Envisioning the future(s) of feminist media

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Image: By Mallory Taylor. Used with permission of Shameless Magazine.

Sheila Sampath is the editorial and art director of Shameless Magazine, a feminist magazine for teen girls and trans youth. Sampath is also an artist, activist, writer and co-founder of a social justice art and design space called The Public Studio. Scott Neigh interviews her about feminist media, Shameless, and the Talking Back Feminist Media Conference.

Sampath's feminist politics developed through being first a client, then an active member, and eventually chair of the board of the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multi-cultural Women Against Rape. Involvement there and in a range of other feminist contexts gave her the opportunity do lots of grassroots, intersectional, community-based organizing. Then, one year, she happened to take on the task of designing a poster for Toronto's Take Back The Night march, and that took her down a new path of making art and making grassroots media of various kinds. After she graduated from University of Toronto, she went back to school for graphic design to bring together her passion for social justice work with design and media-making.

In 2006, Sampath joined Shameless Magazine as volunteer art director. The publication had been founded in 2004 by Nicole Cohen and Melinda Mattos, students in the journalism program at Ryerson University in Toronto who turned a class project in which they dreamed up a feminist magazine for teens into a real publication that is still going strong fifteen years later.

A year or two into Sampath's time at the magazine, the founders decided that they were burned out and they needed to step back from the core of the project. They stayed connected to it -- and indeed, they still are to this day -- but the magazine transitioned to new editorial leadership.

Looking back on that time today, Sampath says it prompted her to reflect a great deal on what feminist politics and feminist media should look like. She stayed in her role as art director, but the publication's new editorial leadership resulted in it centring a kind of feminism in which Sampath, as a queer woman of colour, could not see herself -- nor could she see many of the working-class and racialized women and trans people with whom she had done grassroots feminist work over the years.

This changed in 2010, when Sampath herself became editorial director of Shameless. The publication reformulated its mandate to be explicitly trans-inclusive and intersectional, to make race and class and ability and sexuality and Indigeneity explicitly integral to its feminism. It also aimed to take up its feminism not just to guide editorial choices about content, but as a starting point for how it operates -- building cultures of care into its ways of work, focusing on capacity building for marginalized participants, and much more. They don't just publish a magazine, they also run a youth advisory board/feminist youth group, hold workshops, engage in popular education and do events.

This year, they found funding through the Toronto Arts Council to host their first conference -- the Talking Back Feminist Media Conference. It will be taking place at the Toronto Media Arts Centre on November 16 and 17, 2019. They want to provide an intergenerational and welcoming space for discussions of feminist media that will be open to people who make it, people who consume it, and people who just want to learn more about it. They aim for the conference to carry through the kinds of feminist values that Shameless centres in its own operations -- to think carefully about how power and things like conventional notions of expertise make some kinds of conference spaces hostile for a lot of people, and to create an event that will be welcoming and safe for people who are normally excluded from mainstream media and even at times from mainstream feminist media.

The conference content will be organized into four main tracks exploring what feminist processes of media-making can look like, feminist media as activism, questions of representation (in radical ways that go beyond traditional models of 'inclusion'), and the many forms and esthetics that feminist media can adopt.

Ultimately, Sampath wants the conference to be an opportunity to have thoughtful, radical, collective discussions about what feminism is, about what media is, and about people's visions for what feminist media can be.

Image: By Mallory Taylor. Used with permission of Shameless Magazine.

Theme music: "It Is the Hour (Get Up)" by Snowflake, via CCMixter


Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out their website here. You can also follow them on Facebook or Twitter, or contact [email protected] to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton, Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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