Nakhane: Hymns for the Apostate

“Anal sex is really under-represented in hymns,” Nakhane Touré muses on stage between songs at his gig a day before our interview.

Articles, Interviews,
Publication: Sissy Screens

The 32-year-old, London-based musician, actor and novelist should know: “I grew up around choirs. My mum and aunts all sang in choirs.” Raised in Port Elizabeth, “a [South African] metropolis that’s not given its dues”, Nakhane was a devout Christian and active in church life until his mid-twenties.

Though his religious devotion has waned, his love for sacred music hasn’t. “I love hymns. There’s this sense of finality about them. [They’re] not art for art’s sake. They were written because this person really needed to write this music.”

Nakhane explains that his sophomore album You Will Not Die‘s initial mantra was ‘hymns for the lost, hymns for the apostate’. The album explores his struggle to reconcile his faith with his desires. When he was writing the songs he wanted to imbue them with the feeling of sacred music, but with an autobiographical twist. “When I wrote the song ‘Teen Prayer’, I knew I couldn’t write a straight up hymn because I wasn’t that person anymore, I wasn’t Christian… I had to have a version of who I was at the time, and that version was queer.”

“I don’t feel the burden of being a role model. If my visibility is for anything, it’s for someone else to be allowed to be themselves.”

The tension between tradition and queer desire is a prevalent theme across the artist’s oeuvre, including his role in 2017’s The Wound. The film centres around the sacred initiation of a group of Xhosa teenage boys into manhood, which includes ritual circumcision and a series of endurance tests in the wilderness. Nakhane portrays Xolani, a repressed factory worker that serves as a mentor to the boys while hiding his sexual relationship with a fellow male leader.

The film’s director and co-writer John Trengove initially asked the artist to write the music for the film. After they met for a coffee to discuss the project, Trengove asked him to audition for a supporting role, and eventually altered the story and offered him the lead. “To ready myself for the role, I went to all the spaces I promised myself that I’d never go to again—shebeens, taverns, places where men drink. And I’d watch all these men, watch how they sat, how they drank, how they smoked.” These excursions into ‘hyper-masculine spaces’ helped him prepare to embody Xolani, a sullen character who seems worlds apart from the cheerful multi-disciplinary artist. “On some level I do relate to him. Not myself now, but myself a few years ago when I was fighting my desires and fighting my identity. I understand that self-hatred.”

But mining the recesses of his past was only part of the challenge of the role. When the film was released in its native South Africa, it sparked controversy and was originally granted an X18 rating usually reserved for hardcore pornography. Nakhane, along with other members of the crew and cast, even received death threats.

“The response to the film was extreme for a number of reasons. One—the film is about a secret and sacred rite of passage… people were outraged because we’d made a film about it and they assumed that the film was some sort of exposé.” He clarifies: “This was not a documentary. This was a fictive story less to do with initiation than with a tragic love story.”

“Two—was the fact that it had queered this space that is supposed to be emblematic of ‘manhood’.” He elaborates: “[In this culture] queer people are seen as a germ or virus, something that is there but everyone wishes wasn’t. And in this film they take centre stage, and they don’t only exist but they exist loudly.”

This amplification proved to be a double-edged sword. In addition to the fiery backlash, the film garnered a lot of support from South Africa’s black feminist and queer communities and international audiences.

“I wanted to be George Michael, without the backlash and toilet sex.”

Among the movie’s plethora of fans was director-performer John Cameron Mitchell. Nakhane and his partner were having lunch at a friend’s house and discussing Mitchell’s 2006 film Shortbus, when Mitchell DM’d him on Instagram: “At first I didn’t think it was the real John Cameron Mitchell, I thought it was Apple listening to our conversation.” The director expressed his admiration for Nakhane’s work and invited him to New York to record an episode for his musical narrative podcast Anthem: Homunculus, featuring such luminaries as Glenn Close, Laurie Anderson and Patti LuPone.

Originally conceived as a TV sequel to Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the project evolved into a ten-episode podcast series about a sardonic shut-in, Ceann Mackay, who launches the world’s first online telethon to crowdfund for his brain tumour treatment. Nakhane plays his fiercely independent lover Jairo, a young man who “struggles with a host of demons”.

