Before starting university in 2015, we both kind-of already knew one another from our secondary school days, when we would often see each other at a bus stop on the other side of the road. We were always alone and often wondered about each other: we both had really bad experiences at secondary school and experienced a lot of bullying, so we feel like we connected in a subconscious way through those glances across the road. After leaving school, we didn’t see each other again until September 2015, when we both started the same course at university. We literally are the same person, simultaneously looking on from opposite sides of the road. Our friendship forms the foundation for all the work we do at ROOT-ed, because it arose from us recognising and addressing problems we were facing in our institutions on a personal level.
We must make a good team, because our fourth issue is on the way. It’s so surreal to think that, considering how naturally the idea was formed. ROOT-ed Zine started while we were in our final year of studying fine art at Liverpool Hope University. At uni, we noticed pretty quickly that we were the only two black students on the course and, as artists creating work on black issues, there was a lack of material and support available to us. We had no lecturers or tutors of colour and there was a distinct lack of representation in the curriculum. We were disappointed by a lack of diversity in our art history modules, in the art books we were assigned and the galleries and museums we visited. We were lucky to have had great tutors and lecturers who provided us with knowledge on black artists and black art history, but this information was given exclusively to us as artists of colour, and was not being promoted to the general student population through the curriculum. Being in a mainly white space, we also experienced exotification – people touching our hair, or asking what we’re mixed with, etc. All of these factors combined to repeatedly remind us of the fact that we do not look like, or have the same perspective as this predominantly white Britain. All this was what really inspired us both to start ROOT-ed Zine. We came together with the intention of collaborating on something that combined both of our art practices, which were very much centred around being black. Then, after several meetings with each other, we concluded that this collaboration will be a magazine in which we address these issues by providing a platform and safe space for artists of colour, and that is how ROOT-ed was birthed.
Things started to move very quickly after this point. We started designing logos and asking fellow students and tutors for their opinions and input. We had countless meetings about content. Most crucially, we had to figure out how to fund our first issue. As students, we couldn’t really just drop £400 on printing a magazine. We expressed our dilemma to several people, including Cheryl Martin who is working as an ‘enabler’, a kind of mentor, for Slate, a black arts charity doing incredible work. Her role is one of support and encouragement; Cheryl suggested we put on a fundraiser at Unity Theatre, helped us plan and allowed us to use her time in the space free of charge to have our fundraiser. The evening consisted of performances by talented creative people of colour who are from or based in the North West, including Blue Saint, Jubeda Khatun and Dom John. We also had an art auction, snack bar and raffle. The event was a huge success, which came as a surprise since we’d not been expecting a large crowd. That evening, we ended up raising £413.50 through the fundraiser and through our GoFundMe page. This was more than enough to print our first issue! A tip for aspiring zine-makers: fundraisers in which the audience gets something back from donating are really great for kickstarting anything independently. Doing things independently has become much easier with the internet, allowing us to connect with those who fall outside of the mainstream, and giving us a voice.
Our first issue was released on 21st March, 2018: we chose this date because it was the official International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Making the first issue was such a great experience – we were thrilled to interview Lubaina Himid. Himid is an artist and professor at UCLan who was awarded the prestigious Turner Prize in 2017. Interviewing Lubaina Himid for our first issue really helped us to become established – people and organisations started to notice us and take us seriously. This taught us a huge lesson about worth: just because you are ‘new’ artists doesn’t mean that more established artists or organisations are out of bounds. We need to break down this invisible wall of ‘they won’t speak to me/work with me’ because they really, really will. Often the strongest thing about institutional barriers is the way we internalise those barriers. Sometimes all you need is a business Gmail account and a bit of audacity.
Since then we have released two more bi-monthly issues using solely independently-sought funds. In ROOT-ed Zine you can typically expect exclusive artist interviews, fresh creative content from rising and established artists, what’s on in and around the North West, reviews of shows and articles on an array of subject matters, all written by POC in the North West, entirely using their own voice. In our most recent issue we have included writing by talented creatives including Elliss Thompson, who has written an in depth and motivational piece about his experience of being a LGBTQ+ PoC in Toxteth. The issue also includes a piece by Kiara Mohamed, who wrote about women reclaiming their salvation – a must-read for all women-identified folks.
Although we do not take a personal income from ROOT-ed due to us prioritising paying those who contribute to the zine and to the production of each issue, amazing opportunities have come to us. We have been invited to talk on panels, and have worked with large arts organisations like Tate Liverpool, The Bluecoat, etc. Most recently, we have been awarded an artist residency with FACT Liverpool – in collaboration with FACT, we are making an exclusive issue of ROOT-ed on the topic of hair, and the experiences and significance PoC associate it with. As independent artists, we will also be making our own artwork. At the end of the residency we’ll be holding a launch event for the issue as well as showcasing our artwork – we hope you come along! This will take place on 24th October, which also coincides with Black History Month.
Since starting ROOT-ed, we have been completely overwhelmed by the amount of support we have received from the independent and corporate arts worlds. We are so happy about the community of PoC creatives that we’ve had the honour to meet throughout these past few months. Our aim for this platform is to continually inspire, support and promote, as best we can, creatives of colour who are from or based in the North West. Of course, we can’t expect much of a difference in attitudes, stereotypes and acceptance within a year or two; that’s generally not viable for widespread societal change. But if we can change something within the corner of the world we have found ourselves in, we will be satisfied. As statistics show, ethnic minorities make up only seven per cent of the population in the North West, compared with London’s 40 per cent. To our minds, that makes the work we do all the more necessary. When you’re systematically outnumbered, a community of like-minded PoC can be a lifeline. That’s what we want to achieve.
ROOT-ed Zine is on sale at The Bluecoat, News From Nowhere and via our website. If you are a creative person of colour who is either from or based within the North West, then please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org to submit your work/craft to be considered for future issues.