on this webpage i (ilja) share words
you can reach out to me through iljaschamle (at) gmail (dot) com
last updated on 21/05/2024

Re: how has my body materialised?1

1. this is a self-writing, auto-biographical non-fiction. i explore connections between flashes and fragmented memories around my body from around the age of eight. i rewrite those moments, starting with an alien sexual organ morphing by subversion into medusa-tentacular-powers. it is inspired by the first lectures of Sex/Race/Trans by Dr. Diego Semerene, and particularly the texts discussed (‘The Lesbian Phallus’ by Judith Butler and auto-fiction work by Camila Sosa Villad and Abdellah Taïa).

i was lying naked in a small, awfully lit room with fading-yellow wallpaper, gazed at by ten interns and a doctor. no one said a word. the cramped-adults’ reflecting eyes just glanced over me. their eyes ignored my toes, my ankles, my knees, my hips, my navel, my neck, my ears, my mouth, my nose, even my eyes. no one saw my red cheeks, and above all, everyone skimmed right past my sexual desires. the only thing they faced over was my partly grown maidenhair and newly grown breasts.

in dutch the word for pubic hair is schaamhaar, translated as ‘shamehair’ or ‘hair of shame’– a word that has the meaning of shame inscribed– akin to my surname, Schamle, often mispronounced as Schaamlè. Shots of mockery like, ‘schaamende lelie’(schamefull lily), ‘schaamlip’(labia), with ‘schaamhaar’ joining the armory of my bullies. my last name’s history comes from many misinterpretations (even though i wonder how much of it was mis): it started from being Jean Moulin, to Sjaamoulin, to Sjamlè, to now the name that is actually to be pronounced as Sgamlé(with the harsh dutch ‘g’). perhaps it was because of the name that i also inherited crimsoning blushing in moments of shame, adrenaline, attention, all perpetuated in a cycle of shame, exposure, labeling, and back again.

at the age of eight, pubic hair unfurled as tiny growing snakes, marking the onset of adolescence. its tang of sweat and the constellations of pimples dotting my greasy forehead, covered beneath hastily cut bangs– the teenage legend of covering up shame with hair.

i used my mutating body to get out of gym class, sitting with the teacher in the class room instead. she called me a sad child, but i knew she actually meant to say a sad woman of shame. the other children bully me for my pubic hair. once the body becomes sexually viable it becomes shame full. i found agency in the discomfort that my early puberty induced in the adults around me and used it to my advantage.

i had to visit my family doctor frequently, he was very much like my father. it's worth mentioning that they were friends because they shared the same ex-girlfriend (and therefore he became my doctor). during the inspections he would look at my medusa hair to see what was ‘wrong’ with me. everyone was freaking out. i had grown an alien organ that was transplanted from somewhere else2

my childhood was made into something melancholic to strive towards, something that was receding from me hastily. the snakes growing from my crotch somehow overruled the fact of my body, still that of a child. part of my image in the mirror was a woman and part a child. this image posed a crack in the language of kinship used by my teachers and parents. the partial images are incompatible and created errors. i mean, even the people with white coats had to come out.

2. the transplanted organ in this story helps me understand the castration complex discussed by Lacan and in The Lesbian Phallus by Butler. By proposing my childhood’s vagina as the head of medusa, it allows me to think of my vagina as her cut-off castrated head with many feminine phallic tentacles. having properties of functioning prehensile and penetrative while being flexible as opposed to the malfunctioning penis and it’s stiffness.

forced into premature ‘womanhood’ by biology and appearance, i started to live with a double consciousness powered by the discomfort of femininity, sexuality, and the innocence of juvenility come together: i played with grown ups desires. realising this now, the myth of mourning my lost childhood dawns on me. childhood upheld by fearful grownups vanishes; the story of purity and asexuality doesn't exist. is there a wish to lose something we actually wish to retain? to lose childhood?3

an age where the tiny hairs came to life as slithering serpents were actually little phalluses– every men gazing upon their faces found their bodies stiff. her tentacles were not male and everything but stiff, fluid without an essence. for a period of four years i was an octopus monster with pseudohermaphroditism gonad: a little girl with many penises4.

3. Anna Freud (1967) About Losing and Being Lost, The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 22:1, 9-19, DOI: 10.1080/00797308.1967.11822587
4.  in the article of N. Ortiz, M.E. Ré in the publication, First report of pseudohermaphroditism in cephalopods, Journal of Molluscan Studies, Volume 72, Issue 3, August 2006, Pages 321–323. They describe the findings of imposex or also called pseudohermaphroditism in Cephalopods probably caused by oceanic pollution.


