Zahra Stardust is an artist and aerialist who loves being upside down and on her hands. With a penchant for colour coordination, costume design and stagecraft, her apparatuses of choice are trapeze, lyra and pole. She has been an instructor at Sky Sirens, Suzie Q Pole Studio and Hard Candy teaching pole dance, stripper aerobics and lap dance. Her favourite things about aerial are rope burn, callused palms and massive biceps, but she also loves the process of learning, experimenting and suspending reality onstage.
Beginning her career as a podium dancer at the old Dancers Cabaret in Kings Cross around 2004, Zahra went on to tour Australia as a Penthouse Pet, Hustler Honey and award-winning striptease artist. In her early days she won the Open Pairs division of the Australian Pole Dance Championship with Stacey Minx in 2009, Miss Nude Dancers Cabaret 2010, Miss Nude Pure Platinum 2011, Miss Centrefold Oceania 2011 and Miss Nude Australia Pole Dance Champion in 2012. She went on to model at the World Bodypainting Festival in Austria, was an art muse at Dr Sketchy’s Anti-Art School Tokyo, taught pole dancing workshops in Stockholm, performed in drag at the Amsterdam Burlesque Festival, judged Miss Pole Dance Bavaria in Germany, undressed on trapeze at Auckland Erotica Expo, performed in a variety show at the Adelaide Fringe Festival and was an MC for Australian Sexpo.
Zahra later moved from stage into film and became known for her shorts combining art, sex and politics. She was the 2014 Feminist Porn Awards Heart Throb of the Year, 2014 Adult Industry Awards Best Porn Actress and 2012 Eros Shine Awards Best Adult Star. In 2015 she was on the Jury for the short film competition of the Berlin Porn Film Festival. Her films have screened at Public Provocative Porn (Toronto), Berlin Porn Film Festival (honourable mention), Perv Queerotic Film Festival (Sydney), Seen and Heard (Sydney), Cinekink (New York), Pop Porn (Vienna), Muestra Marrana (Barcelona), Cineffable Lesbian and Feminist Film Festival (Paris), Holy Fuck Festival (Amsterdam), Get a Room (Amsterdam Pride), Porny Days (Zurich), and Sex Worker Art and Film Festivals (San Francisco, Copenhagen). She has co-facilitated live demonstration sex education workshops to support individuals’ knowledge and ownership of their bodies.
Using her body as a canvas, Zahra creates visual artworks that are participatory, interactive and collaborative. She has made Labia Kisses individually printed on paper with lipstick, Eau de Vagin perfume created from g-spot ejaculate, and has invited audiences to view her injecting donor sperm into her cervix through a live sex peepshow. She has explored Barbie’s queer potential in a spread for Slit Magazine, danced in a red-light window display with sex worker performance collective Debby Doesn’t Do It For Free, and appears in Lyndal Irons’ tribute piece The Last Dance, documenting the closure and gentrification of the iconic striptease venue the Oxford Tavern. Belinda Mason’s 3D lenticular photograph of Zahra pole dancing was commissioned then later banned from the Casula Powerhouse Women in Sport exhibition. Zahra has spoken on artist panels and exhibition openings, including ACON’s Sex Art Desire (with Inked Kenny and Steven Kavanagh), This is Not Art’s Critical Animals (with Emma Maye Gibson, Charlotte Farrell and Krissy Kneen), and the Next Wave Festival in Melbourne, and launched Ben McGee’s Crowning Miss Nude Australia photo exhibition at Tap Gallery as part of the Head On photography festival.
Throughout her career as a striptease artist and adult performer, Zahra interviewed many of her colleagues for her Master of Arts thesis on erotic labour, which she published in the book Queer Sex Work in 2015, and later for her PhD on alternative pornographies, which she published in the book Orienting Feminism: Media, Activism and Representation in 2018. She has worked in policy and advocacy sectors across sex worker rights, LGBTIQ health, HIV prevention and to support women in the criminal justice system. She continues to conduct socio-legal research concerned with intersections between criminal law, sexuality, labour and justice. She currently hosts the podcast Thinking Justice.
River Heart is a sideshow strongwoman and creative who loves making things, sharing skills and showing off. She is currently studying live production at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) and moonlights as a Prop Assistant at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS).
River is the creator and MC of Butch/Stud and Mutant Beauty, events that celebrate butch and queer culture, support emerging artists, and bring together an intergenerational blend of LGBTIQ+ folks to find their people through original performance art and mentorship. Inspired by the rich culture of Gurlesque, Wicked Women and Spicy Fridays, Butch/Stud is a non-profit, multi-genre event featuring poetry, comedy, dance, drag and aerial arts. The event makes space for local queer small business and artists to showcase their prints, zines, clothes and ‘gear for queers’. A portion of tickets from each event are made available to those who could use community connection or who otherwise couldn’t afford a ticket. In 2018 Butch/Stud partnered with ACON (formerly the AIDS Council of NSW) to launch their LGBTI health clinic CheckOUT.
In 2019 River was cast in the Australian production of the critically acclaimed Butch Monologues at the Seymour Centre, a powerful and often humorous collection of secret stories exploring sexuality, vulnerability and desire taken from interviews with butches, masculine women, gender rebels and transmen living world-wide. She works in Operations and Facilities at the Red Rattler Theatre, a not-for-profit, artist and activist run warehouse venue and artists’ studios. As an acro and aerial base performing under the stage name Spanner Swallows, River has trained at the Sydney Trapeze School, Sky Sirens and The Movement Academy in partner acrobalance, lyra and double trapeze.
Inspired by films such as Pumping Iron and Golden Era of Body Building, River is a committed gym bunny, a Ukidokan kickboxer, power lifting competitor and aspiring strongwoman. She is a qualified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor having both a Certificate 3 and 4 in Fitness from the Australian Institute of Fitness. With an investment in body positivity, she is particularly interested in motivating people to rebuild their bodies after injury or illness. Her dream is to create documentaries that cover female strength athletes such as power lifters, body builders and aerial artists.
An avid user of rough trade, River enjoys making props and costumes from found and recycled objects in order to reduce waste. Her handywork includes latex masks, leather harnesses and hoods, screen printed tees and circus inspired costumes sewn from scratch. Larger set flats and props include toilet cubicles (for cruising scenes), circus caravans (for performers’ grand entrances) and cotton candy carts (for hair-eating pin up girls).
Perhaps unusual for a circus ratbag, River has a fetish for spreadsheets and administration. Her love for coordinating and organising events, writing campaigns and preparing funding applications is built upon twenty years-experience working internationally in policy, planning and project management roles for both government and community sector. River has contributed to the development and implementation multiple state-wide Justice initiatives one for which she received a nomination for a NSW Justice Excellence Award ‘Working Collaboratively’ and has received many letters of commendation from colleagues and members of the public.
Now formally retired from Project Management, River looks to invest time and energy into creative projects based on the values of collaboration, community building, sustainability, skill sharing and kindness. She has spent the last the last few years growing sideburns, collecting more tattoos, customising her Triumph Bonneville and spending quality time with her geriatric rescue pup, Beverly.