Zahra Swanzy, known as Swanzy, is a creative who does community work, fashion and makes zines.
Swanzy runs an intersectional newspaper zine called ROADFEMME, which is published biannually. The aim of the zine is to provide a “platform that allows people from around the world to express themselves through honest and creative storytelling”. Swanzy accepts contributions, compiles the content and prints it into a newspaper format that people can purchase online. She funds ROADFEMME herself and has found that “connecting with so many people who want to share their stories with [her] is priceless”.
Each issue has a theme, which contributors can interpret however they wish and submit what they believe relates to the theme. The first issue ‘Your Story, Our Story’ focused on women’s storytelling and pieces came in from all over the world. It was launched at Women of the World Festival at the Southbank Centre, in London, for International Womens’ Day 2014.
ROADFEMME issue 001 – ‘Chalkboard’ by Nelly Rose Stewart
ROADFEMME’s next theme was ‘The Black Issue’ and so was heavily focused on race and identity. It was released following a trip to the United States soon after the murder of Mike Brown, when police brutality started to become more and more publicised. Hard-hitting photography and drawings brought people’s thought and opinions to life, while the written pieces discussed current racial issues.
‘Stay True’ is ROADFEMME’s most recent release; Swanzy asked “Why as a society are we made to believe that it’s okay to be everything else but ourselves?” Stay True explores the journey of being your authentic self by facing the realities of life as well as emotional and mental states which are often frowned upon. In this 36-page publication, contributors shared intimate stories, took raw, honest photos and explained why it’s so important to stay true.
So, what’s next for ROADFEMME? Swanzy has already started brainstorming for the next release. “I initially wanted to explore immigration/migration and the fact that there’s a lot of talk globally about border controls. I don’t like that people feel tied or limited to the place that they live when, historically, people have moved around the world. I also think it’s important for people of colour, particularly Africans living the diasporic experience, to be connected to each other. Our stories, experiences and frustrations are similar and through that similarity breeds strength and unity.”
Another repeated theme in Swanzy’s work is to provide a platform to shine a light for other people’s voices. “Through the sharing of stories I’ve made strong bonds with contributors as well as other zines in the community. It’s so nice to feel united. Self-publishing is not easy, it’s exhausting and costly. ROADFEMME is all heart and, with all my heart, I know it’s important to claim your space and narrate your own stories. That makes it all worthwhile.”
ROADFEMME will be back at Women of the World Festival at the Southbank Centre in March. Get your Stay True issue here.
The Stay True radio discussion series will be starting next month on NTS.