Tamara is an artist, tattooer, and the founder of New York-based Discipline Press.
Photography by Laurel Golio
Girls at Library: When did you start Discipline Press and why?
Tamara Santibañez: I started it at the beginning of 2016. In part because I have done a lot of self-publishing over the years, compilation publishing, and editing, and have been a resource for helping friends of mine looking to have physical things made. After having some frustrating experiences with publishers on my own, I just felt like I should do it. I felt like I could do it, and could do a better job (laughs), especially focusing on areas that I thought were being underrepresented in the publishing world.
GAL: Are you looking to preach to the choir or reach out and make contact with a wider world with Discipline Press?
TS: That’s a good question and something I’ve been asking myself a lot. I’m not really interested in isolating myself in some kind of echo chamber, but I’m also not pushing a hard sell of the content I’m producing. I have a pretty wide audience and I’d like them to be presented with access to these kinds of things. That’s what it’s really about for me: access. Trying to make the information and the work more readily available. People on my social media accounts frequently ask where and how I find books and documentaries—and honestly, there really aren't shortcuts that I could present to people. One documentary led to one book, then I read that book, then I went to a workshop, then I googled a lot of stuff. Providing people with a starting point for information they want to know more about, but have difficulty finding, is a good goal. With that being said, some of the content I’m producing is edgy or explicit, and I’m not interested in watering that down to appeal to a broader audience. I don’t want to appeal to the lowest common denominator. I’ve faced a lot of censorship issues even in the one year Discipline has been an operating press with printers not wanting to print the content. It makes me want to work harder to make sure it exists.
GAL: What printers? Why?
TS: It was an interesting step in the censorship process. People try to be delicate about it. Rather than do things on a case-by-case basis, they’ll institute broad policies to try to protect themselves. I tried to print with a place that refunded my money and turned down my job, a place my friend recommended to me. They now refuse to print anything with nudity, even drawings of nudity. They wouldn’t print a calendar my friend made because it has a simple drawing of a naked woman looking at herself in a mirror.
GAL: Do you want to share the printer’s name?
TS: Smart Press. As a result, I’m trying to compile resource lists for printers who are printing explicit content. I’d rather not print with places that begrudgingly take my money. I’d rather print with places that are interested in supporting the kind of content I produce. I’ve been working with Small Editions in Red Hook and they’re amazing.
GAL: What’s your definition of success for your press?
TS: I would like it to be self-sustaining, but it’s not my main end goal. Consistency and credibility are the two most important things. Research Publications is a press that I really admire; they publish definitive collections of content about certain topics that I haven’t seen anywhere else. I also want the people I publish to feel accurately represented and that their voice is being shared in a way that isn’t sensationalized or exploitative.
GAL: What books informed you when you were growing up?
TS: I read a lot of different kinds of books when I was young and was hungry to absorb them. I didn’t necessarily have access to the kind of books I like to read now. I read a ton of Sweet Valley High books and I also loved mysteries by Agatha Christie and Mary Higgins Clark. I loved science fiction writers Philip K. Dick and Orson Scott Card, and after discovering sci-fi, that’s really when I started reading politically oriented non-fiction. I would read anything I could get my hands on as a kid. It's hard to pinpoint exact books. In the last 10 years I’d say this one book called Viva La Raza: A History of Chicano Identity and Resistance by Megan Cornish was hugely influential as was Female Masculinity. Coming to Power was really important to me as well.
GAL: Where does one draw the line between the paintings you create and the tattoos that you design? Is there an artistic difference between the two?
TS: There is an artistic difference between the two. Partially because of medium constraints: you can’t really tattoo the same way you can paint with oils. I’m not a photorealistic tattooer and have no interest in being that, but the imagery overlaps. The tattoo is about creating a wearable icon for someone else, and the paintings are part of a meandering conversation that I’m having. There’s more space there for me to explore on my own terms.
GAL: So, I have to ask. Is a tattoo a piece of art?
TS: This is a heated debate. I would argue that tattooing is more of a craft which is a positive thing, not a slur in any way. There is room for interpretation though. Tattooing is really accessible to people who have no formal training or education whatsoever, it’s democratic in that way, which I appreciate. There are traditions of technique and craft that are carried on, that are important to preserve. We are seeing a widening of what tattooing looks like as a practice, there are more people who are self-taught or are working outside of the constraints of an existing standard of what a tattoo should look like, and that’s where I think it opens up to artfulness. There’s different ways of measuring whether a tattoo is successful or not, and I think that involves concept more now than pure technical application.
GAL: When do you find time to read?
TS: I’m trying to break myself of the habit of looking at my phone at night and read instead. I read in the morning when I have my breakfast. I usually have a book with me between appointments at the tattoo shop and also on the train.
GAL: Do you have favorite bookshops and places to find zines?
