If I asked you to imagine an erotic piece of art what would you think of? Egon Schiele’s Two Women? Robert Mapplethorpe’s Self Portrait with Whip? Perhaps our readers with a predilection for the unconventional would think of Hokusai’s The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife. But this is all so passé. Leste is the biannual, Montreal-based journal of new erotics, publishing illustration, photography, selfies, essays and occasionally a compelling sex poem or a racy one-night stand story, all of which seek to redefine erotica.
Sara Sutterlin set up Leste a couple of years back, when she stumbled upon a “cool, new writing platform tucked away in the dark corners of Tumblr”. Sara describes the Tumblr page as a hybrid between academic writing and diary keeping that explores high-brow issues around sexuality through a personal lens. “When I discovered it, I realised that I wanted to create my own space where I could publish these writers, their work and other work like it; modern, critical but also deeply human, empathetic and curious. I knew the community was worth elevating to print,” Sara tells It’s Nice That.
Most of the art Leste showcases is made by women of all sexual-orientations. However, identifying as female is not a requirement, merely a reflection of the readership Sara explains. “We are interested in work by anyone. I just think it is important to build a space where all sidelined voices can be heard. We want to talk about everything, with a new level of empathy and openness. It’s about the interpretation of eroticism and the wide spectrum of perspectives.” From personal experiences to essays on sex work, sex politics, sexual health and the body, Leste covers it all.
“The truth is that magazines are enormously expensive to produce. They are hard to run and even harder to maintain. For that reason, magazines tend to be set up by people with money and connections. I wanted to challenge that by building something that is community-led. I also wanted to challenge the social world of magazines; the aforementioned circle jerk. I wanted to open it up.” This is precisely what Sara has successfully achieved. By paying her contributors a compensatory fee – an unusual phenomenon in independent publishing – Sarah ensures that people from every socio-economic background have the opportunity to be featured.
The magazine’s layout is conceptualised and executed by Chicago-based designer Kevin Mccaughey. He explains that the journal’s rough, rugged aesthetic is “rooted in self-publishing.” The layout allows contributors’ work to take precedence, Kevin says, which places the design at the epicentre of Leste’s empowering approach; the project is not driven by ego, but rather an honest desire to champion underrepresented, independent artists.
When reflecting on Leste’s fifth issue – which launched yesterday (12 March) – Sara comments: “We’ve achieved more than we could have ever dreamed of with the addition of the Instagram platform. Right now it’s mostly about learning, growing, bettering ourselves and listening to the community and its needs. We are looking forward to evolve the magazine.”