Dana Buzzee: The Coven on Her Back

Punishment Rituals, installation view. Dana Buzzee. 2019. Size varies. Courtesy of the artist and LEFT Contemporary.

Punishment Rituals

LEFT Contemporary March 1-May 4, 2019

By Lucas Cabral

I walk in and I get a little excited. This excitement has been growing with every image the artist and LEFT Contemporary have posted of works and installation progress leading up to the opening. The imagery and energy are something I’ve been looking for (and missing) since I moved from my Toronto-adjacent hometown whose proximity to Toronto’s queer density granted me easy access to bondage and fetish communities and their meeting spaces. Is this excitement the effect of the spell cast by Buzzee’s work? Or is it evidence of my newfound curse?

Why not both?

The constellation of works making up Punishment Rituals forms a warm entanglement of community and queerdos spanning generations and geographies. Buzzee has inducted viewers, makers, participants, and their predecessors, materializing them in studded leather collars and cuffs, a wide-cast web woven of leather and chain, and prints retelling possible engagements of these or similar sculptural works, all of which in this space cast a circle around an a-frame and knot of nylon rope.

Punishment Rituals, installation view. Dana Buzzee. 2019. Size varies. Courtesy of the artist and LEFT Contemporary.

Hand-pulled images of rope and leather-bound performers on newsprint reference and resurrect community-based erotica like that found in publications like On Our Backs, the first women-run erotica magazine that featured lesbian erotica for a lesbian audience. Images are captured when Buzzee opens calls for community members to perform freely with the leather works she makes. Groups, pairs, and strangers, bond over a shared bondage experience. Buzzee captures these moments of liberation, exploration, and connection, offering the images as a part of an incantation. Like with the previously mentioned On Our Backs publication, Buzzee continues a legacy of by-and-for community erotica. An exhibition poster with exhibition text by Taylor Harder has a likeness modeled after On Our Backs and chronicles the development of and differences between British and North American traditions, making note of the ways that intimacy is an activator during initiation.

The exhibition reclaims the formula of ritual witchcraft initiation ceremonies, making space for homoeroticism which is rejected by British traditions (heavily informed by the legalization of witchcraft preceding the legalization of homosexuality in Britain), and taking up traditional initiation elements like blindfolds, nudity, bondage, and whipping not adopted by North American traditions.[1] In Punishment Rituals, artwork takes the spot of coven members who typically circle the initiator and postulant during the ceremony. These stand-ins are embedded with the energy of those who have been a part of their making. Buzzee engages community members who are also artists, writers, printmakers, leatherworkers, arts administrators and peers in their production. With the intention of initiation being “spiritual rebirth into new identities and new communities,” Buzzee sets the stage for those possibilities to be impacted by queer-femme homoeroticism.

Punishment Rituals, installation view. Dana Buzzee. 2019. 9′ by 9′. Courtesy of the artist and LEFT Contemporary.

The show, the space, and it’s making reflect the collective queer mobilization that’s taken up out of necessity to meet the needs of one’s community that aren’t satisfied or even acknowledged by the heteronormative structures that dominate our spaces. As we pay more attention to the disappearance and lack of queer spaces especially for femmes (even in bigger cities), it is important to celebrate the perseverance of those who dedicate their time and energy into producing space and opportunity for their community to gather and engage. In connecting community members with the knowledge, perseverance, and legacy of those before to produce the various elements of the show, Punishment Rituals penetrates communities past and present and binds them together through webs of leather, chain, intimacy, and possibility, creating an opportunity to find community and affirmation, and to reflect on the ongoing task of collective queer organizing and reclaiming.


[1] Harder, Taylor, Art Thou Willing to Suffer to Learn: An Analysis of Witchcraft Initiation Rituals, 2019.


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