“At first I didn’t think it was the real John Cameron Mitchell, I thought it was Apple listening to our conversation.”

Apple, if you are spying: Nakhane is keen to work with Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai. “I think he’s a genius, I’ve stolen from him for years and I shall continue to steal from him.” His music video for ‘Clairvoyant’ pays homage to Kar-wai’s Happy Together, with the singer and a co-star taking on the roles of turbulent lovers played by Tony Leung and Leslie Cheung. “Wong Kar-wai’s films are so aesthetically pleasing that sometimes you have to rewatch them to really understand how beautiful the stories are, how beautifully lit they are, how gorgeous the framing is. Happy Together is almost like the messier sibling to In the Mood For Love. It’s much more interesting to me because it’s over-saturated, it’s queer, and it’s funny.”

While Nakhane is clearly well-versed in queer culture, this wasn’t always the case: “Growing up I didn’t have much access to it, because I didn’t know what it was. I left Port Elizabeth when I was 15 and this was the time that I was starting to understand my desires.” It’s at that formative age that he became obsessed with pop star George Michael. “I wanted to be George Michael, without the backlash and toilet sex”, he quips.

While he’s weathered his share of fallout, Nakhane has transformed into an artist with his own dedicated following. Given his experiences with The Wound, you’d expect him to feel reticent about the attention, but that isn’t the case: “I don’t feel the burden of representation. I don’t feel the burden of being a role model. If my visibility is for anything, it’s for someone else to be allowed to be themselves.”

Zackary Drucker: Histories of Survival

Talking trans authorship, TV & culture wars with the multimedia artist and Transparent producer.

Articles, Interviews,
Publication: Sissy Screens

“Humour is the great unifier,” asserts multimedia artist, producer and advocate Zackary Drucker during our recent conversation in Melbourne. “I think it’s a common denominator—a way to reach people that maybe aren’t sympathetic to the cause.”

While she’s a celebrated artist whose photography has exhibited at the Whitney Biennial and whose production credits include the Golden Globe and Emmy-winning Transparent and the Emmy-nominated series of docu-shorts This Is Me, Zackary continues to sell personalised doormats featuring her face via her website (tagline: ‘For only $100 you can wipe your feet on my face for a lifetime’).

“Trans people have become a lightning rod because we represent a modernising world.”

It’s this brand of unassuming humour underpinning trans authorship and representation that punctuates Zackary’s work. Her last short, Mother Comes To Venus, is a case in point. Presenting a quasi-futuristic, post-tipping point Hollywood where trans and gender diverse people have seized the means of cultural production, Mother boasts an almost-exclusively trans and/or non-binary cast and crew. It stars Alexandra Grey as Venus, a black trans powerhouse agent, and queer rapper Mykki Blanco as the universe’s most celebrated pop star. The only cisgendered character is Venus’s hapless assistant: “her gender and sex are synonymous,” she explains to a chorus of pitying replies, “she’s been that way since birth.”

A gentle antagonist, Zackary has spent her career at the front of the culture wars. “Trans people have become a lightning rod because we represent a modernising world. I feel like this is a moment when people who’ve always been on the margins are becoming more empowered and accessing tools of cultural production… [T]here is a resistance to that and the status quo feels threatened by it, as if our empowerment takes something away from them.”

It is in this climate, she stresses, that it’s important to nurture talent across the gender spectrum. “I think it’s crucial that we encourage and promote trans and non-binary people to create as much content as possible because it takes all of us putting our voices out there. Our community is not a monolith by any means, we all come from such different positions.”

“It’s crucial that we encourage and promote trans and non-binary people to create as much content as possible because it takes all of us putting our voices out there.”

And as Zackary’s work highlights, it is a community built on the backs of elders: “Knowing that this path has been blazed for us and that we’re continuing work that’s been done by previous generations of feminists and trans and gender diverse people empowers us in the present.” Fittingly, her work often pays homage to matriarchs both familial and ‘transcestral’. She has collaborated with her mother, Penny Sori, on a number of projects; most recently the short Southern For Pussy, where they trade bon mots and continue a playful, intergenerational dialogue established in an earlier video work FISH: a Matrilineage of Cunty White Woman Realness.