Dear Domestic Goddess

dear domestic goddesses1,

the fucking monsters brought me back here
the reordering of voices
the over-writing of their own by
other’s aesthetics, values, wishes
the self-interrogation
her cheeks
her laziness
her doubts
her judgements
her avoidance
their inner worlds
her other voice
doing, you over and over again
constituting the persistent pulse of insecurities,

a layer, perhaps, thickened by the echoes of past
educational traumas and the shadow of shame that has
guided my life like a faithful companion

amidst these musings, an internal energy, a life force
yearning to burst forth, remains obscured—a flicker
within, waiting to illuminate my being

what is this elusive layer that hinders the vibrant glow
from permeating my skin,

escaping through my pores,

into the world

1 The domestic goddess is a character borrowed from a television chef, Nigella Lawson. Lawson who experienced domestic violence, centers domesticity in her business. In her book, ‘How to Become a Domestic Goddess’, she describes it as form of (self-)care. The reclamation of this character speaks to the space that has be come scary not only for females that have experienced domestic violence, but the domestic in the face of feminism at large. By nurturing a connection with the domestic, there is an ongoing acknowledgment and care for the possible trauma associated with domesticity and reproductive labour. Looking at the intersection of the patriarchy and capitalism, the domestic and private lie at the root of consumerism and ideology, particulary evident in the space of the kitchen, which modernist designers had infused with ideals of efficiency and rationality. Despite these intersecting politics, Nigella Lawson remains a prominent pop-culture icon and entrepreneur, as
shown by her statement:

“The good thing is, we don’t have to get ourselves up in Little Lady drag and we don’t have to renounce the world and enter into a life of domestic drudgery. But we can bake a little - and a cake is just a cake, far easier than getting the timing right for even the most artlessly casual of midweek dinner parties.” (Lawson, 1998, p.16)
Reflecting on this perspective prompts considerations: what if we view ourselves in drag, and what if a cake signifies more than just a cake– embodying a culture of stories, ideologies, and cosmogonies? Who can this goddess be? Maybe she is Little Lady drag? What if Little Lady drag becomes the rehearsal of the extended household? Lawson promotes seeing the domestic not as something tough, but something that can be eased and smoothened. Yet this still takes a gendered approach towards the capitalist idea of comfort. I want to give the domestic goddess a chance and take it further to reveal the power that lies in the misuse/reuse/appropriation of the domestic and make her subversive.

In considering my proposal–’What if little lady drag is the rehearsal of the extended household’– by extended household, I envision more than just an inter-generational setting; I mean a self-organised, queer co-habitation household. An example of such practice is MASSIA, a place I co-organise with many others. Situated in the wooded regions of southern Estonia, MASSIA serves as a residency space designed for experimentation, work, and the practice of co-organising. With a specific focus on eco-feminist and queer ecology practices, the residency incorporates a collective garden and pharmacy. In this place, a resident contributes to the collective endeavour of maintaining the space with their time and capacities. I highlight MASSIA because it is a good illustration of an extended household characterised by non-hierarchical modes of iinteraction, primarily facilitated through the shared engagement in reproductive labor. And because of the constant changing constellation of people, the kin-constitution at MASSIA becomes an ongoing negotiation, reshaping itself with the in-and-out flow of it’s guests/hosts. The pleasure derived from this lies in experimenting with relational aesthetics, fostering an improvisational approach to domesticity. Constant awareness of the dynamic interplay between spatiotemporal chaos and order becomes integral, giving rise to queer forms of relation. In the context of domesticity, pleasure activism, a term coined by Adrienne Mare Brown, may intersect with the idea of reclaiming domestic spaces and activities as sites of pleasure, creativity, and self-determination. In places rooted in decolonial and queer thought, like MASSIA, the goddess comes in drag, cares and focusses on pleasure outside of normative capitalist context. Transforming domestic activities into acts of pleasure activism turns the personal into the political. I wonder: how can the domestic be re-appropriated into artistic research as a site for reimagining care, relational aesthetics, and the subversion of normative systems of meaning, and how might this integration inform alternative modes of knowledge production, language, and the creation of new myths and facts?

sigh: i slept on my tarot card deck today
i think i am in need of guidance, i need a belief2,

i need
she need
they need
they need
if they are losing faith

2 In the broader context of anticapitalist and anti-colonial practices, it becomes crucial to explore alternative systems of meaning beyond the current established norms. In a lecture by Johanna Hedva on witchcraft, they responded to skepticism about the factual basis of astrology with a counter-question: ‘Do you believe in money?’ This shifted the discussion from the binary of true or false to an examination of whose interests certain factuality serve. Hedva emphasised that institutional ‘facts’ have historically been exclusionary and harmful, often reflecting white and patriarchal perspectives. The challenge lies in creating our own facts or myths, assigning words and names to our unique worlds, recognising that words have the power to shape
realities. Choosing or crafting a belief system outside the normative framework allows us to describe aspects of the world that the normative cannot capture and provides a language and meaning for the lives of those who are not included in the norm. Hedva continues to describe how witchcraft illustrates relations to the natural world outside of a scientific or institutional experience.

