From her cozy, creepy crypt in Chicago, Fay Nowitz conjures up truly magickal art. Working in a variety of mediums, from photography and illustration to wood working and jewelry making, Fay’s work is a celebration of all things weird and witchy. Femme power, queerness, nature, the occult, and history are all important themes in her work. Through her brand, Nyxturna, she sells prints of her beautiful photography, pins that act as powerful talismans for modern witches, and will soon be releasing a jewelry collection inspired by gothic architecture and armor.
Dear Darkling had the privilege of sitting down with Fay to discuss the power of reclamation, the connection between femmes and witchcraft, and why its always important to #supportqueerwitches.
“No matter your gender, femmes and queers are powerful and magickal as a bat outta hell.”
Dear Darkling: How did you first become interested in art? How did you decide to pursue it as a career?
Fay: I’ve been obsessed with art ever since I was a kid. It probably stemmed from the fact that my dad is a photographer and my mother is an artist as well. I was lucky enough to grow up with a family who really valued the arts, and were supportive in me pursuing it as a career path. Art was always the #1 thing I was passionate about, no matter what age I seemed to be. When I don’t create I feel off, skewed. It helps me center myself and my thoughts. It’s definitely a constant in my life, and I could never imagine not pursuing it in some way, shape, or form.
Where does the name “Nyxturna” come from?
It’s a combination of my favorite Greek goddess, Nyx, who represents the night, as well as the Latin word “nocturnalis” (from which I drew out the word nocturna), which basically means “belonging to the night.” I envisioned Nyxturna as this all-seeing powerful queer goddess figure who feels very fluid and almost liquid, like the night.
What do you feel sparked your interest in the occult and witchcraft? In what ways do you connect to being a witch?
I’ve been drawn to the occult and magick ever since I was a kid. Having a spiritual practice that really honored and respected the Earth was extremely refreshing to me. I was obsessed with anything that would transform the everyday norm to little acts of magick. The religion I was raised on felt strange and disconnected and uncomfortable for me to partake in. I would visit the desert and feel something spark in me that felt transformative and magickal. When I was about 10-12, I read everything I could get my hands on at the time and realized I could actually live my life the way I wanted to through witchcraft and occult practices.
What do you draw inspiration from?
I draw a lot of inspiration from vintage (occult and non-occult) cinema, books, pamphlets, etc. Vintage queer memorabilia and novels are especially exciting for me (I collect queer & lesbian pulp novels when I can). Feminist film theory, surrealism, Victorian details, vintage music album covers; architecture is especially inspiring to me, particularly Gothic architecture and structural detailing. I’m also inspired by a slew of artists and writers such as Kenneth Anger, Dario Argento, Jim Morrison, Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman, Gilbert & George, and the Guerilla Girls (just to name a few!).
Your work has a clear message of femme power and reclamation mixed with occult themes. What to do you wish to convey to women and femmes about their inherent power?
That we all have it. It’s there – you just have to tap into it. No matter your gender, femmes and queers are powerful and magickal as a bat outta hell. Our existence is resistance to the norm and banal of society.
You use the phrase “female gaze” along with much of your photography. What does this phrase mean to you?
For me, it means a reversal of the male gaze. As a queer female photographer, I spend a lot of time thinking about what that means in the context of photographing other women and queer folx. Am I subverting ideas? Am I perpetuating ideas? How does my gaze as a queer cis woman impact the work I am creating or themes I am depicting? It’s also a little nod to cinema and the topic of feminist film theory, which is a side passion of mine.
Your photography features some seriously beautiful locations. What are some of your favorite places you’ve been able to photograph?
I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel, which I’m always grateful for. At this present moment, I’d have to say Scotland blew me away with locations. We went and shot in Glen Coe, which was a long term dream of mine. It feels like another world, preserved in time. You can feel the earth breathing. I felt like every image had a sort of dialogue between the central figure and the landscape which I really enjoyed.
You work in many mediums: photography, jewelry making, woodworking, etc. Which is your favorite to work in?
I switch back and forth between mediums, it’s just how I operate being very interdisciplinary in my practice(s). Depending on my mood I’ll really crave looking through a camera lens, or sometimes I’ll feel the urge to sit down and create something by hand. I suppose at the end of the day, I always come back to photography since I was pretty much raised on it.
One of your pins features the word “cunt,” a word often used to demean and degrade women. What is it that attracted you to this word? Why do you think it can be empowering for people to reclaim words that have been used against them?
I absolutely love reclaiming words that the patriarchy has stolen from us. “Queer” is another word that used to be demeaning, but now has been reclaimed. It’s an identity, and one I strongly identify with. I love the word cunt, and think it’s a word that holds so much power. Why not reclaim it? I suppose it just doesn’t seem fair to me that the patriarchy gets to claim a word that literally means genitalia. Why can’t a word that refers to the vagina be reclaimed by folx who have vaginas?
“Being queer is not something I can turn on and off, so it informs my day to day life and all aspects of both my artistic and magick practice.”
What is it about the occult and witchcraft that you feel attracts women and queer people?
I think many organized dogmatic religions involve sexist ideologies and practices. I remember growing up and being forced to sit separately from the boys in an Orthodox ceremony at one point. I was so upset and enraged and felt so disconnected from it. I think many occult practices (depending on your personal path and ideologies) really embrace the concept of the outsider or being “different.” They don’t shame you for being a woman or femme identifying, but instead that is something to draw your power from. In terms of queerness and the occult, I personally feel connected by this sense of otherness and of being able to control your practice and curve it to suit your interests. You aren’t forced into some dogmatic practice that you might not identify with. You are allowed and encouraged to do things that fit you personally, and I love and embrace that. For me, part of being queer is accepting who you are (even if society shames you for it), and drawing power from that reclamation of self.
How do you think your identity as a queer woman affects your art and witchcraft? Do you think that identity had a part in drawing you to those things?
I’m constantly looking at things thru a queer lens – in my conversations with others, experiences, interactions, dialogues, feelings, thoughts and rituals. Being queer is not something I can turn on and off, so it informs my day to day life and all aspects of both my artistic and magick practice.
How do you feel this modern movement is redefining what being a witch means? How do you think social media plays a part in this?
I think people are realizing that witches come in every amazing shape, form, size, age, gender expression, identity, race, etc and that we are all valid. There is not one right way to practice, and diversity and visibility is always important. We aren’t all pale goths and that’s ok! Every expression is valid and should be embraced.
Why did you start #supportqueerwitches? What do you hope to achieve through that hashtag?
I wanted to bring more awareness to queer artists and witches as well as queer owned small businesses. Queer witches are an odd and wonderful little niche, and I am always so thrilled to discover other folx who identify as such. I thought the hashtag would be a nice little reminder for others that we exist, as well as a way to find other queer witches and support them in some way or another.
All images are property of Fay Nowitz and are not to be used without her permission.