Martine Syms

Conversation with Los Angeles native about the importance of the printed matter.
Illustration by Ojima Abalaka

Every city has more than one story to tell and one face to show. Regardless of the artistic background, each place is full of inspiring individuals making its own culture and story. In Plus’s online initiative, ‘City Talks,’ we feature 10 creatives representing the designated city per season, asking contributors to share personal relatedness and building an engaging community that gives a sense of belonging. 

The second season takes place in Los Angeles, and this week, we discuss with Martine Syms. Los Angeles native, Syms is an artist who has earned wide recognition for a practice that combines conceptual grit, humor, and social commentary.

What is the first thing you do when you wake up?

I write down my dreams. For example: 

HIMBO dream

“they only understand the body.”


R’s himbo has a vag. They’re eating each other out. 

Her mom (C) is mortified. Someone hits the lights and it’s an orgy. 

Then I meditate. Typically I do the metta bhavana, but I’ve been Letting Go (guided) the past few weeks. Last night I did this meditation—coincidentally also called Letting Go—led by Booker, one of my favorite teachers. 

Sometimes the dream recording and meditating blend together. 


Where is your favorite (go-to) restaurant in LA? Why?

I rotate between a few places. Right now it’s Azla Vegan, Hot & Cool Cafe (IF IT AIN’T HOT IT AIN’T COOL), Alta on Adams, and Mel’s Fish Shop. Lolo’s or Horses if I wanna see and be seen. I also fucking love Tower Bar. 


What are your ways of recharging/ taking breaks?

I’m a big water creature. I love baths, pools, oceans, lakes, and any other water features. I go to the Pacific twice a month, Bruce’s Beach is my go-to easy spot. I got super into tidepooling during pandemic and that took me all along the coast. I used to go swim at the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center every Saturday. Yesterday I went and signed up at a new pool. Crystal Spa in Ktown or City Spa (on Wednesdays) for the bathhouse. There’s also some good hot springs of varying delight a drive away. 


What song are you into these days (and why)?

Only one?! I listen to music constantly. I’ve had a monthly radio show called Double Penetration on NTS for the past 4+ years. If I must choose… been listening to this Pharaoh Sanders track “Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord” a lot a lot. It’s chaotic, beautiful, joyous, sprawling and takes the time and space it needs. It’s a masterpiece. 


You explore with a wide range of mediums: video, installations, performance, and even publishing. I am curious to know the origin of Dominica Publishing and the importance of the printed matter in the current society.

I started working at Ooga Booga as a wee lass circa 2004. I was a big fan of Emily’s Sassy Lime—which I stumbled upon at the Pasadena Central Library—and Wendy played drums in that band. My hero! I loved working with her. She helped me understand the bridge between punk and art. Later, after college I opened a space in Chicago called Golden Age. Golden Age sold books, music, clothes, and editions. We also made exhibitions and publications alongside each show. It was a lot for a 19-year-old. I did it very full-time for five years and when I was done I wanted a casual project. This became Dominica. Dominica makes fetish objects.

I’ll quote poet Kevin Young here: “I use this term fetish in the manner evoked in Douglass’s second autobiography: meaning a physical, visual, even private totem that provides power to its carrier. As with the counterfeit or the free pass, the fetish is feigned freedom that itself provides, and paves the way for, actual freedom. Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow.” (Young, Kevin. The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness . Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition).


If you could have any artwork in your house, what would it be?

Only one?!?!?!? OK fine. I’d have a painting by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. There’s this painting of a man on a yellow background that I saw at the Tate. I’ll take that one. 


What changes would you like to see in the art industry at large?

I would like to see structural changes on an institutional level. I want Non-white, non-Western, economically and socially diverse work, narratives, histories, experiences, leadership, staff, artists, and so on. Also, fewer men talk all the time about nothing. Shut the fuck up.


Which three qualities in yourself are you most thankful for?

My voice, big feelings, and clairaudience.


Listen to all the favorite songs picked by our City Talks contributors HERE.

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