Barren Magazine Editor-in-Chief Jason D. Ramsey sat down virtually with multi-Gold and Platinum-selling Canadian rock star, author, songwriter, manager, producer, and activist Bif Naked to discuss her artistic process. We are excited and humbled (floored, really) to have the opportunity to share Bif’s photography.
Barren Magazine: Your story is a truly remarkable one. Born in secret in India to teenage parents, orphaned, adopted, punk rock icon at 23, then breast cancer, kidney failure, and heart surgery — all at a young age. You are a testament to perseverance, strength, and survival. What has given you strength to get through your darkest times? How has art, in particular, aided in the process?
Bif Naked: What gets me through some of the darkets times in my life, actually, are silly things. Humour and lightheartedness are at the very core of my heart, and taking delight in all things is a natural part of my coping technique (for which I blame my very very optimistic, funny, academic parents).
Making my own art – whether through poetry, songwriting, cartooning, or painting – is definitely a bonus. I tend to make art when things are terribly “sad” for me (such as a breakup or an abusive relationship), and I tend to songwrite when things make me terribly upset or angry, which leads to songs like “Tango Shoes” or “I Love Myself Today” (and even “Sick” or “Leader”, which are even more reactionary songs). I feel very lucky to have this cathartic way to deal with my feelings.
BM: Over the last two decades, you’ve shared so much of yourself through music, live shows, interviews, and books. Many of your fans might not think of you as a photographer, but clearly you have a spectacular eye. How does your love for storytelling affect your photography? What stories do you want to tell through visual art?
BN: I am very flattered that you would recognise my photos. I am kind of shy about my photography but I absolutely love taking pictures. When I lose myself in taking snapshots (even with my phone, which is not at all technical, of course), I become so very calm and focused, serene and tranquil. I love to photograph EVERYTHING from still life to street photography to food photography. The stories I tell through photos are very intimate and personal, whether it is what I am doing in the exact moment or whether it is an abstract and secret feeling. I love photography as a medium and I am always incredibly grateful to have the chance to take pictures in the first place.
BM: Our primary audience consists of writers, many of whom long for the opportunity to publish their work. Your memoir, ‘I, Bificus’, was published by HarperCollins in 2016, and chronicles your extraordinary life. Take us through your writing process. How difficult was it to be so vulnerable and to open up about so many deeply personal matters?
BN: Writing my memoir, “I, Bificus”, was a very cool experience, and I am going to have to do a revised version because in the five years since the book was published so much has happened (laughs). Initially, my manager, Peter, kind of harassed me and kept after me to write a memoir, but I didn’t think my life was important enough. But, eventually I caved. I hand wrote the first hundred thousand words. This was not a great format for the editor. I had to learn how to make a shareable file for editing. This was very hard for me, as I had only had a computer for about five or six years at that point. I have thousands of hand-written journals, daybook calendars, doodle-filled cartoon books and lyric books, all of which I have saved. In the end, I wrote over two hundred thousand words and the publisher was okay with about 50,000 of them. It was a really cool process and I can’t wait to do it again.
I have an as-of-yet unpublished book of poetry and cartoons called “Razorblade Chewing Gum” that is ready for print, and I am working on another. I love writing.
BM: You’re an outspoken ally for marginalized communities. You’ve done extensive work to combat racism, sexism, poverty, social injustice, discrimination, ableism, and more. How have you been able to incorporate humanitarianism in your art? Which charitable organizations are you a part of that we can help to support?
BN: I love people and I love animals. It’s that simple. If I know or hear about injustice I have to speak up and that’s all there is to it. As a Gen X skate-punk, this is always something that my generation has been into. Social justice is nothing new for us, and my parents were civil rights activists and social justice advocates. I always say, “God gave me a big mouth, so it’s the least I can do to USE it!” and I try to help wherever I can. Obviously there are a LOT of organizations that I love and want to support but at the moment my focus is on a few:
BM: Your creative energy is jaw-dropping. You’re about to release your 11th LP, you’re writing a book on cancer, you’re touring, and you’ve also written a book of slam-poetry and cartoons called ‘Razorblade Chewing Gum’ (which I can’t wait to get my hands on). How has songwriting influenced your poetic voice?
BN: I think that more than songwriting influencing my poetic voice, my poetic voice has always influenced my songwriting. I have always been writing hopeless, sappy, lovey and gushy poetry, and I love that I could incorporate it all these years into my art. Weaving the poetry into my lyric writing has been a delight for my brain, and my heart, all these years.
BM: The world can be a dark, isolated place, but your photography is bright, bold, and beautiful. What inspires you to capture such eye-catching palettes?
BN: You are so right – the world can be a very dark place, but it is also filled with so much beauty and light. I love bright colors and bright photos. I love to take colorful photographs and almost never use a filter when I post them. I always say I am just an observer- the photos actually take themselves. The sunsets and sunrises, the flowers, my preferences in Southern Ontario (where I am currently living) are tremendous and the colors are almost always unbelievably gorgeous. No filter needed.
BM: It’s not every day that cultural icons converse with literary magazines (thank you!), and you taking time with us to discuss art is an absolute revelation. Our prompts for this issue are “perseverance”, “survival”, “cadence”, “candor”, and “zest”. Can you share with our readers a brief story – a snapshot – of how you have overcome hardship and how it has impacted who you have become?
BN: I am very grateful for the opportunity to share my perspective (so, thank you!). Overcoming obstacles is at the very nature of resilient humanness. Again, humour is definitely something that helps me every single day, and even just a smile will help by becoming a laugh. We can find these little, funny things in every single experience. Not to make light of our circumstances, but to make light IN our circumstances. That is always the key! Bring the LIGHT, as they say. Be that light, for yourself and for others.
BM: Thank you SO much for sharing your story with us. You have left a glorious imprint on this issue, and to the literary community as a whole. We are so grateful for your kindness and humility, and for your unwavering contributions to those whose voices are often unheard. The world needs more like you. Xo.
BN: Jason, I am honoured to be included and I am deeply grateful to anyone and everyone that supports you, Barren, and wonderful artistic and creative people and projects. We artists gotta stick together!
Bif Naked is a celebrated and notorious performer in music, TV, film, and dance, and a tireless advocate and Humanitarian. Orphaned in India, emancipated by punk rock, and empowered by surviving breast cancer, kidney failure, heart surgery, divorce, and surviving as a Woman in The Entertainment Industry for twenty-five years, Bif has transcended any and all obstacles placed in her path to become one of the world’s most unique, recognizable and beloved icons. It is because Bif is such a tremendous performer and musician that she is able to seamlessly and successfully explore and record other mediums, like writing, painting, choreography, photography and of course- other genres of music. When asked about what her favourite pastimes are, she has only one answer: “Living Loudly.”