In advance of This is Worldtown’s One Year Anniversary Event ARCHV RMX, we chatted with guest panelist Sharine Taylor about the importance of representation from diaspora communities, her love for keeping archives and how she found her voice in digital spaces.
Sharine Taylor is an Afro-Jamaican, Toronto-based digital content creator, artist, writer, editor and academic. She is currently a contributor at Noisey, the Editor-in-Chief of BASHY Magazine and is on the final leg of pursuing an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in the humanities.
How did you get started?
I’m a student at University of Toronto and after three million and four program changes, I landed in the media studies program, which was probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me. In this particular program, it’s very interdisciplinary. You can bring in your knowledge from virtually any field and curate it so it fits the mold of media studies. And for me, it was sociology (And also my strong sense of arrogant Jamaican pride in virtually every space that I occupy). One of the classes that I took made me realize that I could be visible in an academic setting, where often people of colour, women of colour, Black and Indigenous folks were not visible. Once I realized that media studies was something that I didn’t necessarily have to do in an academic space, everything just took off from there. I started freelancing and doing work through internships at advertising agencies, at VICE and with Noisey. And from there, I used all my collective experiences to create BASHY Magazine.
What inspired you to create BASHY magazine?
When I would see writing about Jamaica, and I’d click on the author, they wouldn’t tend to occupy Jamaican identity and it tended to be written by somebody who had an appreciation or fascination with the culture, maybe even fetishization of the culture. Given all that I had access to living in the Global North and understanding my privilege, and seeing how there’s a real disconnect with access to resources in the global south – I thought to myself, there is no publication that I know of that exists in the Global North that is 100% focused on Jamaica and that also includes the voices of the diaspora. I think that we’re often left out of the conversation and I just wanted to make space for that. With BASHY, I wanted it to be a global conversation and not one that was just restricted to Jamaica, but also one that talked about our identities outside of the island.
Can you speak to the importance of reclaiming narratives about diaspora communities?
A lot of the work that I’ve done, my own personal work as well as the research that I’ve done in school, has largely been focused on citizenship, belonging, home, community and how that’s fostered between and beyond borders. Borders are man made and only exist for capitalist and neo-colonial purposes. A lot of how I felt, and a lot of what home means to me, means existing between these two spaces. The beauty of living in Toronto is that I never feel far from home. In every community that I’ve lived in, both in Toronto or in different cities in the GTA, I’ve never felt very far from Jamaica. There’s always a festival or a concert or a community or a restaurant; there are these small pockets. Those [pockets] draw on the existence of diasporic communities. It’s important for me to think about our identities beyond the geographic space that we occupy and talk about what it means to be Jamaican in Toronto, what it means to be Jamaican in a different location. And also taking a very intersectional approach like asking what it means to be somebody who identifies as queer in Toronto who is also Jamaican? And just speaking about those different identities because that’s ultimately what’s going to shape our experience. I think that those experiences are worth talking about and worth championing in BASHY.
Could you describe how your work involves archival material?
My mother is not a very sentimental person at all. So there are very little memories in my household of myself as a child. Just photographs, no video or anything. That is something that I’ve wanted to change for my own self. So I document virtually everything. Things that don’t need to be documented, I document it. And I save things and I hoard things. So with BASHY, have the print, and as long as those exist, our stories and our narratives will be there. But I really like that we are also online, and the fact that we’re able to house these stories in a print and then make it accessible in digital spaces. We also try to uncover stories that haven’t been told or trying to preserve stories in digital ways. Most recently, we published a story written by our music editor Shanice Wilson, who is a descendant of the Maroons, a group of people in Jamaica who were granted independence before Jamaica as a country was granted independence. Much of the Maroon histories are oral stories. They’re very cautious of who enters this space and when people do enter this space, what people are leaving with from this space. Our access to this space, through Shanice, and being able to digitize the story and make the transition from oral to digital, was something that really meant a lot to me. I thought, in a few years, if BASHY is still up and running, somebody can read this and make it accessible. And based on our comments yesterday and how I saw it move across online, people were saying things like “I have Maroon heritage and I never knew any of these things!” and just thinking somebody across the pond in the UK is reading this and sharing this with his or her family members. I think that is how BASHY has tried to archive moments.
Why is it important to have physical spaces and digital spaces for artists of colour and specifically female artists of colour to share their work?
I know that online spaces can be incredibly violent, especially toward Black, Indigenous and women of colour. Thankfully my experiences online have been good. I very much use my space and my time online to make meaningful connections and I would not have the access to knowledge that I have if it weren’t for being online and accessing these digital spaces, particularly Twitter. I think that those spaces are super important because for me they both give you access to information and they make information accessible. But I also think it helps you confront things that you’re not all that comfortable with. And it makes things visible to you, and challenges the things you already believe. I think it’s important for us to have access to those things. A lot of us are cash poor people, a lot of us are artists who work on the margins. And I think once one learns how to use a digital space to their advantage, then you can change your position. I know that’s been the scenario for me. That’s where I found all my online work. That’s where I’ve connected with the BASHY editors, that’s where everything was formed for me. I often tell the folks: as much as you take up space in your physical settings, do that online as well.
What issues do you hope to change or address through the work that you do?
My priority has always been to allow people to see Jamaica beyond the stereotypical tropes that they see, and the lens through which they understand Jamaica. A lot of times, the Global North dictates how the Global South is perceived. I find it very comforting and I find peace knowing that through BASHY, there’s a bridge to access this publication that is visible, and that there are people in Jamaica who can say, “hey, this is how it really is.” I’ve always tried to be conscious of the ways in which im visible in these digital spaces. And I want to lend that visibility to the things that I create so that people who are a part of it can also create those things. It’s always been about shifting the politics of visibility to folks who can better speak to their experiences and shift how Jamaica is understood in the global imagination – beyond smoking weed and beyond being linked to deviance and criminality – which is often the case in news and broadcast and print media. Those are the aims and I’m hoping that we can maintain those things going forward.
For the people who are moved by your work, what would be the next steps for them to take?
Stepping into the world of independent publishing has been very interesting. It is not cheap. And I understand why people pivot to video or why there are digital publications that exist as opposed to print publications. But I really do love print and I love the feeling of holding something and holding your work. I would advise anybody if they’re interested in supporting this lovely endeavour to consider purchasing a copy. Any issue that is purchased, the money goes right back into paying our contributors and our editors, covering our operational fees and production, shipping costs, all that wonderful stuff. We are being supported on Patreon which is a monthly subscription based service. I’d also encourage folks to go online, read our articles, listen to our playlist, looking at our photo essays, sharing our videos – just engaging with the content.