Considerable reverence and screen time is also given to her ‘fairy godmothers’ Flawless Sabrina, Holly Woodlawn and Alexis Delago: “I think of them as artists in the medium of life, moving through the world in ways that were unprecedented.” Flawless occupies a special place in this pantheon; Zackary met the pioneering drag artist and activist as a teen and the two remained close friends and collaborators until Flawless’ death in 2018.

Another formative influence was author and gender theorist Kate Bornstein. Growing up in Syracuse, a small city in New York State, Zackary read Bornstein’s seminal biography Gender Outlaw at fourteen: “Kate’s writing and her expansion of the category of transgender allowed me a way of seeing myself that I didn’t have.”

The impact this had on a young Zackary was powerful and has informed both her gender politics and her art practice. From an early collaborative photographic project Relationship, documenting her six year relationship with then-partner Rhys Ernst while they were both transitioning, to recently authoring The Gender Spectrum Collection, Broadly‘s stock photo library featuring images of trans and non-binary models, Zackary’s photography has expanded the representation of trans and gender non-conforming people. It’s this art-as-advocacy approach that also marks her curatorial work, including a stint guest editing the ‘Future Gender’ themed issue of photography journal Aperture in 2018, a landmark edition dedicated to the representation of transgender lives, communities, and histories in photography.

“My most tangible offer to the community was creating a pipeline for trans and non-binary people to work in Hollywood.”

But it’s Zackary work in television that has arguably left the greatest impression on the cultural landscape, particularly her work on Transparent. She met the series creator Jill Soloway at Sundance Film Festival and Jill then reached out to Zackary and then-partner Rhys for film recommendations to pass onto their parent who had recently come out as trans. Shortly after, they were re-introduced through mutual friends while Jill was writing the Transparent pilot. Zackary asserts: “It was definitely a paradigm shift. It was clear from the first page that the story had the power to really impact our culture. And it did.” Originally brought on as consultants on the pilot, the pair signed on as the Associate Producers when the show was ordered to season. Zackary worked her way up the producorial ladder, finally landing as supervising producer on the show’s finale.

In addition to working closely with the show’s writers to create an authentic rendering of trans life—not only of retired LA college professor Maura Pfefferman, but of her wider circle of friends—Zackary helped implement the Transfirmative Action Program: “My most tangible offer to the community was creating a pipeline for trans and non-binary people to work in Hollywood which doesn’t [normally] happen… Employment discrimination is one of the biggest impediments to our advancement so it seemed crucial to create an inclusive set and to bring at least one person to every department.”

A landmark for trans representation and production, Transparent also offered a nuanced portrayal of a secular Jewish American family and reconnected Zackary to her cultural heritage. “My relationship to Judaism was totally rebooted by my time on the show,” she asserts. “[Growing up], I became more entrenched in my identity as a queer and trans person and forgot about how my Jewish values were informing everything that I was doing. It wasn’t until I worked on Transparent that I returned to that cultural identity and began to reincorporate those aspects into my life.”

“There are so many parallels to my transness and my Judaism and the history of both. I think that both communities have relied on assimilation and visibility for survival because our identities make us vulnerable to persecution.”

She now sees her Jewish and trans identities as complementary and bound by histories of survival: “There are so many parallels to my transness and my Judaism and the history of both. I think that both communities have relied on assimilation and visibility for survival because our identities make us vulnerable to persecution. I believe, too, that Jewish people in the twentieth century represented modernism so the Jewish emancipation act of the nineteenth century allowed Jews to move from the outlying shtetl communities in Eastern Europe into cities, at which point they modernised very quickly because they existed in these autonomous eco-systems and knew how to manage their own villages and communities. They quickly gained political and economic power in urban Europe and after about two or three generations were scapegoated for ultimately being so successful at modernisation that they had surpassed some of their non-Jewish counterparts.”

The artist’s rekindled relationship to her heritage was tested when it came to producing season four of Transparent, which sees the Pfeffermans travel to Israel. “It was the biggest challenge of all, taking on Israel and Palestine where there’s thousands of years of history. How do you accurately convey all of that complexity in an under 30 minute episode? It was daunting and I think there was a tremendous amount of education that happened behind the scenes for everybody. All of our preconceived notions about the Middle East were really tested.”

