If art is life, then Rahne Alexander is living hers as a collage of towering technicolor.
On stage with her bands Santa Librada and 50’ ♀; she conjures her musical muses—think Stevie Nicks or the Wilson sisters from Heart—leaning into the lyrics while shredding her guitar. Her hair glows purple in the spotlight.
In quieter moments, in her studio at UMBC’s Lion Brothers Building downtown, she carefully de-archives her collection of hundreds of decades-old cassette tapes. (Among them is a copy of Billy Idol’s 1981 Don’t Stop she stole from a Woolworths, she says, smiling.)
She works on short films like the Marcel Duchamp/Brett Kavanaugh/Atomic Blonde–inspired “Dude Descending a Staircase” that earned her “best creative award” at an international conference of computer-human interaction in China last year. And she never seems to rest.
“I maintain a pretty high performance and art schedule, and have for a long time,” says Alexander, who is pursuing an MFA in UMBC’s intermedia and digital arts program as much for the community and the push to produce as anything else. “But I love making work, I love being on stage. It’s exhausting, but this is what I’m here for.”
All along the way—as she has for the last 16 years, at least—Alexander also writes. And nowhere is she quite more herself than in Heretic to Housewife, a collection of essays now in its second run from publisher Neon Hemlock Press. Described as “the trans* Marcel Proust,” by one critic, the 10 collected essays delve into what drives Alexander as an artist.
In the first essay, “A Meditation,” which she originally performed as a sort of love letter to herself at the D.C. Women in Comedy show, and later as the opener when author/actress Amber Tamblyn spoke in Baltimore, Alexander dives deeply into her personal story. In others, she un-buries the echos of traumas experienced throughout her life up to age 50. The doors haven’t always been as open to her, and life has not always been as safe. But, “fear is never revolutionary,” she writes, so she does not give in.
But even with the most serious topics, Alexander’s wit and warmth shine through. “It was easier for me to come out as a transsexual lesbian than it was for me to come out as a witch,” she jokes in a monologue about the artist Paulina Peavy.
“[She] brings a multi-faceted body of work that often touches on artists of the past in ways that mine their works for tips on how to move into the future in more critical and equitable ways,” says Kathy O’Dell, associate professor of visual arts, art history, and museum studies. “And she does so with motivational humor—meaning, humor with edges of seriousness that prod us as viewers/participants to make decisions about where we stand on a variety of topics, from humor itself to domesticity, self-care, politics, LGBTQ issues, and many more.”
If her social media following—and the fact that the first run of her book sold out in two weeks—is any indication, Alexander has amassed a dedicated fan base who can’t wait to see what she does next. So, instead of resting, she presses on.
“It’s a lot, but this is why I moved to Baltimore in the first place—to have an art career and to put it all out there,” she says. “So these are all great problems to have.”
Header image by Marlayna Demond ’11.