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We speak to Philomena Epps, an independent writer and art critic living in London. She is also the founding editor and publisher of Orlando, a zine that responds to the prospect of societal pressures offering an antidote to the rising uncertainties, violence, stigma, and inequality. The platform prioritises a liberated, intersectional, and polyphonic discourse, with roots in feminist and queer politics.
Why is Orlando relevant now?
I started Orlando in 2014. The political urgency and creative necessity of prioritising an intersectional and polyphonic voice has only increased over the last five years, amid the rising vicissitudes of violence, stigma, and inequality. Orlando nods to a future where societal constraints are dispelled, seeking to nurture an intersectional discourse that is critically engaged, incisive, and polyphonic. The magazine is non-hierarchical and multidisciplinary. It is an expansive space in which individuals can express themselves without feeling pressured to conform to a homogenous style or mode of writing. Didacticism is always eschewed in favour of fluidity, with the hope that readers can find a part of themselves within the pages, feel supported, or at least offer a space for release, solidarity, or escapism.
Where do you find your references?
I’m inspired by print ephemera, feminist journals, DIY zines, periodicals from art and literary history, photo books, artist books and specialist publications. Although Orlando also exists as a website, it was crucial to me that it primarily existed as a tangible object, a statement of intent.
Do you think this generation is as politically active and has as much to say about protest and resistance as past generations?
Yes. How could they not be? Environmental collapse. Climate change. The global threat of fascism and the far-right. Institutional racism. The systemic levels of violence and abuse enacted on the bodies of women, the LGBTQ community, and gender non-conforming individuals. The dismantling of the NHS. Funding cuts. The rising levels of poverty and homelessness. Student debt. Zero-hour contracts. When I was looking at images from the 1980s of people protesting the arrest of women from Greenham Common outside of Holloway Prison, I thought about the 2017 occupation of the same prison by Sisters Uncut. It’s cyclical. The work is being done again and again, and there is much we can learn about organising, protest, and resistance from previous generations.
Why is it important for women to self-publish?
Self-publishing—in addition to other DIY practices and countercultural approaches to making—allows for gatekeepers to be sidestepped, creating a self-initiated and liberated space for people to express themselves fully. Considering women’s voices, stories, and opinions have been marginalised and silenced for centuries—and often are still held in lesser regard or afforded less opportunities—it makes sense that women would want to self-publish, alongside intersecting with the feminist and queer politics of community-building and other empathetic and collaborative modes of creating or sharing knowledge.
With it being IWD, who is your biggest female inspiration and why?
This is a hard question. There are so many trailblazing female artists, writers, filmmakers, and theorists who have been deeply formative and important to me—and should be celebrated every day of the week, month, and year. However, because she died this week, I would like to pay homage to the incredible artist Carolee Schneemann. Encountering her practice—which spanned film, performance, painting, books, drawings, and so much more—became a portal through which I discovered an alternative and experimental art history, one that was led by the body, by desire, by feeling, by language, by politics. It’s hard to put into words how influential that discovery was. She leaves a remarkable legacy.