The sound artist and selfie-royalty making a splash in Philadelphia and all over the internet talked to us about self-making, black womanhood, and the traps of artifice.
One-half of the sound group SCRAAATCH, E. Jane aka Mhysa is bringing distorted, slow-then-fast club and experimental music to the do-it-yourself queer scene in Philadelphia. We’ve been following E.’s music for a while, and it wasn’t difficult to stay intrigued, seeing as they drop new sounds almost every week, following a creative principle of turning their art practice into a kind of sprint, an athletic exercise. Most recently, E. Jane and their partner Chukwumaa aka plus_c were featured on The Fader as a voice disrupting white supremacy in a time where murders of black people by police are inescapable in the public imaginary. And E. has produced a stream of rough and tumble edits of tracks by black woman artists like Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, and Lil Kim, short anthems for “weirdo queers”. They also curate and organize the new “club-not-club” party ATM alongside DJ Haram and plus_c.
E. Jane asked us to meet them in the backyard stone garden of the Chelsea Highline Hotel. We might have gotten confused and gone to the Chelsea Hotel – the hotel that the celebutante and artist Edie Sedgwick famously burned down a room in. Sedgwick had an infectious playfulness and charisma that E., a longtime admirer of hers, matches. E. talked about how Sedgwick and her “dear friend” Andy Warhol inspired them as a teenager when they were going through different phases of dress and influence. They also cited people like Nina Simone, Jack White, and Adrian Piper as influences of artifice and self-making, leading them to develop alter-egos like Mhysa. We don’t think it’s just artifice, but we do think it’s artful, and fittingly, E.’s Twitter bio reads plain and simple: “both the projection and the Black woman behind the curtain.”
We didn’t meet at that Chelsea Hotel because now it’s some high-priced co-op with landmark status. The hotel’s history might be lost on the grossly changing New York landscape, and Chelsea has more boutiques and Starbucks than gloryholes these days. E. didn’t grow up in New York, but in Washington, D.C., and now lives in Philadelphia. E. walked directly from the megabus stop to Chelsea Highline, having taken the bus in from Philadelphia. They get around New York City just fine, though, because they briefly attended Marymount Manhattan College. Now, E. is an art student at the Ivy League school UPenn.
E. speaks with a thick layer of resentment at being shamed for taking “too many selfies” – as if self-making isn’t art, or as if art produced on the margins of the web hasn’t gone on to inspire an entire generation of digital artists. Isn’t every generation telling the next that they are narcissistic? There’s no doubt that black women bear the brunt of this particular iteration shaming –a public shaming that often seems to be targeting women for their bare existence, if not for celebrating themselves on the internet – and E. speaks without hindrance about the ways that black womanhood isn’t given the same space across the board.
We bought overpriced coffees and a brownie and settled in. From Serena Williams’ champion tennis career bumping up against white beauty standards to the tragically mechanic sounds of Arca, we sat back in our seats, leaned in, and listened as E. shared their story.
So, what are you up to in New York today?
I’m in New York for the opening of the new exhibitions at The Studio Museum in Harlem. The artists in residency there, Lauren Halsey, Sadie Barnette, and Eric Mack, have a new show “Everything, Everyday”. I’ve had a chance to be in all three of their studios. I’m especially excited for Eric Mack’s work, because he’s from Prince George’s County, Maryland, where I’m from. He has this piece titled “Alldayz,” referencing a PG streetwear clothing company called Alldaz. So I’m really excited to see that piece in person. There’s also some work by Lorraine O’Grady down in the basement that should be really awesome.
Tell us about growing up in Prince George’s County.
Prince George’s County is a predominantly black suburb right outside of Washington, D.C. When I grew up there in the 90s, it was featured in Forbes and other magazines for being the richest black county in America. My parents weren’t extremely wealthy and we went from being well-off middle class to lower middle class during my childhood, so I faced a weird conundrum, being in a space that’s really black but also really wealthy. Money became more of a dividing factor than race. I learned to perform class in a lot of ways.