While the season was originally slated to be shot in East Jerusalem, the Transparent team decided to shoot in Los Angeles following rigorous consultations with Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) advocates. “There was a lot of healthy intellectual debate and a lot of people weighing in and a lot of feelings. It was challenging but I felt like we really persevered and created a season that could never have happened on another show. And it was because of the sensitivity and the integrity and intellectual rigour of what was happening behind the scenes.”

And, she notes: “The advantage of telling a story with many characters is that you’re able to present multiple positions. I think that Ali’s story in particular where she travels to Ramallah and experiences the West Bank and, experiences American and Western activists doing peace work and human rights activism was an accurate representation. It is one of the things I hear most often.”

“I became more entrenched in my identity as a queer and trans person and forgot about how my Jewish values were informing everything that I was doing.”

Shooting in LA proved a challenge for the art department who were tasked with recreating ancient monuments in an urban setting. They built the Western Wall in the Paramount Parking Lot, and shot key Dead Sea scenes at Universal Studios. The results are astounding but as Zackary concedes: “It would’ve been much easier to shoot in Israel.”

Not that the show has ever treaded a light path, or as Zackary understatedly puts it: “Each season presented a new challenge.” Arguably the biggest one was when lead actor Jeffrey Tambor was accused of sexual misconduct by co-star Trace Lysette and assistant Van Barnes and was duly fired from the show. This left Transparent without its trans parent, and the decision was made to kill off Tambor’s character Maura off-screen at the beginning of the feature-length ‘Musicale Finale’. This was a risky move with a risqué soundtrack (including musical numbers titled: ‘Your Boundary Is My Trigger’ and ‘Joy-a-caust’) but it worked; the Pfeffermans farewelled their beloved ‘Moppa’ with the song and dance she so deserved.

With the curtains drawn on Transparent, Zackary has moved on to other pursuits. “I am retiring to focus on being a mother and wife,” she jokes. In reality, she has a number of projects in development including a limited series for a major network. But, she modestly maintains: “my focus is creating my own work and pushing myself, as an artist and a writer, in new directions. I feel like I’m just starting to hit my stride. I think the opportunities I’ve been fortunate to find have not come too soon. I do feel like I’m ready and stable and confident in who I am and I come to every day with gratitude.”

Festival of Jewish Arts and Music Pays Tribute to Rebel Reed

While the Jewish musician’s reverence for guitars over grace hardly sings of piety, his illustrious life and career exemplify the Jewish cultural tradition of transformation and rebellion.

Publication: Creative Victoria

It’s fitting then that Victoria’s newly rebranded Festival of Jewish Arts and Music (FOJAM) has lifted the theme for its 2019 event from Reed’s musical ode to ‘70s New York underground culture, ‘Walk on the Wild Side’.

FOJAM’s Artistic Director Lior Albeck-Ripka explains, “this year’s theme is about giving space to those who don’t fit in the box.” She invites participating artists and audiences to heed Reed’s call and walk their own wild sides, urging: “Leave your armour at the door and be open to the unknown”. After all, as Melbourne musician and FOJAM Patron Deborah Conway points out, “the name Israel translates as ‘wrestling with God’—it’s what [we] Jews do well.”

FOJAM’s Artistic Director Lior Albeck-Ripka explains, “this year’s theme is about giving space to those who don’t fit in the box.”

Formerly known as Shir Madness Melbourne, the one-day festival’s name change to FOJAM marks a shift in approach with Albeck-Ripka and Festival Director Jesse Lubitz broadening the scope of the event to include theatre, dance and spoken word. On Sunday, 8 September the new look FOJAM will feature over 135 artists converging across four stages at the Melbourne Recital Centre. Musical headliners include international icons such as former-Deerhoof member Chris Cohen, Israeli EDM darling Noga Erez and British punk stalwart Vivien Goldman, as well as local luminaries Paul Kelly, Clare Bowditch, Alice Skye and more.

