Yellowzine founder Aisha Ayoade explains why the revelation that white people have never had to justify why their race is relevant to their art pushed her into creating a zine
As Black History Month draws to a close in the UK we're aiming to shine a spotlight on those driving things forward. #DazedBlackFutures is a tribute to the artists, activists, designers and key voices shaping black British culture for the next gen.
Yellowzine, a new 120-page zine that tells the story of 24 creatives of colour, is intended to encourage the view of art created by people of colour as normal. We want our readers to be able to go through pages of the publication and not just see a token minority artist for “diversity month”.
Founded by my brother (graphic designer Oreoluwa Ayoade) and myself, we contemplated the title “Yellow” for our zine initially, and superficially, based on its brightness and vibrancy. But we began to realise the connotations that the colour held and its clear relevance to the purpose of our zine. Yellow, as a primary, “normal” colour, reflects the fact that through our magazine we are aiming to show that the creative talent of PoC should not be seen as a rarity, but as a regularity to be celebrated at any and every opportunity. We also want the magazine to act as a directory for PoC art, a literal “Yellow Pages”.
As an illustrator and painter, in the past people have often asked: “why do you only draw black women?”. But having been drawing black women since I could pick up a pencil, I never really had an answer satisfactory or deep enough for the person asking. I didn’t know why I only drew black woman, other than the fact that I am one, and I was frustrated because I didn’t know why that wasn’t a good enough answer for other people.
“White people have been drawing white people since the beginning of time and it has never been seen as a conscious or political choice. They have never had to justify why their race is relevant to their art”
White people have been drawing white people since the beginning of time, and it has never been seen as a conscious or political choice. They have never had to justify why their race is relevant to their art. In Yellowzine, we allow artists the liberty to discuss all influences towards their art, whether it is indeed race or the many other factors that make up an identity. We do not enforce racial meaning upon their work, but instead, encourage that artists discuss their work as they wish.
Yellowzine's first ever issue, 'Illustration', features artists ranging from those who enjoy it as a pastime and those who devote a career to it. We focused on illustration in our first issue because it encompasses a few different mediums, and it allows us to include both digital and ‘by-hand’ artists. Artists such as Joy Miessi and Charlotte Edey for example, are already well-known in the art world, with Charlotte recently doing a joint exhibition with the equally talented illustrator Tishk Barzanji, and Joy having featured in eight exhibitions this year alone, as well as starting her own line of reworked clothing.
The work by Joy and Charlotte is so different in their expression, but rather similar in their representation – as they are both heavily influenced by racial and gender identity. Charlotte’s work uses a contrast between wide spaces and small figures (or vice versa) to address the “lack of delicacy and nuance in depicting women of colour”. Whilst Joy who has a more direct means of expression uses words in her art to illustrate how “race and gender affect the way [she] is perceived in life”.
We also have less well-known artists in the zine, such as illustration student Israel Kujore A.K.A Noodle Boy, who told us, for instance, how his favourite musicians such as MF Doom and the Gorillaz play a part in his work. In contrast, creative director and artist Kingsley Nebechi discussed the impact of London and its buzzing fashion scene upon his work. We encourage these conversations in order to point out that artists of colour are varied and their inspirations are multi-dimensional.
Yellowzine comes at a time when the Asian, African and Afro-Caribbean diaspora across Britain are beginning a new wave of reclamation within the creative industry. We’ve stopped abiding by the commands of the dominant white culture and are instead intensifying support of movements for us and by us.
Although Yellowzine aims to represent all artists of colour, we have recognised that black British art has been historically sidelined in place of black American art. If you type “Black Art Movement” into Google, for instance, the first page is exclusively dedicated to the – very revolutionary – work of African American artists in the 60s and 70s. It was telling that the first major black exhibition of my lifetime at the Tate in the UK was Soul of a Nation, which almost exclusively featured African American artists.
“We created the zine to show that contemporary art of the diaspora in Britain can stand by itself without having to lean against our American counterparts”
As a result, African American art is often used as a reference point for Western black art as a whole, without contemplating the vast differences between the American and the British experience. Yellowzine is intended to be a documentation of a contemporary black British art movement. Another reason for creating the zine was to show that contemporary art of the diaspora in Britain can stand by itself without having to lean against our American counterparts.
It feels like 2017 is a year in which PoC in the UK are focusing more on entrepreneurship and making moves for the culture. With many movements and publications devoted to POC art such as Afro-Portraitism, Burnt Roti and Black Blossoms, there’s a growing network of BME artists within the UK. We're proud to represent them and push towards a future where our artwork transcends our race – if we want it to. Our next magazine is going to be dedicated to photography.
The first issue of Yellowzine, ‘Illustration’, can be purchased here.