Visual Culture
This New Magazine Is Giving a Voice to Creators of Color
Danielle Murray and Kaya Bandele. Photo by Micah Pegues. Courtesy of Polychrome Mag.

Danielle Murray and Kaya Bandele. Photo by Micah Pegues. Courtesy of Polychrome Mag.

Pat Budiman. Photo by Micah Pegues. Courtesy of Polychrome Mag.

Pat Budiman. Photo by Micah Pegues. Courtesy of Polychrome Mag.

In January 2017, Micah Pegues was perusing the racks of Barnes & Noble in her hometown of Dallas, Texas, during her winter break from New York University. She hoped to find a magazine that would inspire her work as a young maker and a person of color who dabbles in photography, animation, and numerous other creative pursuits—but she left empty-handed.

“Whenever I see a PoC on the cover, I’ll pick it up, but I didn’t really see anything that engaged me,” she remembers. This particular experience stayed on her mind, and she felt compelled to take matters into her own hands. “My dad always says you can’t complain about something if you’re not going to do anything about it,” she says. And so she did.

When Pegues returned to her freshman year of school after the break, she began reaching out widely to potential collaborators, and received an enthusiastic response. A cohort of friends and fellow college students across the United States soon emerged: Celeste Scott at Biola University in Los Angeles, Kennedy Williams at the University of Texas at Austin, Brandon Douglas at the University of Southern California, Gabriela Yadegari at Bennington College in Vermont, and Theresa Tran at University of California, Irvine (who now works at digital media company Girlgaze).

A'nisa Megginson and Laura Walton. Photo by Micah Pegues. Courtesy of Polychrome Mag.

A'nisa Megginson and Laura Walton. Photo by Micah Pegues. Courtesy of Polychrome Mag.

Kennedy Williams and Brandon Douglas. Photo by Micah Pegues. Courtesy of Polychrome Mag.

Kennedy Williams and Brandon Douglas. Photo by Micah Pegues. Courtesy of Polychrome Mag.

One year later, Pegues and her friends are preparing to debut the first-ever print edition of Polychrome Mag.—a publication aimed at reshaping and adding greater complexity to representations of creative people of color in the traditional magazine narrative. (Polychrome launched a website in early 2017, publishing interviews online, but Pegues emphasizes the importance of producing a physical print edition to help diversify magazine shelves across the country.)

The group’s discussions and brainstorms began by addressing the problem. “We were all talking about these situations where we felt sort of marginalized, or underrepresented—and that’s a big buzzword now,” says Pegues. “But we wanted to make something real out of it.”

Similar experiences and perspectives emerged from the website’s interviews. One such interview subject, Anisa Tavangar, editor-in-chief of Hoot Magazine at Columbia University, who will appear in the first print edition of Polychrome, described mainstream fashion magazines that claim to be all about diversity, then almost without exception put white subjects on the covers of their highly anticipated September issues.

“Oftentimes we feel like tokens in these situations where diversity is just being lionized,” says Pegues.  

Brina Jeffries and Echo Chen. Photo by Micah Pegues. Courtesy of Polychrome Mag.

Brina Jeffries and Echo Chen. Photo by Micah Pegues. Courtesy of Polychrome Mag.

Hanna Sharif-Kazemi. Photo by Micah Pegues. Courtesy of Polychrome Mag.

Hanna Sharif-Kazemi. Photo by Micah Pegues. Courtesy of Polychrome Mag.

In contrast, Polychrome, which was named to encompass the multitude of skin tones of all those involved, is designed to be a safe and dedicated space in which to represent people of color and their ideas. (Pegues acknowledges that there are existing spaces online that similarly welcome and support creatives of color, such as Art Hoe Collective.)

The print issue has been in the works since March of 2017; over the past year, the group has communicated remotely via Google Hangouts and group text, planning the debut features and leveraging support from their respective communities—ultimately leading to a Kickstarter campaign that launched earlier this month and met its goal of $4,516 within 48 hours. It has since exceeded that by over $2,000 and counting. (The campaign ends on January 29th.) “It was really affirming,” says Pegues, who described an outpouring of support.

The first issue will bring together interviews with 11 creators—spanning photography, visual art, music, and entrepreneurial fields—each photographed by Pegues. The subjects include Washington, D.C.-born photographer Myles Loftin, Pakistani artist Salman Toor, Black Girl in Om founder Lauren Ash, Brooklyn-based illustrator Christina Chung, and Tavangar, among many others.

Courtesy of Polychrome Mag.

Courtesy of Polychrome Mag.

Since her initial visit to Barnes & Noble, Pegues says she has been wanting “to know more about the creative process,” and not just what someone has made, but “all they have done to get to where they are now.” Her new magazine does exactly that, providing a helpful resource for creatives to look for insight and inspiration—and offering in-depth perspectives of the individuals, of all skin tones, who make up the creative fields.

“I’m black, so a lot of people are like, ‘oh black artists’—and think musicians, or not just musicians but rappers,” she says. “It’s adding complexity and nuance to these identities, so that when you think of a black musician you’re not just thinking of a rapper; you can think of someone like [classical cellist and vocalist] Kelsey Lu, who’s just doing her own thing.”

Molly Gottschalk is Artsy’s Features Producer.