The program also features more subversive fare, such as a performance by the gender queer, Arab-Jew drag artist Asis D’Orange, a solo dance work – carrying a full nudity warning – by Israeli choreographer Israel Aloni, and an address by Zackary Drucker, a multimedia artist and LGBTQIA+ activist who will speak about her work as a producer on the TV series Transparent. All three artists will join author Dr. Lee Kofman in a panel discussion exploring the intersections of art, identity and nationhood. It is one of the many robust conversations slated to take place throughout the festival and an example of FOJAM’s commitment to showcasing Jewish expression in all its nuance and diversity.

Harking back to the theme, the day’s festivities culminate in the headline show ‘Transformer – A Tribute to Lou Reed’. Indie-pop artists Gabriella Cohen and Kate ‘Babyshakes’ Dillon serve as musical directors to a motley crew of musicians paying homage to Reed’s seminal album. The duo handpicked artists such as Chris Cohen, Deborah Conway, Alex Gow and Spike Fuck to perform tributes to Reed’s songs. Explaining their curatorial approach, Gabriella Cohen offers: “We were interested in selecting musical individuals who were not just familiar with his work, but who would inject their own flavour to compliment Lou’s.”

According to Gabriella, these musical fusions should appeal to both ardent fans and newcomers to Reed’s music. However, for the artists paying homage to Reed, his punk attitude transcends the tunes. “He knew how to not deliver,” quips Alex Gow. “He encouraged an expectation and then gave them something else.” The Oh Mercy frontman chose to cover ‘Satellite of Love’, explaining: “I like these naive songs Lou wrote. They mean very little, transport you nowhere and one section from the next barely have anything in common. He’s being playful, ridiculous. And why not? I want some of that. Leave ‘Hallelujah’ to Leonard Cohen, at least for a little while.” On her song selection, Deborah Conway offers: “I chose ‘Vicious’ but I could have chosen any of them. I always responded to Lou Reed’s no-singing singing style. It speaks to a completely ‘couldn’t give a rat’s ass’ attitude which makes the songs live eternally.”

Conway’s contribution to this year’s program is vast and varied. In addition to performing at the ‘Transformer’ event, she will be appearing in conversation with Vivien Goldman discussing women’s involvement in punk, performing a set with partner and collaborator Willy Zygier, and co-curating the festival’s centerpiece event Song of Songs, a tribute to Jewish songwriters and composers.

As the Festival Director of the 2015 and 2017 iterations of the festival, Conway is well-versed in the history of Jewish cultural contribution. “[It] is a deep, wide, millennia-old and extraordinarily diverse project,” she explains. “When the Jews of Europe fled the pogroms and the Holocaust and emigrated to New York and beyond, so many of these sons of Cantors became the backbone of the American Songbook, writing their idealised life of American freedom and making it catchy.” It’s a sentiment that Gow succinctly echoes: “Most of the best musicians were Jewish, right?”

A Portrait of Decadence

Andreja Pejic X J'Aton

Publication: Collection Magazine


The fundamental questions that the Pejics—and before her the Grace Joneses and David Bowies—of the fashion world inspire often attract controversy.

Although high-end fashion trends seldom reflect society at large, significant trends introduce progressive ideas that filter through to the mainstream. It merits noting that when Yves Saint Laurent and André Courrèges first introduced women’s pants into their collections, the majority of the population rejected the garment. Like Katharine Hepburn sporting trousers in 1930s Hollywood, Pejic donning a J’Aton suit and couture gown in 2011 certainly creates a fracture in the structure of gender stereotypes.

Up & Coming: Laura Anderson

Publication: Collection Magazine


RMIT graduate Laura Anderson admires the work of designers like Ann Demeulemeester and Azzedine Alaïa, but she is chiefly inspired by art, citing Eva Hesse, Lee Bontecou and Bridget Riley as major influences. However, it was the work of nineteenth-century physiologist and geometric chronophotographer Étienne-Jules Marey that served as a creative springboard for her graduate collection Minimal Surface.

As a national finalist in the 2010 Triumph Inspiration Awards, she came across his work while researching the set brief of creating a lingerie piece inspired by the theme ‘Shape Sensation’. Marey’s photographic research inspired Anderson to explore the visual aspects of movement in her own work. “He was looking at mapping locomotion, while I was interested in his aesthetic outcomes”,she explains.