habitual lifestyle for Miss Babalon, including but not limited to a regular booti-poppin’ sesh or two with her booty-poppin’ clique. Having peeped into Labanna’s quantumly girly, self-proclaimed “bimbo grunge” aesthetic, I’m interested in how her erotic female-to-female ass-clapping tableaus embody our contemporary sacred whore archetype.
Male fear of female sexual power drove the patriarchy’s rise to power. A fallen woman and devouring mother, the uber-sexualized/sacred whore can both insight you to justified violence, or better yet – peak sexual arousal (3). Mary Condren outlines in The Serpent and the Goddess how early Christianity’s newfangled reproductive consciousness facilitated male control of women’s reproductive powers and sexuality throughout Europe. The Mother Goddesses of the pagan religions of the earth metamorphosed over time into one-pointed reverence for an immaculate, lily-white Virgin Saint. “The sacred space of male authority has been carved out, literally, over the bodies of women,” writes Condren (4).
Within today’s modern feminism, girl-on-girl sexuality gets tactically used to provoke and punish men. As a white woman, I know how hard it is to move through the shame of seizing back your own sexual power. In a world where many women experience direct sexual violence done to them by men from a young age – often sanctioned by government, faith community or family of origin – many women are aborting heterosexuality and finding solace in same-sex love. Which is not to negate the naturalness of the LGBTQ spectrum, just to fully flesh out girl-on-girl performances provoking the taboo of female sexual power.
Eve is the world’s quintessential sacred whore, haw-wah it many Semitic languages, her name means “mother of all the living” and “serpent.” Original Eve of Eden paradise was a serpent deity. As an artist known for traversing the volatile subjects of gender, sexuality, race and class, from twerking to taking acid up her pussy – during our interview Labanna demonstrated her depth and commitment to an anti-capitalist punk/pc feminist rhetoric, not unaware of its limitations. Weathering a huge backlash in the wake of Miley Cyrus lampooning her way into the Guiness Book of World Records for twerking, Labanna is still mopping up the emotional downslide she faced as she was pegged – adjacent Cyrus’s mega-stardom which she very likely inspired – for being that privileged white girl who stole from Black Culture.
What use is the sacred whore to modern women? What entails the misuse of female sexual energy? How can white women reclaiming slut do so without ignoring the lived experiences of POC? Not ignoring our privilege, nor confusing our white girl narratives of liberation with a universal female voice. Biological gender exploding as it is, I believe if there is a common ground in the collective front combating the war against women it very much should foreground oppression affecting women of color and non-cis-gendered folks (not the luxury problems of married-to-the-Patriarchy types as it often does). Yet, to recoil and let our stories calcify in our throats, no matter how white or privileged or dick-swaddling we are, is to collude with the patriarchy to our own demise.
Having made my home in Bushwick for over a decade living and working as a queer, radical femme, all this swirled in my mind as I approached Labanna’s work. I went to some of the parties in which Labanna paraded through in devilishly high, grimy platforms. I encountered Labanna translating the singing of plants in magical, one-on-one encounters while performing at PS1 during the Wolf Moon Gathering (5).
There’s valid arguments against cultural appropriation, which can at best put more money in the hands of the rich and at worst – dilute some of the most vibrant of American indigenous and folk cultural forms. bell hooks called Beyonce a terrorist and Madonna a plantation overseer! Scholars dissect the values of cultural property as they joust in the academic boxing ring vying for more power, resources and security attached to their name. They wake up the generations of youth sleepwalking through Youtube. When it comes down to personal attacks, trolling and policing of the creative act, we run the risk of rhapsodizing anger into the emotional violence of shame and blame. We invert the victim-victimizer dichotomy.
