This article first appeared on VICE UK.
Zine publishing and DIY culture has a long-running and thriving connection to the feminist discourse. The current wave of self-published material from women and girls is an exciting and active demand for autonomy and control over creative content. The all-female collective OOMK (One of My Kind) publishes a biannual zine comprised of the creative work of women and girls, with a specific focus on activism inclusive of color and faith. They're open submission, but they've also published work by well-known artists, such as regular VICE contributor Molly Crapabble.
To discuss the current surge of female collectives and the social contexts in which women—particularly women of color—create art in Britain today, we asked OOMK editors Rose Nordin and Sofia Niazi speak to London-based art historian and regular OOMK contributor Aurella Yussuf. They also shared with us some of the work they've printed within their first three issues.
OOMK: Feminist and girl zines have a growing prominence. Why are zines so synonymous with challenging sexism?
Aurella Yussuf: I think they are a sort of democratic space—anyone can make them and produce any kind of content. I think there's also something to the craft aspect of it. There's been a historical division between the masculine, elite field of fine art practice and craft which has for a long time been feminized.
What can we take from this to apply to the art world?
I think it's the power of the collective, really. What we've seen is women, especially women of color, working in collectives—which is something that is repeated, whether sewing quilts, or publishing zines, or organizing protests, or curating exhibitions. But it's not very compatible with the hierarchical structures of the art world.
As an art historian, what do you consider to be key roles of women in the arts, and how has this evolved over time, if at all?
On the surface it appears to be quite a woman-centric industry: There are more female art students, and generally arts organizations are predominantly staffed by women. However, most senior roles are still held by men—particularly the highest-paid roles at the most prestigious galleries and museums, and the work of women artists still sells for less than their male counterparts. If we are the majority in the field then why are we still marginalized?
In OOMK's second issue you interviewed The Guerrilla Girls, who have been challenging sexism and racism in the arts since 1985. How has the landscape changed since they began?
I feel like there's now a culture of box-ticking without addressing root causes of discrimination, or embracing inclusivity at the core. I mean there is no shortage of all kinds of people making art. You can't put a lid on creativity, it will just manifest in different ways depending on the resources available.
What is your reaction to what is being termed fourth-wave feminism, and do you think this evolution of the movement is more inclusive of women of color?
I don't like to get bogged down with "waves" of feminism, but in any case, women of color are marginalized in society, and of course this is replicated in all kinds of groups, even liberal, activist, or feminist ones. Just absence from certain spaces speaks volumes.
In art school, we've experienced the lack of diversity of the student/staff body and the course content. Despite this, we are seeing women of color working and developing their practice outside formal institutions. What has been your experience of studying art history, and with the increase in student fees what do you think formal art education has to offer?
I feel lucky with my education, having had a diverse curriculum, and a faculty that was very supportive of my interests. But it does get tiring always seeing panels of white, male experts. I do worry that the rising costs will put young people from marginalized groups off studying arts and humanities in favor of something that will "get them a job." But I've come across a number of young people who say, well there aren't any jobs in any field, so I may as well study something I like. I'm not sure if that's encouraging or depressing. The benefit of art school is that it buys you time to play around with your ideas and try out different techniques. Whether or not the tuition fees for art school itself are worth it is debatable, but spending three to four years just to work on your craft? I don't know when else you get an opportunity to do that.
What do you feel, strategically, is key to inclusivity in the arts?
It's about more transparency and lower barriers to entry. One of the biggest factors is money—either having it, or knowing how to access it. And it's great to have women-only spaces, and culturally specific institutions, but it's not enough to say, "Oh, let's just stick all the women in there, or all the ethnics can exhibit their work in that space now." I don't want to see a slew of black artist exhibitions during Black History Month, and nothing the rest of the year. Inclusivity needs to be incorporated across all areas of cultural institutions, from top to bottom, not just in outreach.
What's next for you?
I'll be appearing at DIY Cultures for the third year in a row, which I'm looking forward to! I'm also working on a project about Somali history through visual and material culture, launching in the next few months, so look out for that. In the meantime, check out my blog or catch me doing theater reviews on Colourful Radio.
Any recommendations for art exhibitions or zines to check out?
Look out for the Lonely Londoners. They are a young collective of creatives who make and curate artwork, and recently published their first online zine called Queenies, Fades, and Blunts. There's an exhibition coming up at Tiwani Contemporary by Ruby Onyinyechi Amanze. Her work is paper-based and feels kind of ethereal but at the same time it has a really rich, sprawling narrative.
We've recently created a zine reading room around the theme "Visions of the Future" at the IHRC Bookshop Gallery. What book would you like to see written in the future?
The Definitive Guide to Afrofuturism.