Stylist Theo White aims to inspire hope with a new publication paying tribute to the underrepresented faces in culture featuring Campbell Addy and Kojey Radical
“You have three strikes against you in this world… You’re black and you’re male and you’re gay. You’re going to have a hard fucking time. If you’re going to do this, you’re going to have to be stronger than you’ve ever imagined.” So opens Jennie Livingston’s 1990 documentary Paris is Burning, a sacred text that has greatly inspired London-based art director and stylist Theo White. An avid reader of magazines such as The Face and Dazed, White is the brainchild of his own publication: a zine simply titled TheoWhiteZine, the aesthetic of which he describes as “90s Smash Hits magazine vibration mixed with 2017 realness.”
The theme for this first issue is hope, which aptly seems pretty hard to come by nowadays. In the foul, grim spectre of the Trump administration, the basic human rights of trans communities and LGBT people (not to mention most “othered” social groups) are being consciously and hatefully ignored. But White is determined to rid his readers of despair and inspire with his new zine; now more than ever, he feels, is the time to encourage hope and solidarity. “Hope to me is never giving up, never giving in,” says White, aspiring to appeal to the outsiders, regardless of gender or ethnicity.
A mixture of beautiful photography, styling and insightful conversation, TheoWhiteZine features a wilfully diverse cast of artists, many of whom are White’s close friends: collaborators include Ib Kamara, Campbell Addy and Pussy Palace’s Skye Barr. White wants to provide a space to recount black gay history: “Marlon Riggs, James Baldwin, Essex Hemphill, RuPaul (...) these people are the real stars in my eyes and the one’s we should be celebrating.” Moreover, ten percent of proceeds for the first issue will be donated to the Terrence Higgins Trust, a HIV/AIDS charity. We spoke to White about revolutionary gay love, spreading positivity as a creative and the responsibility of representation:
What motivated you to make ‘hope’ the theme of the zine?
Theo White: Growing up in Jamaica and moving to London in the mid-90s, I was always fascinated by the images I saw flicking through my mum’s fashion magazines. I’d also save up my pocket money to buy copies of Dazed, i-D and The Face magazine when other kids were buying sweets.
I really wanted to create a zine that people like myself could relate to. I wanted to see black men like myself on the pages of a magazine represented in a positive and creative light. I wanted to inspire anyone else like myself who often feels like an outsider that, “Yes, you too can have your own magazine”. It takes great courage and resilient hope to put yourself and your vision out into the world.
Do you think hope is more important than ever in our current political climate?
Theo White: Yes certainly, I think more now than ever. You just have to walk out the front door every day and see the struggle on people’s faces, people are looking for an escape route from life, (from) reality. People are unhappy and searching for answers. Life is hard and people just want the chance of living their best life. I feel with all the sad and evil things happening within our world, we can all do with as much hope as we can find on our journeys. That’s the greatest thing about being a creative: you can almost block out what’s happening in the real world whilst still functioning in it and simultaneously creating your own other world. I've really found the importance of this (in) creating this issue.
You ask all of your interviewees but what exactly does hope mean to you, and how do you stay hopeful in your daily life?
Theo White: I really try my best to live a life filled with happiness and joy, always looking at the bright side. Looking back on my life, hope was and still is one of my only sureties, Even in the darkest of times, I always had hope in knowing, “The sun will rise in the morning”. Hope to me is never giving up, never giving in. Despite all the daily personal battles we all face day in day out, you have to really take time out and figure out what it is you want to contribute to the world, look yourself in the mirror and ask “What do you want from your life?”. You have to understand that people and life are (both) complicated, and once you accept this, your whole thought process and understanding of circumstances will become clearer. Acknowledging but never succumbing to the obstacles faced before you as you go forth on your journey. In the great words of Martin Luther King, Jr: “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
“Hope to me is never giving up, never giving in. Despite all the daily personal battles we all face, you have to really take time out and figure out what it is you want to contribute to the world” – Theo White
You have such a beautiful mix of content within, I was particularly drawn to the interview about Tongues Untied – why did you include that excerpt in this piece?
Theo White: Marlon Riggs, the director of Tongues Untied, is a huge inspiration of mine. I stumbled across this interview (first published in 1990) and I was like, “People need to read this!” (It) basically sums up my thoughts exactly and that of Marlon’s work. Marlon spoke of black men loving black men being not just a revolutionary act, but within the context of black male dynamics, the revolutionary act; really learning to love within all the conditioning of learning to hate ourselves. At the time of its release Tongues Untied was considered controversial because of its frank portrayal of black gay sexuality. People had seen nothing like it before, yet alone on national television: it’s so in your face (and) refreshing to the eyes. Tongues Untied is such an important part of gay history and my own. I think everyone should watch it, no matter your sexuality, colour or gender we can all learn something from the film. Even though Marlon passed away in 94, his work is still very much valid and relevant to this day.
I often think of all the cast and characters in the film and wonder what happened to them after the cameras stopped rolling. I feel we are too consumed with celebrity culture these days and this generation of black gay men don’t know enough about our history and those that paved the way for us: Marlon Riggs, James Baldwin, Essex Hemphill, RuPaul, all the brave cast of Paris Is Burning. These people are the real stars in my eyes and the one’s we should be celebrating – the dreamers, the outcasts. That's not to say you can't love and aspire to be the next Rihanna or Beyonce, because you can, but that's not the be all and end all. Step out and explore all the wild and wonderful possibilities that lay before you in this curious world.
So you got the likes of Campbell Addy, Kojey Radical, etc involved. How did you choose who you wanted to centre? What is it you thought they could bring to the project?
Theo White: It was very important to me from the start to have other black creatives involved in the zine, especially those from the LGBT community whose work I identify with. There is an exciting community of us who are making work to push progression and love into the community and to wider audiences. We are massively underrepresented so I think it’s important to create our own platforms and have our voices heard unfiltered. Ib Kamara is a true visionary with a loving soul, (he)’s creating such important work that's pushing boundaries on the subjects of gender and racial identity. The images he and Campbell Addy created are some of my favourites in the zine. I danced around a lot to Kojey Radical’s music working on the zine; he’s got such a real vibe about him and I love that he’s so passionate about his craft and spreading positivity with his music. He inspires me. Johnny Blueeyes is like a father to me. He’s lived such a fascinating and interesting life. I loved how openly he spoke of his time living in New York in the 90s and the importance of giving love to oneself and others.
Read more or purchase the zine here.