Decrying every bootylicious white chick for cultural appropriation has become a bit of a retaliatory knee-jerk reaction. Call us the epitome of “white fragility,” feminine archangels of affluenza are primed to hold space with perma-smiles for the foul actions of others. Certainly, shame culture knows no bounds when it comes to race, and more generally speaking it’s a symptom of our reductive media, withering attentions spans and repressed rage. Idolize and despise becomes a fixture of our emotional repertoire, with cyber bullying in our artillery, we have screens on screens obscuring the mistakes and self-loathing we project onto others. Labanna spoke about, “The cannibalistic trend of completely devouring a person, shaming them into non-existence, killing them without the simple release of actual death.” With celebrities and reality TV standing in for religious life, we give our power over to a digital idol we must then destroy. We cannibalize the source of our desire before our pleasure coma swallows us whole.
None of us really have the right to own/sell/pimp off of any of this, nor do we want to deep down, not at the expense of our solidarity. Scapegoating white ratchet-chasing harbingers of change because our overwhelming anger at the political injustices really can’t be solved overnight perpetuates the toxic and competitive scarcity economy all artists face. The Wildfire Project recently released a podcast on how “Call out Culture,” works against the larger goals of liberal left movements. Wildfire advocates “calling in” rather than “calling out” our allies (6).
Although she “Sells her ass stripping” Labanna spoke candidly about “Investing in Art as a lifestyle” as opposed to a “capitalist venture.” Growing up in the South, early on she began experimenting with her butt. At 12 her bff Peaches taught her how to twerk during a 2 week sleep over. “She said she didn’t want her white best friend to dance like there was no oil in her joints.” Post-Miley, she is still struggling with judging herself. Many of us guzzled the popular Jezebel article that announced, “It’s important to understand that Miley is very privileged to be able to play dress up and adorn herself with the trappings of an oppressed/minority culture. She can play at blackness without being burdened by the reality of it” (7).
It was the more underground, non-viral artists like Labanna that took it personally. Not to mention the uncelebrated, misunderstood black girl magic that not so secretly inspired the bubblegum hit show we all love to hate. Jayna Brown wrote a powerful treatise on how modernity is constructed through investments in black culture. Says Brown writing about how mid-twentieth century black vernacular forms became the “mass ornament” of white hegemony, “capitalism’s corruption of the human spirit was represented by clusters of female bodies vamping to derivative negro rhythms across the popular stage.”(8) Labanna was probably being scrutinized by shark-like squadrons of stealthy branders with bottomless budgets. These peons of mega-corporations literally skim the cream from the creations of Bushwick queers who are making art within a diverse millennial stew. With this quicksilver in hand, corporate pirates produce the more polished bids for feminist spectacle power that Miley rehearsed and nailed for the global circuit overnight. No credit given, not to Black Queens who been shaking their asses since time eternal or to the queers and future feminists.
As the Crunk Feminist Collective says, “Ass Shaking” doesn’t constitute consent or desire, “Ass shaking is whatever we say it is” (9). Our trauma-informed pinhole lens on reality is so keen on making us feel like the only one when we best know our identity-traps are always intersectional (10). For Labanna, twerking is deeper than lust or spectacle. “Shaking energy around” is “an imperative part of being femme.” Which means not letting your 2nd chakra “get so stagnant that you can’t rotate your hips.” She says the problem stems from us all being so conditioned to be “Hyper aware of how you can sell yourself. When you are coming from that place it’s important to ask if it’s really doing the kind of healing work that it needs to do.”
The guilt and shame white girls that like Black culture sift through is potent, painful, ancestral and necessarily karmic. There is profound beauty and naturalness in the exchange of culture – one that doesn’t excuse systematic, exploitative culture-vulturing – but something that is mutually-explored and generative. Ultimately, Babalon is going to keep doing what brings her joy. “Releasing shame” is an intrinsic and powerful aspect of her work. In this vein, she must pop again. “This brings me joy! I hope it brings you joy too. I guess I should just own it, that is me. I love myself, I love butts. Have my entire life”(11).
What I love about Labanna is the way she rides the jagged line of sanity. In fact she confirms insanity is “the only logical response to the fucked up world that we live in.” Calling our world 3x “mad” … Labanna insists that it is going to take billions of people waking up from the American Dream to truly “revolutionize the quality of life.” But before you go losing your mind, she warns, make sure you have a strong support network and good self-care.
