Beautifully designed and printed erotic magazines are having a renaissance (think: Odiseo, Phile, Math, and Archer), and at the helm of the most interesting and subversive publications are a constellation of women dedicated to reimagining – and re-sourcing – the complex conversations surrounding sex, sexuality and the erotic.
LESTE, founded by Montreal-based writer Sara Sutterlin and published biannually (and elegantly) on risograph, might just be the most radical of this new wave of stylish and smutty print. In an interview with Hunger, Sutterlin stressed that all magazines “have a responsibility to use our publication and platform for social progress.” Few publications take this responsibility as seriously as LESTE. The magazine (currently seeking donations for Issue 5) – in tandem with its Instagram account – has built a reputation as a space for marginalized voices in particular to interrogate, define, and redefine the erotic.
LESTE pivots on an ethos of transparency and tenderness, two tenets Sutterlin has emphasized in previous discussions of the magazine. Each issue of LESTE features an exceptionally curated collection of interviews, artworks and writings – an excerpt from Bettina Davis’ singular erotic novel One Valencia Lane, a photo-meditation on the body and abstraction by Giulia Boggio, a sampling of Maren Karlson’s sultry fairy tale illustrations… The works featured in the magazine are by a shifting company of people whom Sutterlin describes as “the new great thinkers… a generation that is forever digging, uprooting and then re-planting, with great care, a new culture of empathy” (Issue 2). Read on for a peek into the world of LESTE.
Sophia: What led to your decision to found LESTE, and then to expand it as a platform beyond the pages of a magazine?
Sara: I had stumbled upon a community of fresh and cutting voices on sex work, sex theories, all this academic thinking mixed in with diary-like journaling and poetry on Tumblr. Frequent LESTE contributors Lyle Sux and Naila Ahmad are definitely two writers and thinkers that come to mind when I think of why I wanted to found LESTE. I wanted these texts and this new writing to have a home.
SL: The LESTE Instagram has regular takeovers by artists and members of the community, with priority given to people of colour, people with disabilities, gender nonconforming, trans, and queer folx. It’s become a coveted space within which to confide and commune, and a radical force for the amplification of marginalized voices. Can you talk a little bit about the decision to use this platform this way? Why was Instagram the right medium?
SS: I don’t know that instagram is the right medium, considering how triggering it is to so many people. I think maybe that contrast – between Instagram as a whole and the warmth of ours makes it work. Regarding the decision, I mean, it is our responsibility to do this right. To give the platform and the voice to those who need to be heard first and right now. There are plenty of spaces for white cis feminists to talk about their body hair and periods and feel heard, but this is much bigger than that, much broader.
SL: A big part of your ethos is a dedication to paying artists and writers and anyone else engaged in labour as part of the creation of the magazine (and otherwise!), which is so admirable and necessary. (It’s also why donations to the production of the magazine are so crucial.) You also call out lots of publications and brands that steal artists’ work without giving credit or compensation. Since you started the magazine, have you seen any improvement with regards to a general sense of responsibility to credit and compensate creative labour? Obviously there is still a long way to go.
SS: Eh, some. But it’s still rampant. It’s an aggressive and powerful thing. That being said, Get Artists Paid are doing the good work. I strongly recommend that if you are in the capacity of attending a meeting and educating yourself that you do! Knowing how the system works, and beginning to assemble the tools and knowledge it takes to protect oneself and others is crucial.
SL: LESTE works hard to foster a sense of community in a way that almost no other publications do. It is a community. Why is this project of community building so crucial to LESTE?
SS: We’re entering a new era of erotica, we need this. We need each other. We need each other’s honesty, stories, pain, joys. I really believe that. I don’t know that it is crucial to LESTE as much as it is a reaction to it. A result of it. It wasn’t exactly intentional at first, but it snowballed so fast and now it is definitely an integral part of it.