For many creatives, the national lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic have been a time of intense restlessness, pushing visual artists to get their creative fix in novel and often challenging ways.
Among them is artist and publisher Theo White, whose new, limited-edition art zine 6ft – a name derived from social distancing guidelines – is the fruit of his drive to create from within the isolated depths of lockdown. Published in a run of 500 copies, the zine is raising funds for the UKQTIBIPOC Emergency Relief & Hardship Fund.
“I literally woke up one morning in April and decided I couldn’t be still anymore during lockdown and I needed to do something to help the community,” he tells us. The zine took roughly three months from conception to realisation, and features artworks, photography and graphics from an array of creatives.
“From the beginning I knew that I didn’t want to create a publication with just images so I had to be patient and understand whilst respecting each of the contributors’ processes by asking them to create work during lockdown. I was very persistent to bring the vision I had in my mind for 6ft alive,” he says.
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We Are Very Excited to reveal our cover *Ottawa Photographed By @ibkamara For (6FT) @6ftzine A Limited Edition Publication Featuring *Work Made During Quarantine And unpublished archive material* By Our Favourite Artists & Friends* With all proceeds going to the UKQTIBIPOC Emergency Relief & Hardship Fund @ukqtibipochardshipfund . £25 Shipped Worldwide. Printed Copies will be posted from June 19th. See an Exclusive preview of the publication online @britishvogue. Link in bio. Thank you. Designed By @weiprior & @sagewickings
The cover of the zine centres on an image of Ghanaian model Ottawa Kwami photographed by stylist and i-D’s senior fashion editor-at-large, Ibrahim Kamara. Kwami’s portrait is surrounded by colourful renditions of the zine title intersecting with arrow graphics that allude to the social distancing requirements.
“Funny story, I had built up this image in my mind for the cover for weeks and we did the shoot and it just didn’t work out how I had imagined,” White says. “Ib is a good friend of mine and he had started to experiment with his own photography for the first time during lockdown, so I messaged him *SOS* and he sent this image, and I knew immediately that this was the cover as it just exudes black magic.”
The zine features an extensive range of contributors, such as photographers Martin Parr, Campbell Addy, Tim Walker, Liz Johnson Artur, Adama Jalloh and Ruth Ossai. Also featured are works by British Vogue editor-in-chief Edward Enninful (and his dog Ru), artist Matthew Stone and Andrew Thomas Huang, who has directed music videos for the likes of Björk and FKA twigs.
Alongside the wealth of artworks in 6ft are a handful of written features, including a conversation between Kamara and poet James Massiah. Elsewhere is a discussion between Campbell Addy and artist Ajamu, as well as poet, writer and activist Kai-Isaiah Jamal in conversation with DJ, producer and nightlife icon Ms. Carrie Stacks. There is also a section called Gifted + Black, a series of quickfire Q&As with figures from across the creative landscape reflecting on their experiences of lockdown.
“Initially I reached out to friends and artists whose work I admire and the project kind of just grew from there,” White explains. “I didn’t send out a brief or theme as I wanted the contributions to be organic and a mashup of all these amazing artist voices coming together and uniting within the pages. 6ft represents a massive, collective effort from artists of all nationalities, sexualities and backgrounds.”
The mix of artworks throughout the spreads are made all the more irreverent by the colourful, collaged editorial design. White worked closely with graphic designers Wei Prior and Sarah Wickings on the design, which takes cues from artists like Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Jeff Koons, as well as 90s magazine aesthetics, he explains. “From the get-go, I knew that I wanted the publication to be vibrant, full of colour and life. I wanted each page and artist to have their own moment and shine in harmony.”
The issue opens with a still from Paris is Burning, Jeannie Livingston’s landmark documentary delving into the ballroom scene of 1980s New York. The image is a manifesto of sorts, and speaks not only to the personal impact that Paris is Burning had on White growing up, but its relevance in today’s world. “Made in 1990, the film addressed complex subjects which are still relevant today including class; race and racism; wealth, gender orientation and beauty standards,” he says.
“Growing up there were no queer references for me to relate to, so a film like Paris is Burning was very informative and monumental for me. Watching the film was really the first time I had seen Black queer people represented in all their light and freedom,” White reflects.
“I wanted to pay homage and my respects to all the iconic Black queens that have come before me and paved the way for us to be here today. I often think about the cast and what their lives would be like if they were alive today and the lasting impact they have left on the world.”
Although a celebratory attitude is threaded through the zine, 6ft is by no means isolated from the world in which it was made. White uses his editor’s letter as an opportunity to speak of recent death of George Floyd, who was killed by Minnesota police at the end of May, and the zine’s very existence throws into stark contrast the lack of Black queer voices in mainstream publishing. White says it was important for him to use 6ft to “share our own stories”, unfiltered and free of “performative” objectives.
“As a Black gay man, I’ve always felt that there is a lack of real representation of Black queer life in the mainstream media. I feel things are slowly improving with more visibility and queer voices being amplified, but there is still much work to be done and that work starts within the community.”