Writing While Black explores how zines can galvanize movements for racialized people

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Image: Mayworks Festival

This year marks the 32nd Mayworks Festival of Working People and the Arts: Art Against Precarity, running April 28 to May 7 across various locations in Toronto. The annual multidisciplinary arts festival has been uniting art and labour since 1986. With this year's thematic focus on precarious work -- and how that resonates in both activist and non-profit communities alike in a capitalist system -- Mayworks takes an intersectional approach to creation through various mediums.

Festival Director Amee Lê has been inspired by artists who "are unafraid to create, to challenge and to take up space in a system that marginalizes them by design."

A standout in the festival's program is the workshop Writing while Black -- facilitated by Whitney French, founder of From the Root -- which focuses on zine-making as a social justice and political tool used by folks of colour. The depth of the workshop is vast, incorporating group discussion, hands-on learning, and guided zine-creation for attendees.

Zine-making has the potential to be an equalizing medium. What it lacks in access to power of larger players in media culture, it makes up for in its accessible, loose platform, where anyone with access to paper and a pen has the option of getting involved.

French says that zines, through their very nature, invite intersectionality: "Where else are you going to read a memoir/perzine from a Black queer disabled kid from small-town Ontario who loves video games?"

The workshop demonstrates how zines have the power to redirect the dominant narrative, countering traditional print culture and allowing marginalized voices to be the experts of their own lives, writing and telling these stories on their own terms.

Although excited by the potential of bringing the workshop to new places and a wider audience, French says that one of  "the challenges in bringing this workshop to different spaces is sharing the information but being cautious that the hard work of Black, Indigenous, and people of colour is being appreciated and not simply being consumed.

With that in mind, her main goal is to centre marginalized voices in the workshop, inspiring new work to be born out of this inception.

Although French's work may be represented by a diverse network of events, "spaces like Mayworks -- or conferences that tackle anti-Black racism, or social justice spaces that are in need of methods to circulate their information, or even events held in the living rooms of activists, artists, and healers -- are where the zines truly come to life."

Mayworks Festival is vital in a time when activist burnout, work fatigue and unpaid labour are on the rise. It can provide a hub to connect the need to create and express with the social justice struggles of the day.

As Lê succinctly puts it, "The fight for labour and social justice is long and hard. Artistic endeavours nurture our spirits, liberate our emotions and reinvigorate our sense of purpose."

Mayworks is here to fill that need.

For more information on the Mayworks Festival, click here.

Tania Ehret is rabble's B.C. Outreach Coordinator.

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