This Zine Is Showing What Artist Studios Actually Look Like
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that 30 or so years ago, when those uncomfortably-bearded fuckboys and unnamed working girls first sat down to sweat and heave and push the internet out into existence, they did so with dreams of The Coalition in mind. That is, they dreamt of a utopia, of free expression. They dreamt of community. And now as we move into the comfortable, quiet years of this Technological Age where we’ve seen the good, the bad, and the upsettingly meme-worthy, nothing surprises us anymore.
But The Coalition exists on a spectrum outside of that. It is a product of the 21st century rejecting the 21st century. A Tumblr-turned-zine-turned-creative-community that puts women of color at the forefront, it is the riot grrrl movement we needed rather than the one we got—or rather, the one that my mother, black, angry, artistic, swollen with a sense of purpose, needed but didn’t have access to. The project is headed by 19-year-old Fabiola Ching in what began almost two years ago as a shout into the creative void and has since grown into a burgeoning multimedia outlet. Constant collaborators include Audrey Lafarga, the team’s talented photographer and web designer based in California who uses her background in fashion and design to create The Coalition’s stylish look, as well as fellow photographer Nakeya Brown.
A more recent addition has been Tam-Anh Nguyen, a fellow DMV native with a passion for filmmaking. Workspaces, The Coalition’s first docuseries centered on the workspaces of up-and-coming femme artists of color, has already featured rapper Babeo Baggins of Barf Troop as well as photographer Noorann Matties. Its aims aren’t to show lofty studios with handfuls of assistants waiting in the wings, but rather the sometimes cramped, occasionally messy, often meagerly-funded spaces in which these artists manage to find inspiration. We sat down with Nguyen and Ching to find out more.
Is Workspaces your first collaboration? How did it come about?
Fabiola Ching: Yeah, it is. I had the idea for Workspaces, and I asked [Nguyen] if she wanted to work on this really cool thing and she was so down to work on it.
Tam-Anh Nguyen: I remember the day we met, talking about wanting to make a film about a girl in her bedroom, because that’s always interesting. I remember watching Gia Coppola’s Palo Alto, and it was just kids in the suburbs—what’s interesting about that? But a scene that really interested me in the film was Emma Roberts in her bedroom, because [it felt] so recognizable. My bedroom was a huge part of my high school experience; it’s where I spent most of my time.
What are some of the goals of Workspaces?
TN: I feel as though it’s about two different types of artists: artists who are women of color and artists who struggle with money. Those aren’t mutually exclusive—a lot of the time they are definitely paired up—but that’s sort of the point of the video series. When people think of the typical artist—not all people, but a lot of them—they imagine this figure in a studio setting and typically…
FC: Well-to-do? Someone who has all the resources, all the materials they need, someone who’s like, established. But that’s not really the case.
“I think about my friends… and they’re just like me. They don’t have a lofty downtown studio. They work in their bedrooms… It’s not roses all the time.”
TN: And the thing that we want make clear through this series is that this idea of a “workspace” that we’ve been talking about [is] not always just a room with four walls—it can be a city. Or somebody’s car. And that’s what I’ve found to be such a growing experience. And the main goal of this series is to document these artist’s workspaces, whatever that means, how they interact with their workspaces, how do these spaces help them thrive, how does it help their creativity thrive, and how does it suppress it. The first time I filmed Fabiola, she mentioned that financial transparency was really something that we wanted to address. And it’s something that people aren’t really comfortable talking about, and we want to bring that to the forefront. Because not everyone has the money to just have their own space.
FC: I think financial transparency was going to be a theme no matter what we do in The Coalition, because it’s just not something that people want to talk about. It’s mostly the people who have the money and don’t want to think about it, you know what I mean? I think about my friends… and they’re just like me. They don’t have a lofty downtown studio. They work in their bedrooms, and they have to work, like, two-to-three jobs, just like me. It’s not all roses all the time.
And what do your own workspaces look like?
FC: I live in a really shitty two-bedroom apartment with my mom and sister, so I share a room, and it’s really strange for me to have a workspace. But once we shot the first episode, I really got into the idea of having my own space where I feel comfortable, because working in my own room is just not motivational at all… And it’s really taken a toll on how I get shit done. So currently [my workspace is] really only my room and the kitchen table. I want to hear about [Tam-Anh’s]! I bet it’s so organized!
TN: No! Are you kidding me? Well, just to be clear, it’s all portable; I can basically take my laptop anywhere and work wherever. But… my bedroom [is] still primarily where I work now. My bedroom’s a mess; there [are] always clothes everywhere. It’s always dark, and there’ll be nights where I’m just sitting in the dark playing on my computer. I feel like I’m like Nosferatu.
“As a lesbian artist, there’s just no space for queer women, especially queer women of color. We’re going to fix that.”
And this isn’t the only project that you’re working on, correct?
FC: Well, Workspaces is definitely first priority but I’m also working on a collective for lesbian, bi, and pansexual artists and I want to call it Belly [after the Hype Williams directed hip-hop film of the same name]. As a lesbian artist, there’s just no space for queer women, especially queer women of color. We’re going to fix that. I remember hearing about the Witches of Bushwick and just thinking, this is amazing. I want something just like this except, you know, I don’t live in Bushwick. So why not start something here in DC? And then there’s Baby Steps, which is so important to me, [and is meant] to help young people discover the art scene, discover that you can actually be a part of the art scene at this age.
TN: I think that what’s so great about working with Fabiola is that you realize that all of these projects are about uplifting women. With this platform, everyone has the ability to do that, and Fabiola makes that her mission.
Images via The Coalition.
For more information on The Coalition, visit their website here.
Stay tuned to Milk for more from WOC artists.