Friendly Society: Yellowzine are rewriting the pages of art publishing
This is Friendly Society, an editorial series by Crack Magazine and Patreon. Meeting the independent creators building active relationships with their audience and getting paid for it.
“There’s so much diversity within Black people’s experience,” says Aisha Ayoade, “and without normalising that, it reinforces the idea that people are the same because they look a particular way.” Alongside her brother, Oreoluwa, Aisha is the co-founder of Yellowzine, a creative platform that amplifies and supports contemporary ethnic minority artists who are based in the UK.
On a cloudy Saturday, the Ayoades are curled up on Aisha’s couch in north London, the weak winter sun illuminating her spacious apartment. Soft sounds of reggae, UK R&B, amapiano and dancehall float through the air as the siblings banter lovingly, speaking over each other excitedly about music, movies, art and the love they have for their community. They exude a familial warmth that settles into a passionate dialogue when discussing Yellowzine.
© Chad Mclean
Since its launch in 2017, Yellowzine has grown from an Instagram handle to a website, newsletter, creative platform, funding body and mentorship programme underpinned by an annual print magazine featuring art created by minority ethnic individuals. Whether it’s their website or magazine, Yellowzine has become the home for discovering cutting edge UK-based or born artists.
The platform is a response to the racial inequalities that exist within the creative industries, something both Aisha and Oreoluwa experienced first hand. “I had just started working in advertising,” Oreoluwa says, “and I saw the lack of representation at my workplace and the wider industry.” Meanwhile, Aisha – 17 months younger than Oreoluwa – was at university, observing how Black art was consistently discussed through the lens of slavery. “Artists of colour, writers of colour, didn’t have the freedom to write about race and still be valid in their work,” she says. “It wasn’t as celebrated if it wasn’t race-centric.”
This one-dimensional outlook left Aisha disheartened. Over several phone calls, the siblings discussed how the white gaze dominated the discourse surrounding Black art; how this led to Black art and Black trauma being bound together. Then there was the question as to why discussions centred on what was happening in America, and the need for a space wherein Black British could be celebrated. Thus, Yellowzine was conceptualised.
© Chad Mclean
Put simply, Aisha and Oreoluwa wanted to bring people together, spark collaboration and open the floor for people to talk about their work, without the overarching sense of being pigeonholed. “We wanted to let people just express whatever they wanted to,” Aisha states. Beginning life on Instagram, Yellowzine quickly connected with an audience willing to engage. In the early days, they would elicit suggestions via prompts – what should the first issue be themed around? Who would they like to see celebrated. “We were trying not to be narrow-minded,” Aisha says. Plus, accommodating the perspectives of others meant their audience – their community – felt invested in the magazine when it did launch. “People could relate to it more,” Aisha explains.
The zine quickly evolved into a print entity, a natural development for a duo who have a history of making publications together. As teenagers, they travelled around the UK to shoot street photography for their own magazine, an experience that instilled in them a love for the medium now visible in the careful curation of Yellowzine. “Right from the start,” Oreoluwa remembers, “we always spoke about [Yellowzine] as like a framework or a stage. The design was pared back, so the work was allowed to speak for itself.” When they had selected their first run of artists to feature, Aisha created a series of questions. “We wanted to avoid being leading,” she admits. “We wanted to make it as genuine and about each individual so that we are not imposing our own opinions. People might say shit that we disagree with and that’s fine.”
© Chad Mclean
© Chad Mclean
Oreoluwa and Aisha printed 50 copies of the first batch of Yellowzine, thinking they’d be happy selling a handful. “We sold out in a day,” Aisha says. From there, they knew Yellowzine was bigger than the two of them: it was a focal point for a community who had been reaching out to find another, pulling closer.
Since that initial print run, Aisha and Oreoluwa have printed two more magazines. Following the first issue’s theme of illustration, issue two revolved around photography and issue three, “consciousness” – with a focus on styling. “Styling is a very conscious daily art form,” Aisha says. “If you see yourself every morning as a canvas, then your style is the way you present yourself – as your art – to the world. It’s probably the most frequent form of art that you see daily, and it says so much about the person. It’s something that we choose every day, and it shouldn’t be undermined.”
© Chad Mclean
Alongside these groundbreaking print issues, Yellowzine has worked with creative agency The Brooklyn Brothers on the first iteration of night school, a “free eight-week training programme designed to unlock creative potential and open doors to a future career within the creative industries.” Selecting a class of 14 minority ethnic individuals, Yellowzine seeks to educate and empower talented individuals looking for guidance in entering a daunting creative industry. The programme culminates in an industry networking event.
“It felt really great to have that impact in a different way,” Oreoluwa says. “Being way more hands on and actually having direct conversations with people, about stuff that they’re interested in, and trying to contribute to their development in their field – that was super cool.” Aisha agrees: “It was surprising. All the Night Schoolers came together so closely. we didn’t expect there to be such like a closeness. Honestly, it was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.”
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Since the pandemic struck, they’ve had to put Night School and their print magazine on hold. But they haven’t slowed down. This year they launched a 12 month partnership with platform and event series F*ck Being Humble. The F*ck Being Humble fund offers regular funding, free Q&As and discounts on products that support creatives from the African, Caribbean and Asian diaspora. What’s more, Yellowzine’s website and newsletter took on more importance, acting as a way to shout out funding and creative opportunities to their network, and of course, spotlighting artists and creatives.
Yellowzine’s Patreon membership scheme was also launched with the intention to grow their team, with the aim of becoming a talent and creative agency. One that is built upon the the qualities that have sustained Yellowzine so far. “We want it to be really flexible and work with different people who are underrepresented,” Oreoluwa explains. “Not like a typical agency. We want to really pull from the community that we’ve established and grow that community.”