For this instalment of Collective Practices we talk to Milah Libin, a New York based artist and writer. With her close friend Destiny Frasqueri, (Princess Nokia), Milah started Smart Girl Club collective, focusing on creating a safe space for female creativity. Due to her own work, (including the new video for Princess Nokia’s Young Girls, and Smart Girl Club), blowing up all over Tumblr, Milah really is the girl to talk to about the importance of working other women. Here, Milah talks to us about how women need to support each other to survive and grow, her views on how positive Tumblr collectives can be, and to start making things happen.
How important is the idea of the collective, along with supporting and creating space for other women, to the work that you do?
The idea of the collective is what matters most. The initial creation of Smart Girl Club was to provide a safe space for women to not only create art, but also engage in a discourse about what it means to exist in this world, the struggles that come with adversity, and to just have fun and meet others like us! Although it’s a vessel in which we can put out work, such as music videos, zines, etc. the main objective is to create an environment, whether it is physical or on the Internet, that young women of ALL backgrounds can feel completely safe and accepted within.
In a movement such as feminism, how important do you think collective practices are?
I think they are perhaps the most important movement right now. I know to some, ‘feminist collectives’ may seem to be what is ‘in’ and ‘hip’ right now, but if it’s promoting equality, love, and inspiring more young women to make art, then I don’t have any problem with that. One voice alone is not nearly as strong as an entire group chanting together. It is as simple as that. When it comes to ‘movements’ whether they be political, artistic, or whatever, the gathering and uniting of people is perhaps the only way to make effective change.
In the past collectives have often been used to bring local communities together. Do you think the Internet has changed this idea of the ‘local’ collective? Do you think it has it changed for the better?
I think this is a really complicated question that probably requires a lot more time and conversation. But for sake of brevity I will say that, in my personal experience, the Internet has been a very positive place for collectives. I was very fortunate to grow up in a place like Brooklyn, NY where there is a strong community of artists. There is also cultural and ethnic diversity, and a hugely diverse type of kid. It wasn’t until I got to college and met some of my closest friends that came from small towns in places like New Jersey, where they only had one friend that shared interests with them, that I realized the importance of the Internet.
Now that I am a part of the Tumblr community I see all these amazing young women blogging about their take on current social events, starting discourse with other people on the site, etc. People from urban environments must realise that we can’t take for granted the fact that we have a greater chance of meeting people that are into the same things as we are. The Internet has created a platform for those unique weirdoes living in bumfuck nowhere that need to create a community for themselves in order to survive. It’s bringing a community together on a much wider scale. An army of young, strong, smart, beautiful women! That being said, I still think there should be an emphasis on working within your physical community. It is very easy to sit behind a computer and write day in day out about social issues while not being active in the real world. I would urge everyone to try to find this community within their physical world – although, in some situations, perhaps the Internet is a way to find these people.
In a Western society, within Capitalism and Neo Liberalism, the individual rules, it is all about individual gain and power. What impact do you think this has on collective practices?
I think this mostly has to do with collectives seeking financial gain. While it is important to think about monetising the hard work you do, the idea of a collective, in my personal experience, is much more about the sharing of ideas and art. You can maintain individuality, which you should, while still having the support and community of something like a collective. I think the question of the ‘individual ruling’ in Western society is more an idea than reality. While it may be the case for something like the face of an organisation, who’s getting credit, all that bullshit, it’s not something that I get caught up in because it’s not real. What I mean by this is that in order to build a house you need a team of people, in order to create an album you need not only the artist, but the producer, engineer, album artist, etc. In order to have a collective you need to work together, be humble and selfless. Young women can’t afford to function under this idea of the ‘individual ruling’ because we need each other for survival and evolution. Things can get complicated when it comes to making profit, especially when working with friends, but I think this is somewhat of a universal obstacle as a result of being human.
What advice would you give to someone who maybe wants to start a collective or wants to be involved with one?
It’s much more simple than one would think! If you have a group of friends that like to make art, write essays, take photos, or anything else, start putting your work together in zines, blogs, group shows. Don’t worry if you don’t work in the same medium as your friend – the beautiful thing about a collective is that it should encourage all forms of creation. Obviously certain collectives can focus on specific mediums and practices, but Smart Girl Club functions under the idea of giving visibility to young female artists from all backgrounds.
Destiny and I don’t need to ‘approve’ or tell you if you can be in Smart Girl Club – it’s open to every woman who needs a safe space to express themselves. If you don’t have that group of people in your immediate community, you’ve got to get yourself out there! Start finding artists and people you like on Tumblr or Instagram and reach out to them. Now that I’m in my last semester of college I’m realising very quickly that you need to make things happen for yourself, otherwise they won’t happen at all! The Internet is a great place to make these things happen. Work hard! There is always someone out there that will benefit from your work and wisdom. If you want to start a collective or be involved with one, you will have to work hard, but remember above everything to have fun!
Interview by Ella Sweeney