On the Cover: Kiki Shu

Kiki Shu created Always & Forever, the warm, mustard-backed cover art for this issue. According to Shu, the artwork is “a digital illustration made with a limited, layered color palette; it was drawn on an iPad in Procreate.” I asked the artist some questions to learn more about their illustration and art practice.

What were you thinking about when creating this cover art? What feeling did you hope to evoke?

While I don’t discount that celebrating and honoring Pride in June can be important and affirming to many, what feels more relevant to me and my body of work is the constant, deeply rooted, lived experience of queerness and transness. For this cover, I wanted to make a still life of objects that symbolize everyday queer/trans life and love. I was imagining what an uncomplicated (yet rich) snapshot of a queer person’s life might look like using only objects, as well as all the ways in which connection and community are harbored through objects. I love the way that things can be simultaneously approachable and deeply personal. I find a lot of comfort, importance, and personality in things, and recall expressing my queerness through the things I carried and wore in my tweenage years before I felt safe enough to publicly identify as queer/trans. At that point I had never heard the term “flagging,” but was already finding much-needed empowerment in doing so.

I hope that this illustration can feel warm, inviting, and familiar in some way to everyone who views it, and I especially hope that it can make other queer & trans people feel seen without feeling like our culture is being commodified, reduced, or sacrificed in any way to be made palatable/digestible to cis/het/corporate America. While the items I chose to represent are recognizable to most, they also hold special, secret, and/or sacred meaning in the eyes of queer/trans people, and preserving that aspect is important to me.

Can you talk about one or two of the objects featured on the cover (as literally or figuratively as you wish)?

I had to represent some queer subcultures/subcultures where queerness really flourishes; the spiked collar is a nod to both the punks and the furries. Everyday I celebrate the deviants and weirdos, and I think that fully embracing ideas outside the zeitgeist is and always will be one of the most important and powerful parts of queer culture. I have been a proud furry for over half my life now and it’s one of the first communities that wholly welcomed and uplifted my queerness, without question, from day one.
The candle is in honor of our queer/trans ancestors and present day peers and chosen family – for those who have fought tirelessly for rights and recognition, those who have lived fully and truly, and those who have lived at all. We are proof of queerness, transness, and not only the possibility but the inevitability and perpetuity of queer/trans joy.

What are your thoughts on the role of art in expressing the complexity of queer identity, especially during the increasingly corporatized Pride month?

I think the voices and work of queer/trans artists and writers will always subvert and dominate the ever-persistent greedy maw of corporate rainbow-washed “Pride Month™.” Pride month can feel cheap and over-commodified, and so much of the heart, perspective, and intersectionality of queerness and transness can be muddled through it all. Pride month wouldn’t exist at all if it weren’t for queer and trans artists and activists, and the importance of giving that work a platform has only grown. No one understands the nuance, struggles, liberation, etc. of being queer/trans quite like queer/trans people do. Making work about one’s own identity is intrinsically layered and intimate, and that voice can and will never be replicated by that of a corporate PR team.

What do you think a line in that love letter on the cover would say? Or is it a secret?

That letter can remain up for interpretation, but here’s a line from my gay wedding vows to my wife: “Our love is easy and sweet and proliferating like the native plants we now let grow all over this once-painstakingly manicured yard. Ancient yet fresh, and always vibrant.”

Are you excited for anything ahead that you want to talk about here? (e.g., art projects, personal projects, community gatherings, etc.?)

I’m ever-excited about my tattoo practice and cultivating friendship and community with my pals at Angels Collective, and about an extra queer and smutty western-themed zine I’ve been collaborating on with my wife & fellow artist, Molly Kate Young.

To view more work by Shu, visit