Labanna is mindful of the energy she spends in exchange for money. Working intimately with the other has taught her great boundaries, and she always follows up seeing a client with self-care. Taking long hot baths dovetails with her fantasy of an elegant nymph commune where women heal and attend to the sick in mystical group bathing experiences. When she was getting her Reiki Master at the Omega Institute, she learned about the mythical Arthurian “water nymph muses,” who tend to a magical well of divine feminine healing. Labanna’s 100-year plan involves founding a secret society based in sisterhood led by her female water nymph healer friends. “We’d have a grotto and mansions all over the world… able to bathe people and hang out in baths and teach other ladies to do that kind of healing as well.” On the daily, currently living in Los Angeles, “Ideally I would like to do more art for money than sex work. It’s incredibly draining and ends up being what mostly I spend time on.” On the positive side “the women that I’ve encountered and get to fucking kick it with are just the smartest most beautiful women ever and really feel like my sisters.” For Babalon a big part of being a sacred whore “Is doing healing on levels other people are scared of. Healing others essentially is her “cosmic responsibility,” and boils down to lending her energy in a “symbolic gesture.”
Given the escalating tolls of social media, revitalizing her sense of self-agency off-line feels imperative. On a good day Labanna laments, tongue in cheek, how she is uploading every angle of her body in various tonality into “the sentient internet.” The internet’s first It-Girl is waiting for her “digital print out in the new world” and in the meantime, “pretty over it.” Finding new avenues of self-expression offline is key.
Within the bubble of punk-PC, painfully self-aware, hyper-digitized neo-liberal American badassery that she moves in, Babalon feels more like “a Unicorn” than your average radical feminist. “It is more popular to be androgynous and in those eyes not catering to the male gaze. But that’s just never how I’ve felt about it.” She’s witnessed first hand how crazy things turn when divine feminine sexual energy is harnessed within a group of women. “I’ve seen men … enthralled in ecstatic craziness!” Threat of sexual violence won’t stop her from expressing herself this way. “I relish in that kind of energy,” says Labanna who tends to roll with a witch gang that demands consent. When it comes to such a “divine incantation” of the feminine spirit, “if you want to be able to bare witness to it – you can’t continue to think that you have the ability to possess it, or touch it or hold it.”
When she’s not hanging out with her many lady friends, Labanna cosies up with her pet chihuahua and snake, Serenity and Eden. Eden is a real serpent, slithering low to the earth. Many of us have seen in the religious statues of the Virgin Mary the serpent she crushes beneath her slippered feet, that which is her deeply repressed sexual power. In the near east the serpent symbolized “the relationship between goddesses and human culture.” In Egypt and Mesopotamia, “the Serpent was an emblem of life.” In Sumeria, she was Goddess of creation. A supreme emblem of sexual fertility, the coiled serpent with its tail in its mouth (ouroboros) is “a circle of infinitude indicating omnipotence and omniscience.” Condren goes in on the subject, illuminating how the serpent represents “both beneficent and hostile sacred powers.” (12)
Condren calls the language of Christianity itself a pawn of a terrorist state. Religions that honored the serpent had to be overthrown as Christianity and other patriarchal religions crystallized their absolute power. During the transition from faith based in Mother worship to institutionalized Jesus-as-opiate-of-the-masses, nomadic gypsies of roots christianity revelled in wild, ritual ecstasy based in music and dance (gurrl make that ass-clap!) holding tight to esoteric practices passed down through “convulsionary cults” of Africa and the near East.
Eventually the gods of the old religion transmogrified into the demons of the next, and we all still live in a world stained by the hideous worts of patriarchal religious authority. We can shake shake shake it off, but when we’re under stress – there’s likely a small part of us that is most complacent in giving our power away. We do this when we order a pill from our E-Doctor hoping for the magic bullet that erases our moon or can anaesthetize any pain. We fear missing a beat, not realizing we are marching to the beat of the white man’s drum (which Goddess knows is not a drum at all). We do this when we tear down other sisters to win a man, or worse – surrender all our time and energy to The Man. Capitalism is raping us all.
