Smart Girl Club with Director Milah Libin
Photography by Hannah Siegfried
Photography: Hannah Siegfried
Interview: Isis Nicole
Nestled in her Brooklyn-based apartment, Milah Libin, a 22-year-old director, poet, and co-founder of urban feminist collective, Smart Girl Club, partnered alongside performing artist, Princess Nokia, addresses her experience with weakness, strengths, and what it means to be independent.
Isis Nicole: How would you describe your weakness?
Milah Libin: I am a very anxious person, and as a result, I am not confrontational at all.
IN: I believe that this is my weakness, too. I can be so naive and vulnerable to people who are underserving of me at times, and it brings me to tears.
ML: I have let people walk all over me without even once telling them straight up how I feel. This is something I need to work on - being more honest with myself and others.
IN: It's important. Especially within this very self-indulgent culture. I appreciate your honesty and desire to assert yourself. [Smiles] I want that for everyone, even myself. Can we talk about the origins of Smart Girl Club and your affiliation with Know-Wave Radio?
ML: I started hanging out at Know Wave when it was just kicking off and my friends had a show for our collective, Letter Racer. It was mostly just fucking around, making prank calls, playing music and free-styling. This was in someway a catalyst for Destiny (formally known as Princess Nokia) and I to start Smart Girl Club. Even though the show is really fun, the energy was very male dominant. We realized we had to create our own space where it felt more safe and driven by femininity. We thought to ourselves, if all these boys are doing it, why can’t we? It was only natural that Smart Girl Club started a show on Know Wave. We are very close with the creator, Aaron Bondaroff.
IN: I'm so inspired by what Bondaroff and Madeline Poole have accomplished. It helps me get doubt and fears of something being impossible out of my head. I'll treat myself to their IG pages while Surf plays in the background, and just soak up all the imagery. It stimulates me, those like backseat babes. I'm like, which babe is getting chauffeured this week?!
ML: He’s like an uncle to us, and he was totally down for us to do whatever we wanted. We play music, talk about our life experiences, have guests that we look up to, etc. It’s a nice platform to share with the world what Smart Girl Club is doing and what the future looks like.
IN: What makes a Smart Girl? Is she someone with adversities? Is she admired?
ML: Women are born with adversity. The minute we leave the womb, whether initially gendered as female or not, we are placed into a small box of how a woman is supposed to act, look and treat men. Naturally a “#SmartGirl” is someone with adversities. She is also empowered by them. She embraces them, and ultimately overcomes them. As a Smart Girl you must love all your sisters, treat them with respect, embrace growth and development.
IN: And her mission?
ML: To love yourself first and foremost, and the women around you. This means brown women, white women, trans-women, asexual women, big women, small women, etc. Every woman regardless of sexual orientation, identity, color, or size, is your sister. The thing about Smart Girl Club is that every woman is a part of it. We are not in any way exclusive. There is nothing you need to “do” to become a part of it. We only ask that you love yourself and all women.
IN: How do you declare your independence?
ML: … How I believe many people in my generation do, through the Internet. Specifically, using the platform of Tumblr. There are little to no restrictions of what can be posted, which can allow for some inappropriate and vulgar content. It also allows people of all ages to engage in discourse surrounding current events and political issues. It might sound funny, but I have learned so much on Tumblr through the people that I follow.
IN: Oh no, it doesn't sound funny. I've gained a lot from Tumblr. I got flown out to London for a documentary titled Nailgasm, directed by Ayla Montgomery, who is a good friend of mine that I met from Tumblr. She and Sophy Robson trusted me enough to enter their realm and ever since, I've been pursuing what makes me happy. The community is real.
ML: There is an amazing community of people younger than myself that are highly opinionated on subjects that may be glazed over in more mainstream media. On the downside it allows anonymity, which can result in a lot of unnecessary or misguided hate - something that I have personally experienced. In my own life, at least, positives trump the negatives [making Tumblr] a space where I can post my work, thoughts, even selfies, and for the most part feel safe.
IN: Has what you've curated on Tumblr had any affect on your life offline?
ML: I have made "Internet friends" with whom I exchange support and ideas. It's all very strange and futuristic. I have personally really embraced it. This next generation, the future, we are strong and we have access to information on a larger scale because of the Internet's platform. I'd like to think that someday because of things like Tumblr - which in many ways is a news source for young people. Adults will laugh at me for even thinking this, but maybe in the not too distant future the army of conscious, social-justice bloggers, artists, allies, etc. will rise up and rule the world!
IN: In building a sisterhood, virtually and spiritually, how do you know what opportunities to throw yourself at and when to resist?
ML: I think most importantly I have to be constantly aware and conscious of my skin. I am a white woman. Although I do face similar sexism and adversity as all women, it is extremely important for me to confront my white privilege. This means, in certain conversations, I must simply listen. On Tumblr, for example, I will reblog certain posts to show solidarity and support, but I must know that it is not my voice that needs to be heard. I exist as a platform for women less fortunate than me to get their stories across.
IN: Where's the most beautiful place you've ever been?
ML: I grew up in New York City, so I have an immense love for the urban landscape. In terms of conventionally beautiful I might say a beach in Sweden I visited last summer, or a cemetery filled with stray cats that I came across in Buenos Aires. In my heart, what is truly beautiful is this city - New York. My favorite place to walk around is Chinatown. There are so many hidden beauties, like the neon signs in Chinese characters, or the red and yellow confetti sprinkled across the pavement after the Chinese New Year. I also love Spanish Harlem, which I attribute to Destiny. She took me around to some of her favorite spots the first time we hung out one on one and it was beautiful. Imagine ferris wheels amongst open fire hydrants, the smell of crispy chicken and corn, a constant murmur of noise. The city is always breathing. I love old subway cars, old worn in graffiti, littered construction gloves. This is what really inspires me and I find to be the most beautiful.
IN: I recently came across your illustration of Ice- T and Coco. How does this couple inspire you?
ML: [Laughs] That’s so cool that you found that drawing. I actually did a series where I drew images I found of them together. I became very obsessed with Ice-T as a result of binge watching endless episodes of Law and Order: SVU. Upon doing some research (i.e. internet stalking) I became very infatuated by his and Coco's relationship. They seem to treat each other with respect and love. Despite all the Hollywood bullshit, they are still together! That being said, I haven’t really watched all of the Ice Loves Coco episodes, but from what I’ve seen it just cracks me up.
IN: I'm familiar with the show title, but I've never taken the time to actually watch it.
ML: They are both so off guard and real with each other, it’s really endearing. At the end of the day, with all famous couples, we don’t really know what they’re relationship is like, but I’d like to think they love each other to death and will be together forever. Also, visually, I think they’re the most perfect and weirdest couple.
IN: That's so sweet! And finally, what doesn't kill you…
ML: Honestly is there anything better than saying, “makes you stronger?” What doesn’t kill you gives you the drive to keep living, at least in my life. I’ve been in places before where I have felt like giving up, but then there are those pivotal moments where you realize that you’re here for a reason. Somethings have happened in my life recently that reminded me how precious life is, how fleeting it is, how fast it can all end. Sometimes it takes a death to make you want to keep on living. I know that sounds odd… it can go either way, but for me, in this moment, I am finally ready to live, and I mean get old! Get all wrinkly and shit. It’s an amazing feeling to want to get there. I feel grateful to even be here now.
Originally published in IN #4, Fall 2015