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Ebony Axis provides space for black women’s expression

LaShawn Simmons ’18 is devoted to restoring the humanity of black women through Ebony Axis, a zine that displays creative writing and art by black women on the Brandeis campus.

Ebony Axis demonstrates strong regard for the intersection of racial and gender discrimination that black women face. The artists involved also challenge the stereotypical view of black women as being sassy and angry by showing their own individual identity through their poems and stories inside the zine, says Simmons, the founder and editor.

“Our version of womanhood is complicated. It is not a simplified mean, and it is hard to escape that with the influence of the media. You have different people coming from all over the world at a predominately white institution where people already have a certain way they view black folks,” she explained.

Simmons wanted to create a space where black women here at Brandeis can share personal stories and discuss issues related to race and gender. “It is a space in which we can be ourselves, not worry who is watching and be unapologetic,” she explained. Such spaces, from her experience, are not often granted to black women here at Brandeis.

Simmons advocates for the creation of more spaces where black students at Brandeis can be themselves. This year the Ebony Axis production team hosted a launch party at Chum’s where everyone on campus was invited to come and celebrate the new edition. This was an opportunity, she said, for people to interact with the artists involved with the zine, and also reach out or share stories and ideas with students who are upperclassmen or taking the same classes. What made the launch party unique this year was the photo exhibition by Gilberto Rosa ’18. His photos depicted black females at Brandeis expressing love, friendship and happiness.

On the cover is an illustration by Justus Davis ’19 of a black woman with hair made out of trees and shrubs. The image portrays the woman as a nymph, who not only protects nature but is nature herself, said Davis. “It challenges the idea that black women are only seen in inner-city settings,” Simmons noted.

Simmons’ inspiration for the zine was a result of her participation in a theater production her first year at Brandeis, titled “for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf,” written by Ntozake Shange. She was intrigued by the “communal aspect backstage. It was more than rehearsing for a play,” she explained. “It was a space where fellow black women here on campus can uplift each other.”

So far there have only been two editions of Ebony Axis. The first was published last year and the second edition came out this year on Oct. 14. The zine is made up of poems, narratives and illustrations that express love, friendship, self love and an ode to black women. Each of the pieces shares a personal experience about relationships, religion, finding one’s own identity and even apologizing to one’s hair for not appreciating its natural beauty.

The hardest part in creating the zine was finding people who are willing to share their work, according to Simmons. Many times, she had to convince people by showing them that poetry is boundless and any person who writes a poem is a poet. There are no requirements or standards for submissions. “Art is a personal experience and you cannot judge that,” she said. The only thing that is not tolerated is offensive material.

Ebony Axis been published thanks to a grant from the minor in Creativity, the Arts, and Social Transformation. The zine can be now be accessed online at: ebonyaxis.com/publication. Simmons said she hopes to find people that would want to continue the legacy of Ebony Axis in the near future.

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