This takes me to language and forms of address. My choice to explore care and queer domesticity not in an academic format, but through a poem, underscores the challenge of finding suitable words and addressing these themes within traditional academic writing formats. Language, as a tool, serves to measure and interpret the world. Karen Barad extensively delved into the relationships among objects, meaning, and apparatus.

“[A]pparatuses are the material conditions of possibility and impossibility of mattering; they enact what matters and what is excluded from mattering”. (Barad 2007,  148)

An apparatus, as defined by Barad, is an agent that establishes boundaries. Language is used to describe and draws boundaries between what the words mean and what the words do not give meaning to. However this doesn’t mean that the meanings, that are not able to be described by a certain language, cease to exists.

In choosing a poetic approach, I aim to depart from a writing style that resembles the embodied experience of themes addressed. As Haraway describes:

“It matters what matters we use to think other matters with; it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with; it matters what knots knot knots, what thoughts think thoughts, what descriptions describe descriptions, what ties tie ties.” (Haraway 2016, 12)

Currently, at MASSIA, we are attempting to envision another language for organising. The different agents and organisational structure are looked at through the language of soil. These are some examples of the way the MASSIA co-organisation has been articulating “the matters that are used to think other matters with”:

“Organisms responsible for breaking down organic matter in soil, such as earthworms and insects, are vital for nutrient release. In a non-hierarchical organisation, individuals or teams focused on process improvement, waste reduction, and the responsible phasing out of outdated practices can be seen as decomposers. Their roles involve identifying and transforming outdated or inefficient processes and practices to release valuable “nutrients” or resources for the organisation.”

“Air is not bound to the material ground but can diffuse anywhere. It can be warm and cool, able to transport conceptual ideas and interconnect the specific milieu of MASSIA with broader (jet) streams, networks and planes of existence. Air is both, in- and outreach.”

Given that we are all gardeners, the structural dynamics of the soil offer greater clarity regarding responsibilities, roles, needs, effects, and overall operations. The organisational vocabulary we were taught in basic education stems from business-oriented terms suited for functioning within a capitalist society. However, MASSIA operates as a non-profit, non-hierarchical space without staff, and needs a distinct language to discuss role divisions. Viewing the organisational structure as an ecosystem, guided by microorganisms, worms, and water, encourages a shift in perspective. Using the garden to create meaning of other parts of life, aligns with witchcraft and pagan knowledge, is not institutional, and serves as an ongoing holistic investment into
a living archive(the garden) documenting care practices and herbalism. By using these sources as apparatuses for constructing other structures in our surroundings and giving meaning, we open up possibilities for holistic forms of being and relating.

my recent diagnosis of an autoimmune disease3

in my gut introduces a new axis to my introspection.
the boundaries of self and other become more blurred, as my body’s own defences confuse friend for foe.
the slimy microbial world within me, sustaining and constituting me, turns into a poetic paradox—a dance of
self-attack and confusion.

3 Lets articulate illness: because of the limited language of institutions, like universities and hospitals, it is hard to talk about sickness as a non private matter. Johanna Hedva made me understand why this is the case through their “Sick Woman Theory”, a manifesto for those who are chronically ill or disabled, and for those who are faced with an overwhelming amount of vulnerability and fragility every day. The text aims to resist the notion that one needs to be legitimated by an institution, so that they can try to fix you according to their terms. Hedva argues that the Western medical-insurance industrial complex does not understand the entirety of an individual, and suggests alternative ways of understanding illness. Hedva writes from their experience of living with endometriosis, an autoimmune illness that causes chronic pain, gastrointestinal issues, and other crippling symptoms. Coincidentally I have been diagnosed with an autoimmune decease two months ago, right after I first read their text. My disease can hardly be compared to endometriosis, but I use it as a way to think-with in relation to the idea of the self. In this text I express how my illness impacts me, particularly when discussing
the gut biome with its various entities. It delves into the dynamics of who is nourishing whom and who is sustaining whose life within the complex realm of multiple selves. When those questions started to grow in numbers, I wonder, is it not time to extend who I call me?

