The punk artist on her Asian background and making ‘Russian prostitute rock'
Aza Shade is an explosive blend of rebellion, sex and outstanding art vision, an all-in-one rock star and storyteller inventing an outrageous new language in video, painting and music. She was raised in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, but has been living in London for the last seven years. As well as a filmmaker, photographer, artist and model, she's a singer in no wave/experimental band Manflu, and is equally amazing whether performing with the band in a silver Pam Hogg catsuit, making a video for SHOWstudio's punk project or being one of the few young artists in Central Asian Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale (2013). She mixes traditional symbols with the iconography of subcultures and uses her tattoo-covered body as another powerful tool in her art practice.
Here, Dazed talks to Shade about women in Asian culture, punk fashion, Russian prostitute rock and her current projects.
Dazed Digital: You come from quite a traditional region. Did you have a traditional upbringing? How did it influence how you look at women?
Aza Shade: I was raised by my mother and she is a forward-thinking modern woman – childhood was a party rather than a traditional regime. But I guess I was influenced by some aspects of the culture. For example, my mother had a lot of female friends and we used to go out for dinners, and in all the restaurants there were beautiful belly dancers wiggling around tables while we ate. I loved it and memories of how I looked at those beautiful women will stay with me forever.
DD: You use quite a lot of provocatively sexual imagery and the girls in your art look really powerful. Is sexuality empowering for you?
Aza Shade: Sexuality is empowering; it has always been a weapon. I guess it depends on the women I'm photographing. I surround myself with pretty strong people in general and I guess photographing them naked makes them more powerful.
DD: It seems that you draw a lot of inspiration from Asia.
Aza Shade: I find our culture beautiful, interesting, rich and unusual. Using colourful, absurd aesthetics in my art seems natural – it does make my projects more complete. I wish I could do it more, I want to go back to my homeland and shoot a feature film. But that’s in my bigger plans.
DD: When did you join the band?
Aza Shade: I joined Manflu three years ago. I never sang or did anything musical before. I was bored doing just art and I wanted to write and perform as well.
DD: How would you describe your music?
Aza Shade: Joking around, we describe it as 'Russian prostitute rock'. If you want to hear what Russian prostitute rock sounds like, come and see us perform.
DD: How does it feel to be a girl in punk these days?
Aza Shade: I don’t know, sometimes I don’t think I’m a girl. As Patti Smith said once, 'As far as I'm concerned, being any gender is a drag.' Nowadays it shouldn’t matter whether you’re a girl or a boy, especially in music, art, politics, everything. I am an individual and it doesn’t matter if I have a pair of tits. I’ve always had a punk attitude on life, standing for individual freedom and anti-establishment. In music I've never had anyone saying, 'You’re a girl so you’re not ballsy enough.' Maybe they can’t tell it to my face because they're too chickenshit. Or maybe my little PVC skirt is too shiny and blinds everyone who wants to come closer.
DD: Is it similar to being a woman in the contemporary art world?
Aza Shade: I really liked how you said a girl in punk and a woman in the contemporary art world. You should be a tough rebellious bright-spirited girl in punk but a strong grown woman in the art world. It's tough and full of vultures. Even with the best work you’ll get nowhere nowadays; you have to find a person who’s been into that hell already and can show you around. But I do want to go to that hell, because it’s beautiful in it’s way and challenging. It’s like climbing an Everest.
DD: Tell us a bit about your work for SHOWstudio?
Aza Shade: Nick Knight invited me to make something for his punk-themed fashion film season. I did a ten-minute narrative fashion film called 'Punkifee' with my friend stylist Paul Joyce. It’s about a young girl who falls for her mother's new boyfriend because he used to be a punk and lived it all back in late 70s.
DD: What medium do you prefer these days?
Aza Shade: At the moment I paint a lot. The end of 2013 wasn’t a very good time in my life – I lost a dear friend and I needed some medicine to calm me down, and painting was always a good one. But I prefer video, it’s more powerful and more fun. You can give it loads of other different meanings just by editing it differently. It’s like plasticine for kids.
Manflu perform at Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen on January 30
Aza Shade's paintings series Heartache is on show at Indo bar during February 2–28