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Photo supplied by Starchild Stela

We got a chance to talk to artist Starchild Stela and discuss their work and what inspires them!

Stela is a Montreal-based feminist artist mainly known for their street art. They grew up in a low income home where they realized that art is a luxury—a luxury that was like therapy to them. They were able to get through their trauma and identify as a survivor. Around five years ago, they began including feminist slogans in their illustrations and took off on Tumblr, gaining a lot of attention. Since this, Stela has continued to evolve, gaining even more fans. They tackle topics such as trauma, gender identity and queerness all whilst having a very soft aesthetic. They recently put out a new zine titled “Trauma Castle,” and we get to know more about it and their work from the artist themself.

Your new zine “Trauma Castle” is about trauma and survival. What exactly is it about D.I.Y. zines that creates a medium to express trauma?

STELA: I’m not sure how I got involved with zines.... It’s been quite a few years since I read them. Reading zines such as “Telegram” or “Mend My Dress” resonated with me when I had depressive phases. There are all kinds of zines for all kinds of stories. There are also all kinds of zines highlighting comics or illustration. Zines can be limited in their quantities and can be distributed in limited circles. It took me a while to distribute mine because of their personal content. It does feel a bit safer than sharing my stories online. Since my writing is not very formal, the format makes it comfortable. The process of writing zines is often therapeutic for me. There [are] no guidelines or rules. “Trauma Castle” was really hard for me, it’s my most personal zine so far. Talking about child abuse is not easy. I think most of my friends never really understood where all my anger came from, I’m still processing situations that happened over 20 years ago. Healing is not linear; zines are some tool[s] I’ve found helpful.

What influences your artwork? What exactly drove you into this style? How has your style changed over time?

STELA: I’m not sure, it’s just a reflection of my larger lifestyle. I love pastel colors and softness. I think I’ve always been drawn towards these specific aesthetics. My current influences are textiles, ’80s and ’90s toys, as well as gift wrapping papers from the ’70s to early ’90s.

Your work is filled with magical girl imagery, pastel colours and big, expressive eyes. What is it about this aesthetic that you believe makes it a strong vehicle to explore important intersectional feminist issues, like gender expression, queerness and rape culture?

STELA: I don’t make my aesthetics and messages an artist statement. It’s who I am. I’m very sincere and coherent with my taste. I don’t know if it’s a strong vehicle, honestly I make art that makes me feel good and I try to work towards a certain soothing aesthetic. I like soft, pastel colors and the words and messages reflect where I’m at, what I’m thinking about. I can only speak for myself. I address issues that are affecting my daily life. Eventually, I want to create larger projects which will directly involve survivors. It’s interesting because I think for many conventional or institutional art spaces, my work is perceived as unprofessional because of its soft-toned nature.... That’s why D.I.Y. and the internet are the ways I picked to expose my projects.

When wandering around Montreal, street art seems to be such a huge part of its urban identity. Why do you think that is? What specifically about Montreal draws you to cover its streets in your art?

STELA: I think Montreal as a ‘street art city’ is overrated. I’ve grown up with graffiti being an inherent part of the city. I like its former rawness and the overall vibe of traditional graffiti bombing. However, I think curated murals are destroying the landscape; they highlight a division between artists; it speaks a lot about privileges and what is socially acceptable. Murals in Montreal are a tool for gentrification and nothing less. Illegal graffiti can also be read within these lines; so often it is linked with the trendiness of an area nowadays... Not sure where I fit in. I’ve been in that scene for over 10 years so it’s hard to dissociate myself from it, but at this point I’m not super active in the streets. I paint mostly freights. I don’t know, that’s just something I’ve been doing, that’s what people did in my circle back then, I got hooked and I will never not love it, although the city is evolving in very shitty ways. Unfortunately, I don’t have a great political motivation to do it, it’s a passionate thing that only people who graff can understand. The messages it comes with are a reflection of my daily life, and as long as rape culture is alive I’ll probably speak up about it.

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