For Babalon, sisterhood is a big aspect of taking down the patriarchy and it’s time we “collectively realize how much power that we give to men in a way that is not reciprocated. She says “when we start doing that for each other it can be a really powerful tool” and strongly advocates “creating more spaces and more communication about how harnessing that wild divine femme has nothing to do with male consumption. It’s making an environment capable of exploring the level of respect we universally need to collectively evolve.”
The Goddess is still very much alive and well, flaunted in symbols of major corporations that tug at our subconscious memory of her power – Starbucks, how dare thee usurp the twin-tailed mermaid siren to sell sugary lattes! The serpent’s body haunts the caduceus, the snake and staff symbol used and abused by American medicine, reminding us of the women’s wisdom it undermined back in the days of witch hunts. Archeomythologist Marija Gimbutas explains how the Chevron symbol of big oil is one of the originary emblems of autonomous female spiritual power (13). You don’t have to look far to remember your power. Look right over to the next sister, she is like you, an embodiment of the Goddess – wild and most divine. She’s got you.
Follow the Abominable Mother on Instagram @labannababalon
(1) All quotes unless otherwise noted are from an interview with Labanna Babalon by phone in February 2019
(2) VICE, “The Whore of Babylon,” Liz Armstrong, June 20, 2012
(3) Kristen J. Sollee, Conjuring the Sex Positive: WITCHES, SLUTS, FEMINISTS Berkeley: ThreeL Media, 2017
(4) Mary Condren, The Serpent and the Goddess: Women, Religion and Power in Celtic Ireland San Francisco: Harper, San Francisco, 1989, pg. xii, xvii
(5) Ps1’s Wolf Moon Gathering was organized by Girls Against God Magazine (Bianca Casady and Anne Sherwood Pundyk) in 2014
(6) Wildfire Project Podcast, Listen in full here
(7) Jezebel “On Miley Cyrus, Ratchet Culture and Accessorizing with Black People” Dodai Stewart, June 20, 2013
(8) Jayna Brown, Babylon Girls: Black Women Performers and the Shaping of the Modern Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2008, p. 168
(9) “Hip Hop Generation Feminism: Feminism All the Way Turned UP” Introduction, in The Crunk Feminist Collection Brittney C. Cooper, Susana M. Morris, Robin M. Boylorn, eds. New York: The Feminist Press, 2017, p. 170
(10) Black Feminist theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw introduced the theory of intersectionality, identifying how gender, race, class, sexuality, nation and ability are best understood as overlapping and mutually constitutive within a matrix of oppression
(11) RE: Miley, rest assured sissy bounce iconoclast Big Freedia came for her and set the Guiness World Record for the most people twerking simultaneously in 2013 as Miley told Rolling Stone she would never twerk again (FUSE, “Big Freedia Sets Twerking World Record,” September 2013)
(12) Mary Condren, The Serpent and the Goddess: Women, Religion and Power in Celtic Ireland ibid, p. 3
(13) Marija Gimbutas, The Language of the Goddess New York: Thames and Hudson, 1989
Katie Cercone aka “High Prieztezz Or Nah” is an interdisciplinary artist, curator, scribe, yogi and spiritual gangsta. Cercone has been included in exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum, Bronx Museum, Whitney Museum, Dallas Contemporary and C24 Gallery. She has published critical writing in ART PAPERS, White Hot, Posture, Brooklyn Rail, Hysteria, Bitch Magazine, Art511, Utne Reader and N.Paradoxa. She is co-leader of the queer, transnational feminist collective Go! Push Pops and creative director of ULTRACULTURAL OTHERS Urban Mystery Skool. Cercone was a 2015 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow for the U.S.-Japan Exchange Program in Tokyo. Follow her on instagram @0r__Nah_spiriturlgangsta and learn more at KatieCercone.com