A year ago, we were just talk. We had our first few meetings just to figure out what we were supposed to be doing. Eight months ago, we were agonising over our name and design, our reason for being. And now, eleven months later, we have a website and URL, a more fully-formed kaupapa, and the beginnings of a community. All of this we hoped for; none of it we expected.
It rolls off the tongue now. “What’s it called?” Oscen. “What’s it about?” Uplifting marginalised voices. But to distill this from the noise of three young women of colour in a room itching to jumpstart some kind of change was far from straightforward. To create a space for the voices of those who were historically denied one was what ultimately came to the fore. Our experience within the writing sphere drove us to the same questions throughout all media: Where are the people of colour? Where is the LGBT+ community? Where are the intersectional identities? And this has become so much more than letting individuals speak in isolation. For whenever people gather, some sort of community will form.
We wanted to address issues that kept arising in our discussions but in a more cohesive way than just having separate contributions. We decided to have the magazine unfold in a novelistic way, allowing readers to progress through several “chapters” or stages of a journey. The journey we embarked on this year was “Authenticity”. It’s a nebulous word, but one that continues to be used in a world that many see as increasingly “inauthentic”. Each month, writers and artists responded to a question relating to authenticity: Who Made You? What Are You Made Of? Where Are You? What Do You Look To? and Who Do You Want To Be? — culminating in the final inquiry: Who Are You? Just as a musical piece will often conclude in a coda that revisits themes that have appeared before, this issue in our sixth month acts as the thematic close by re-exploring everything that has come before. It raises themes evident in our past five months, such as culture, belonging, confusion, marginalisation, resistance.
In particular, this collection of poetry, art, essays, and interviews touches on in-betweenness, self-discovery, and community. In-betweenness in relation to navigating different cultures is beautifully expressed in Nina Powles’s “I Am A Forest/Fire” and articulated in our interview with dancer Cindy Jang. “I am two halves / and not quite whole,” writes Rhegan Tu’akoi, and Zoe Hu’s video “Banana Split” speaks to the fragmentation that in-betweenness can cause — she interrogates the slang “banana”, which refers to an Asian person considered to be out of touch with their culture and inauthentically “acting white”. Angela Zhang also alludes to fragmentation by breaking down “red” and everything it means to her, though all of those oppositions coalesce in the image of a red dawn; a new day.
The question Who Are You? also brings up concepts of journeying and self-discovery, which Yasmeen Musa’s “Creating Myself” and, to an extent, Rachel Smith’s “Who Can Tell a Beginning From an Ending” respond to. Can we ever achieve an “authentic” self, or are we constantly engaged in a process of self-creation? Yasmeen suggests that the latter is true, as does curator Balamohan Shingade. “If my sense of who I am in the world is constantly changing,” he tells us, “the authentic self is that which has to do with paying very close attention to how I am being augmented, modulated by the world.”
Another theme running through Balamohan’s interview is how we can live together as a community. In Kyra Maquiso’s photography, home and family are the centre of community, the place she circles back to. The importance of community for marginalised people especially is highlighted in our talk with musicians from imugi 이무기 and Whaea & The Rumble. We spoke about the need for positive spaces fostering empathy, creativity, and the drive for change: spaces to share and listen to stories.
For this is Oscen’s core. Community has been vital from the start, and we want to express our gratitude for the encouragement we’ve received from the literary community. Two of our greatest supporters have been Francis Cooke and Louise Wallace, editors-in-chief of Starling Magazine. We have, in Louise’s words, functioned on “the kindness of strangers”, from contributors, online cheerleaders who have gotten behind our vision, and friends who have given up their time and effort. We’ve grown our team and have had new content each month, which has been no small feat for a fledgling platform. Special shout-out too to Zoe Hu, an old friend and graphic designer who is the genius behind our website and social media design.
And so it turns out that the desire to be recognised and heard is part of the larger desire to belong. That can only be found in community. Who knew, right? It seems so obvious and yet something we have so lacked that it was only a secondary aim to begin with. Have we resolved authenticity? No, and it’s unlikely that we or anyone ever will. But something is gained, something is bridged, when we find others who wrestle with the same questions we do.
We’re so grateful for the people who have rallied around us. With big plans for 2019, including a launch event, a fresh theme, and new online features and forms, we want to reach further and bring a greater community into our fold. Twelve months from now when we look back, we hope that we can again say that everything we hoped for came our way and beyond. And that, once more, it is the people, it is the people, it is the people.
Janna and Anuja, on behalf of the Oscen team Nadya, Bianca, and Radi