TS: I love independent bookshops so much. I do use Amazon too much though. I’m such an impulse buyer, so that’s one way to fulfill the impulsiveness. I love Spoonbill. A friend of mine owns a bookshop called Molasses Books that’s really good. They have new and used books and host a ton of great events. There’s also Better Read Than Dead, which is in a place called Punk Alley in Bushwick off Broadway. It’s in a shipping container that was turned into a retail space. A few friends of mine that used to have book tables at different events now have bookstores. I’ll sometimes find titles that I gave to my friends when I did a huge book purge years ago. Like, really radical green anarchist, eco-feminist type of books. It’s comforting. I also like Blue Stockings Books. I volunteered there when I first moved to New York. It holds a lot of nostalgia for me. They’re still really doing it – they have tons of great events. Whenever I go there, I’ll be looking around and suddenly realize- I remember having this content as a photocopied zine and now it’s an actual book!
GAL: Is it important for you to physically hold a book you read?
TS: I have to read a book. I can’t read on a Kindle.
GAL: How do you choose the books you read?
TS: I don’t know how to sum it up really. I’ll be reading one book, and that book will reference another, so I’ll pull out my phone and order it. That, or I’m a total sucker for Amazon’s “If you liked this book, try this book!”. Usually it’s drawn from things that I read that reference other books. Same with watching documentaries. I just watched this documentary called Blood Sisters which I discovered through a book I was reading.
GAL: We have a friend who has a “Sanity Shelf” dedicated to books she returns to again and again, to re-read for pleasure, knowledge, and solace. What books would be on your Sanity Shelf?
TS: Witches: Hunted, Appropriated, Empowered, Queered by Anna Colin is one I like to re-read. A book my friend Colin wrote is another one. It's based on his blog called Slice Harvester. He wrote a review of every pizza slice in New York. As you can imagine, writing about pizza might become repetitive, so he used the pizza as a vehicle to talk about his life and about politics. I knew Colin from punk houses I lived in back in the day. In the book, he talks about punk and a lot of our friends, so that one I return to frequently. It's such a trip down memory lane which is really comforting. Cometbus is a zine I’ve read since I was young. Zines are really what hold that kind of comfort for me. Doris is another one. The comic Love and Rockets too. That comic totally made me realize I was into girls! I was like, I have this crush on this cartoon girl but like really! For real!
GAL: How often do you read fiction?
TS: Rarely. I never know what to read. So, I’m always open to suggestions. Reading fiction is such a nice treat. It goes so fast and is so pleasurable. Even though it’s not technically fiction, I really like Maggie Nelson’s writing. I find it easy to read and enjoyable yet still substantial. On the lighter side, I like autobiographical books. I loved Voracious, which is by an author who is also a butcher. She uses recipes suited to whatever book she is reading and writes about it. It’s funny because most of the books she wrote about and a lot of the recipes were not ones that I would read or cook for myself, but I enjoyed reading it so much despite both of those things, which is a testament to her writing ability.
I also just read this science fiction anthology put out by a Philadelphia collective called Metropolarity. It’s a collective made up of people of color sci-fi writers. It’s such a good read! It’s definitely political, as much of science fiction writing tends to be, but it’s enjoyable.
GAL: Can you suggest literature about the Mexican-American civil rights movement?
TS: I really love Borderlands by Gloria Anzaldua. It’s a bit more of an emotionally charged narrative. Viva La Raza is a really important and good one. It’s about the evolution of the Chicano identity. Chicana Feminist Thought is a great compilation to read through. I just got a new one that I’m really excited to read: No Mexicans, Women, or Dogs Allowed: The Rise of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement by Cynthia Orozco. So many of these books are also written by women which is really chill.
GAL: What would you title your memoir?
TS: I think the title of my memoir would be "Bottoming from the Top: Confessions of a Punk Rock Overachiever"
GAL: Please recommend three books and the reasons for your choices.
TS: This Bridge Called My Back, edited by Gloria Anzaldùa- I think something that is absolutely crucial to being a responsible and compassionate person is to make an effort to consume media by people who are different than you, whose experience is different than yours. Whether that's subscribing to non-American news outlets, men watching movies made by female filmmakers, cis white people reading books written by trans black women- make a concerted effort to look outside of your sphere of familiarity. This book is a great place to start.
Healing Magic: The Green Witch Guide to Conscious Living, by Robin Rose Bennett - One of the first books I read that really got me into witchcraft and magic. It's practical and emotional and frames magic as an amazing and positive tool.
Hot Pants! Do it Yourself Gynecology and Herbal Remedies, by Isabelle Gauthier and Lisa Vinebaum - This is one of those books I own in battered and worn zine format circa more than a decade ago, but recently upgraded to the new softcover version. This zine was so important to me as a teenager learning about my own body and how to care for it. Even if you're not interested in herbal alternatives or home remedies, I think everyone with a female reproductive system should have a broader knowledge of their healthcare and make their own choices for treatment from there.