Power through publishing: Detroit artists launch QTBIPOC and Disabled BIPOC centered zine press

Zines, short for fanzines, trace its roots to underground communities and culture. Historically, the independently published, typically handmade publications serve a larger purpose as DIY platforms to amplify voices that usually go unheard, from feminists powering the riot grrrl movement of the 1990s to people of color tackling racism and speaking truth to power.


For Detroit artists and partners Bakpak Durden and Cyrah Dardas, who have been working as artists and with artists in the city, they didn’t see a space for artists like them. “Because we don't have as many systems in place for artists from Detroit to be seen, often artists don't get the attention their work deserves,” says Dardas, who graduated with a BFA from Wayne State University. She was working full time and often had to ask teachers to do independent studies to keep up with classes. Durden is self-taught. They recently were a part of the team to assist Sydney G. James, who created the “Way Too Many” mural honoring the Black lives lost to police violence.


So Dardas and Durden created Paper Street Press — a QTBIPOC (Queer & Trans Black, Indigenous, People of Color) & Disabled BIPOC centered zine press and distro — as a solution for artists who hold these identities to be seen.


“We felt so many spaces and institutions overlooked us to begin with,” Durden says. “We also felt that many didn't understand the amount of work, on many levels, that goes into being perceived as ‘good enough’ or ‘educated enough’ in a system that wasn't built for us to win. Especially when you have an intersectional identity, all of our needs don’t get met. So we changed the rules so we can cater to people like us.”


The mission to serve QTBIPOC is threefold, Dardas says, one being that Dardas and Durden hold some of those identities, adding that as an abolitionists organization, they’re “dedicated to reimagining and recreating an art scene that caters to and celebrates those who have been historically marginalized.” Finally, Dardas says, “Detroit is and has historically been primarily a Black city. Originally, an Indigenous space like all of the U.S. but since then, it's been Black. Aside from those two groups, Detroit is largely Brown and immigrant. I think that our contemporary art scene fails to represent the community's demographics and experiences. We as the storytellers of the community struggle with being able to uphold the experiences of the actual community we make from. I hope that Paper Street helps change that.”


Launched in May, Paper Street aims to help artists “transform their studio practice into collections of 2d works compiled together to create zines,” Dardas says. “These zines will showcase art and highlight the behind the scenes elements that go into creating their finished work. This project is rooted in mutual aid, interdependency, and community. We champion process over product invites curiosity, and exploration and uplift the intellectual work that goes into art-making.”


Dardas adds Paper Street is filling a void in the art world because the artists are “telling our own narratives and controlling the way in which those narratives are being consumed. If representation exists in ‘the art world’ it is often controlled, co-opted, and profited off of by cis het able whiteness. We are challenging ourselves to be an agency that lives outside of that. Not in reaction to, not working from the inside of, just something completely different.”


Durden adds, “we believe that another hurdle when it comes to art is people’s accessibility to it. Some of which include having the privilege to be able to go and see or be in a space with art, let alone being able to afford it. I'm not saying that art is not valuable and that some art deserves the high price tag, but sometimes people want to know what's behind it all and more about the artist.”


Paper Street has two completed zines, with the goal to produce at least five zines this summer. But many of the artists they work with, including seven residents, are working collaboratively and quickly, so the actual number may be more than that. “I honestly don't know how many that we will create but I think it'll be like more than what I even anticipate. At first, I was trying to approach this project as being more process-based, but folks have been just kind of like really excited, hit the ground running, and are making stuff pretty rapidly,” Dardas says.


While Paper Street isn't exactly a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, being at home for a “strange expansive amount of time” (Dardas and Durden work out of their home) and being laid off from certain gigs or having less work helped them cultivate the idea, which they’ve had for a long time. Durden says Paper Street isn’t a physical space, while Dardas says it’s “centered in working virtually for the sake of accessibility … I'm not envisioning it having a physical space because it's going to be such like an online and snail-mail centered organization and company.”


“Paper Street wasn't supposed to be a response to the pandemic, however, I think that this style of making and means by which to consume art (digitally or through mail) is going to be hyper relevant now. We are going into a decline in our economy and a huge shift in the way that people are going to be spending money. So this new form of art is partially in anticipation of that,” Dardas says.


To find out more about Paper Street, check out the distro’s Instagram at @paperstreet.pressco. Check out Durden’s work here and Dardas’ work here.


Read more articles by Dorothy Hernandez.

Dorothy Hernandez is a freelance writer and editor who frequently writes about food at the intersection of culture and business. She has contributed to NPR, Midwest Living magazine, Eater, and a variety of other publications. Visit her website and follow her on Twitter @dorothy_lynn_h.
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