Bringing Art into the Community: The Oasis for Girls and The POC Zine Workshop
Creative work shouldn’t be isolating. Sure, you might spend hours alone in your room, working throughout the night, but does it stop there? Art is about self-expression as well communicating with other people. It is a way to project, validate voices, and bring people together. And that makes a difference, which is why Roseli Ilado (of The Oasis for Girls Program) asked The POC Zine Project to lead a zine workshop for a group of teenage girls.
The Oasis for Girls Program serves under-resourced young women ages 11-24, and it empowers women by helping them reach their potential through lifeskills, art, and career planning. The POC Zine Project validates zinesters of color by archiving their work, and bringing visibility and awareness to a multitude of artists. Together, they build on a common goal: celebrating all the intelligence, talent, and strength these young women have to offer.
Seven teenage girls sat around a table and didn’t say a word. They watched as Roseli introduced Itoro Udofu and myself as their guests. We connected the projector, trying to ignore the fact that we were being assessed. But that initial moment of tension and distrust didn’t last long. Roseli created a level of comfort that encouraged the girls to speak and established a feeling of solidarity.
The workshop started with a brief history of DIY Culture and zines. We talked about self-publishing as a way of validating our thoughts, our communities. We drew examples from work by Tomás Moniz, Mimi Thi Nguyen, and Osa Atoe. The girls learned about a father who writes to help his daughters stay strong and true to themselves, about a Professor who started off as a zinester, and a musician who broke all expectations by creating the fanzine she wanted see.
The second part of the workshop started and ended with a circle. The art and spirit that came out of it surprised us all. We asked the group, “If you could write about anything, what would it be?” They response revolved around the topics we’re told to ignore: race, sex, and poverty. Each girl had her own anecdote. Everyone spoke. Everyone listened.
The girls were supposed to create two or three minis about the most inspiration women in their lives. Most of the girls wrote about their mothers, grandmothers and friends, others wrote about the things they had on their mind. By the end of the workshop, we went around the circle again. We shared our minis with each other, and through those small folded pieces of paper, we unveiled stories, each one of them just as unique and beautiful as the individuals in that room. I felt privileged to be a part of that circle. This workshop reminded me that while art might empower, it truly reaches its potential to change things when it brings people together. Art isn’t a solitary thing.