Another entanglement in this ‘poetic paradox’ and way of looking at the world, is the concept of contradiction. In critical feminist discourse, contradiction is described as follows: in a colonised world, we are taught to respond to contradictions through erasure and division instead of expanding our capacity to hold what is, and not choosing comfort over embracing contradictions (see also: Brown). The idea of chronic illness, as described by Hedva, is something that is continuous and not fixable in the rational scientific sense. The perspective of chronical time offers a fruitful exploration of discomfort, contradictions, and approach towards ‘staying with the trouble’. (Haraway 2016)

The apparatuses that are used in health care when I comes down to gut deceases lack an acknowledgement of the connectionbetween the gut biome and it’s connectivity to the nervous system, mental health and food. These systems are very complex,but not complex enough to understand how females have been denied this connection and ownership over their gut. ElizabethA. Wilson argues that feminist theory can benefit from understanding the relationships between biological data and bodilyand minded states, and proposes a new method of feminist theory called ‘gut feminism.’ She argues for a closer examinationof the connections between the gut and mental health, and for a more nuanced understanding of the relationships betweenbiology and feminist theory. Wilson focuses on the neural pathways and hormonal responses associated with depressivestates, challenging existing medical, psychiatric, public, and feminist discussions on the understanding of depression and thepotential role of psychopharmaceuticals in treating individuals with this diagnosis. The fact that other forms of medicine,such as Chinese medicine, incorporate these connections, serves as an example of a functioning approach to the (made) complexity of interconnectedness by Western medicine. This is because Western medicine has been compartmentalisedinto numerous specialisations that do not communicate with each other, making it bureaucratically challenging to establishconnections. Underscoring the colonial urge to draw borders, categorise and make things less “complex”.

it sensitises my act of nourishment
my erratic sense of self
through feeding
i am erratic
i am scattered everywhere
through rehearsing the movements of other people and ancestors
i whisper messages back into the atmosphere
kneading over and over again4 ,
activating a muscle memory

synchronising with my ancestors
folding history into my present
an extended odyssey
the aroma of spices in the air carries the stories of those who came before me
their laughter and tears into every dish

4When we view recipes and repetitions of times as archives of ancestors, as archives of care practices, we find histories that are often overlooked. Specific histories adhere to certain belief systems, and normative histories typically exclude aspectssuch as care practices. One reason is because of it’s rejection of oral histories because normative history came to existwhen the technology of the alphabetical language and it’s literacy became the tool for western civilization. Cooking, for meas an artist, is precisely about that—it is a way to examine the post-natural and other forms of literacy without a culture/nature divide, but as a form of knowledge as a whole. Food as art has been used in many ways to critique the art field, ithas been used as an exploration in temporalities, the politics of the everyday, performativity, gender and beyond. Personally I have predominantly practised inside kitchens outside of institutions, which i see as a site, a repository of movements,stories, and the engagement of hands in kneading and crafting. This concept of the kitchen as a research place prompts us toconsider it not only as a site for culinary projects but also as a platform for sharing domesticity. Particularly, in the context of spaces like MASSIA and co-organisation there is a call to reevaluate the politics of domestic labor and examine theinterconnectedness towards care, in which the kitchen plays a vital role. Yet my approach has taken place beyond the confinesof the art field because I sense a limited space for improvisation and a holistic approach to considering food as art– whereare the individuals represented responsible for carrying out the maintenance work and reproductive labor essential to thefunctioning of art institutions? Domesticity is often relegated to the background in art institutions, that is why it I plea to lookat alternative places where an artistic practise takes place outside of these institutions and learn from those strategies of thesubversion of domesticity.


Barad, Karen. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Duke University Press, 2006.

Bottinelli, Silvia, and Margherita D’Ayala Valva, eds. The Taste of Art: Cooking, Food, and Counterculture in Con- temporary Practices. University of Arkansas Press, 2017.

brown, adrienne maree. Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good. Chico, CA: AK Press, 2019. Haraway, Donna J. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press, 2016.

Harney, Stefano, and Fred Moten. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. Wivenhoe New York Port Watson: Minor Compositions, 2013.

Hedva, Johanna. “Sick Women Theory.” Topical Dream, March 12, 2022.

Studium Generale Online: Wxtch Craft Presents Johanna Hedva in Conversation with Janice Lee, 2021.

Lawson, Nigella. How To Be a Domestic Goddess, 1998.

Wilson, Elizabeth A. Gut Feminism. Duke University Press, 2015.

Food as a Border: Dutch East Indies Fusion Food and the Epistemic

Dynamics of Culinary Engagement


link to pdf