C-VILLE: Milk, but no honey

On the cover of Mala Leche’s inaugural issue, the name of the zine is tiny, hardly visible. The focus is much more on the “bad milk” itself—a cut-out image of a baby bottle, emblazoned with a black skull and crossbones and resting in an equally inky puddle.

It’s an eye-catching design, one intended to draw passersby to its distribution boxes at the Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative. But the cover is just the start, as anyone who picks up a copy will discover upon reading the letter from the editors, Sri Kodakalla and Ramona Martinez, Mala Leche’s co-creators. The zine, they write, “reflects the voices and interests of womxn, non-binary, and genderqueer artists & thinkers.” Kodakalla and Martinez also assert that their zine plays a part in the “death and rebirth of society.”

The first issue’s 16 pieces of art, contributed by 13 creatives in the central Virginia area, serve as proof of a community that is as diverse as it is underappreciated. The works vary widely in subject matter, but have similar levels of intensity and urgency: an anonymous essay about a ride-along with a Charlottesville cop, a handwritten consideration of St. Lucy, stark black-and-white depictions of some of C’ville’s still-standing monuments.

Kodakalla considers Mala Leche’s diversity one of the publication’s most important features. “The thing about Mala Leche is that it creates this space for all those different viewpoints to exist in one zine,” she says. The goal, both she and Martinez agree, is to create a product that’s “relevant to every person.”

Along with co-editing Mala Leche, Kodakalla and Martinez are also the acting co-directors of the Feminist Union of Charlottes­ville Creatives. FUCC got its start as a Facebook group in 2017, Martinez says, and has only been an “official” organization since it recently received fiscal sponsorship from the Bridge PAI.

One tradition that has been around since the start is FUCC’s annual art show. “It’s really powerful to have a show of all women, non-binary, and genderqueer artists,” Martinez says. “You have to wonder how many genderqueer, non-binary artists have work hanging in the museums of New York right now.”

Mala Leche was created largely to give a different platform to those same artists. Martinez says she had been talking about her dream of such a zine for months before Kodakalla suggested they start it through FUCC. “It just made so much sense because it’s tapping into a network of artists and writers who already have a lot to share.”

Martinez says about half the work in Mala Leche’s first issue was submitted by artists already involved with FUCC, while the other 50 percent came from outside contributors, such as Meesha Goldberg, a painter and writer whose poem “Casualties of the Anthropocene” is one of the issue’s most memorable pieces. “The Earth is made of food / We are one another’s harvest,” Goldberg writes, invoking images of a “shroud of vultures” and deer “strewn & supine” on the highway.

Kodakalla and Martinez had interacted with Goldberg in other capacities—Kodakalla oversaw a 96-foot mural recently completed by Goldberg for the McGuffey Art Center, while Martinez enlisted Goldberg’s help to relocate a stray rooster that had wandered onto her property (the rooster now resides on Goldberg’s farm somewhere “in a secluded valley”). Both were so impressed by the variety and power of Goldberg’s work that they invited her to guest edit Mala Leche’s second issue.

Titled “Fever Dreams of Mother Earth,” its themes hew closely to Goldberg’s poetry and visual work. The issue, which is accepting submissions through February 26, will tackle the “delirium of [Mother Earth’s] dark nights…Mala Leche is conjuring the medicine of Art that we may one morning sweat out our fever and wake from this collective nightmare. Let us lucid dream again!”

Goldberg says she was drawn to the zine for its “strong, perverse tension” and the ways it’s positioned to highlight “sickness in society.” And nothing is sicker in society right now, she argues, than Mother Earth. “So many of our social problems come from cultural disconnection with the land.”

An important aspect of Mala Leche that its creators want to emphasize is that the zine is in black-and-white, so those interested in submitting should plan their artwork accordingly. It imposes a limit when printing visual content—Goldberg herself boasts many vivid, hyperrealistic paintings in her body of work, and to reprint them on such a scale wouldn’t do them justice—but Kodakalla and Martinez maintain that the very existence of Mala Leche is cause for celebration: In addition to giving deserving artists a platform, it pays them too, thanks to the Bridge PAI’s fiscal sponsorship.

The editors are excited about the radical and sometimes revolutionary submissions received by Mala Leche. They’re never sure what to expect, and both agree that the unknown is part of the appeal.
“We’re not really looking for any one particular vision,” Kodakalla says.

“Right now is the time to dream the new world up,” Martinez agrees. “There isn’t one answer as to what that world should look like.”