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Photography Dana Trippe

New zine Vagina Dentata is exploring sci-fi through a feminist lens


TextEllen Atlanta

We speak to founder Smin Smith about the importance of representation, reclaiming science fiction from the cis, white hands of Hollywood and how minorities are biting back in a post-Trump world

Vagina Dentata: the age-old mythical tale in which a vagina opens to reveal rows of glistening, pointed teeth, and the namesake of 24-year-old stylist Smin Smith’s sci-fi fashion zine.

Exploring the intersections of science fiction and feminism whilst shining a spotlight on LGBTQIA+ and POC communities, the zine tackles weighty issues in nuanced and intelligent ways. Just two issues in, they’ve explored race and technology through an Afrofuturist lens; created a Harajuku-meets-sci-fi shoot discussing the British Visa and Immigration system, and produced wild interpretations of the appearance of alien life-forms.

In short, Vagina Dentata Zine provides a cohesive collection of images and art pieces that celebrate all things sci-fi, and in doing so, reclaim it from the white, cis hands of Hollywood. Their Instagram is a must-follow for those intrigued by the genre – providing an intergalactic mood board of images and intelligent captions, contextualising sci-fi in the digital world.  

Below, we spoke to Vagina Dentata’s editor and founder Smin Smith about misleading Hollywood representation, the power of reinvention, and the notion of “biting back” in a post #Metoo world.

Hey Smin, can you start by telling us a bit about where you interest in sci-fi and fashion came from?
Growing up, I didn’t watch any science fiction or fantasy, but I loved designing as a child and would watch Alexander McQueen catwalks on YouTube, so this probably all stems back to the Plato's Atlantis collection. I was 15 at the time and can remember having it in every sketchbook at school, finding a way I could incorporate it into every project – that's how I discovered science fiction.

I went on to study at UCA (Epsom) and one of my first projects at university was a zine inspired by film culture, so I drew my favourite characters in collections from that season – Tom Ripley in Commes Des Garçons, Barbarella in Vivienne Westwood and Princess Leia in McQueen. Science fiction, fashion, and feminism have always been the biggest influences upon my creative practice (whether as a stylist or writer), and the concept evolved over the next few years and became the much more collaborative and photographic zine that you see today. 

So what was your mission when launching Vagina Dentata Zine?
I wanted to explore the symbiotic relationship I saw between science fiction, fashion and feminism. Recent theories like Xenofeminism have proposed a shift in technology production away from white, cis men, and into the hands of minorities. This feels particularly poignant when you realise that sci-fi film employs less women than any other film genre (both in front and behind of the camera). The zine provides a platform for those excluded by Hollywood (women, LGBTQIA+, POC and non-binary creatives) to interact and engage with science fiction – so it’s both a love letter and a burn book to the genre that shaped me.  

Obviously, the name Vagina Dentata is incredibly evocative, what’s the story behind it?
I was re-reading Barbara Creed’s The Monstrous-Feminine whilst creating Issue 001. She explores the way women have been presented as “abject” in contemporary science-fiction and horror films. Psychoanalytically, the Vagina Dentata is the most complex of these tropes – it’s both an output for fears surrounding castration, and an empowering depiction of woman as castrator, which goes against Freud’s teachings. Traditionally women, POC and LGBTQIA+ characters within science fiction have been confined to these “abject” roles, so it was partially about reclamation.

It's very confrontational...
Definitely. Particularly now, post-Trump, it feels even more prescient to be “biting back”.

With the creation of the zine, you encourage your contributors to design the futures they want to see – what are the common trends you notice?
I think the most common trend is, representation, people want to see their bodies and lives thriving in the future. Popular science fiction film completely misses the mark in this respect. I’d like to hope white, cis, heterosexual men aren’t the only ones thriving in 200 years time, but Hollywood would make you believe it… There’s definitely an ongoing love of maximalism, colour and excess.

Why do you think that is?
Perhaps that’s a direct result of being and working with other LGBTQIA+ creatives, we’re referencing the history of queer culture, and catapulting it into the future.   

Which sci-fi books, films or artists would you recommend to those looking to explore the genre?
I haven’t stopped talking about Annihilation or Valerian since I saw them, they’re insanely beautiful. I loved The Handmaid’s Tale (both book and TV series), Black Mirror, and The Power, but I’d also recommend some academic texts like The Monstrous-Feminine, Futures and Fictions, or Alien Zone. I often encourage people to watch problematic films, like Blade Runner 2049 or Ghost in the Shell as motivation to do better. As for artists, I’ve been collaborating with Natalie Baxter for a number of years. Her authentic explorations of witchcraft and fantasy are shaping the industry. At the minute, I’m obsessed with Munachi Osegbu’s afrofuturist visions, and Dana Trippe’s surrealism – both of which we were lucky enough to feature in Issue 002!  

In the current political climate, I think a lot of us wish we could be transported to a fantasy dreamscape or teleported to the nearest habitable planet. Do you think the escapism that sci-fi enables is more important now than ever before?
Yes, but not in the “bury your head in the sand” kind of way that people have come to expect. No science fiction film has ever truly “escaped” the society in which it was created. There’s heightened fantasy and fashion to enjoy, but we’re products of our culture - Barbarella’s outfits could only belong in the 1960s, The Matrix’s technophobia seems outdated, and even recent sci-fi like Annihilation reflects scientists’ fear of ecological collapse. Science fiction utilises escapism as a tool for examining reality, we never truly “escape” the here and now.  

What does the future of beauty look like to you?
I’d like to think there’d no longer be limits upon our reinvention. “Beauty” in today’s society is often still dictated by binary gender ideals, institutional racism, and ultimately your economic standing. I’m of the anti-naturalism school of thought, religion has put the “natural” (normally white) cis body on a pedestal for far too long, we need true diversity in the beauty industry. I think I’d feel more beautiful with blue hair and cyborg additions than I ever would in my “natural” body. There’s an authenticity in what we choose to reinvent, it says more about us than anything we’ve been born into.  

Having said that, which three beauty products would you take to another planet?
Directions ‘Midnight Blue’ Hair Dye, Fantasy F/X Face and Body Paint, and prosthetic Elf ears. You’d be free from humanity’s expectations, I’d be embracing it to the full!  

A call for submission:
Vagina Dentata are looking for submissions for their third issue, and this time it’s all about getting utopian! Feminist, LGBTQIA+ and POC writers have used ‘Utopia’ in their science fiction for over 100 years. Today, presenting alternative ways of life seems more necessary than ever. Whether your fantasy is community-led, technology-driven, or a return to nature – we want to see what utopia means to you. Submissions can take any format (e.g. photography, artwork, digital imagery, illustration), as long as they can be showcased in print. Vagina Dentata Zine is a platform for women, LGBTQIA+ & POC creatives. Get in touch at vaginadentatazine@gmail.com  

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