PHOTOGRAPHY: Sheena She
The world of zine making and independent publishing is a world meant for the underdog. While mainstream media (ie: newspapers, magazines and even the digital news space) still have a ways to go in terms of an even playing field for diverse representation, zines and indie publications have served as a cathartic and important alternative media form that allows our society’s most underrepresented (women, minorities, and the queer community for example) to have an uncensored and unapologetic voice.
It’s what makes roles, such as Aurora Diaz, founder and head organizers of the womxn centered art collective, The Bettys, so important. For the past 7 years, Diaz has organized and tirelessly promoted womxn and womxn of color creatives—not limited to visual artists, illustrators, designers and writers— through her home grown platform, and it’s an experience that has taught her the ins and outs as well as the highs and the lows of being a self made, millennial artist. Mostly via Instagram, Diaz would publish, post and share work that reflected The Bettys signature mantra of putting the womxn voice first, and dismantling any entity, large or small, that got in the way of such. Come 2021, Diaz plans to retire the collective, to move on to do more personal artistic work, so we decided to chat and reflect on what the past 7 years has taught her and what we can expect from her moving forward.
How did you first get introduced to art?
Hardest question ever. I always had a big affinity for art. Maybe what really sparked my interest was when I was a teen and i started smoking pot and going to the MET, I’ve been to the MET about 60 times or so in the last 15 years of my career as a pothead.
When and why did you decide to start The Bettys?" Where did the name come from?
I started working on the bettys about 7 years ago, it didn’t really materialize until about 5 years ago. Its really funny actually, but the bettys doesn’t really have a deep intricate meaning that people expect. I got it out of movie that was on in the middle of night on Turner Classic Movies.The scene took place on a beach in the 50s-60s and in the movie these surfer guys wanted to pick up these group of girls they kept calling bettys. The bettys did not care for their attention and were dismissive, eating junk food, sunbathing and really just doing them. The ironic #relatable moment in that weird movie and my project really meshed and it just stuck.
You've traveled a lot via the your artwork and collective — do you think art scenes differ from city to city? Are they similar? What is it like navigating the New York art scene as a womxn of color?
Every city def has its own unique art scene. The only common denominator has to be Gentrification. Gentrification has directly impacted the way artists create in each city and depending on how rapid that development is, the harder the obstacles it is to maintain and create your art. Amongst a slew of other issues gentrifications brings to (majorly POC) areas, artists have to take responsibility for their involvement in gentrification and how unproductive it is especially now that gentrification has gone off the rails. To create in NYC for example, its like an episode of legends of the hidden temple. Theres other people as well aiming to create and make art a full time dream but creating in nyc has never ever linear in the first place. things like class, money, race, gender etc, still create powerful puzzles that you have to navigate to create. gentrification especially, enforces these barriers to the point where creating in nyc may seem implausible. The truth is, There’s no real formula on how to “art” in NYC, the quicker you figure out, the quicker it will be for you to do whatever the fuck you want.
The Bettyz have an unapologetic womanist tone in all of it's social media, branding, etc. Tell me about your decision to keep that at the forefront of the brand?
It’s funny actually but when I started the bettys i had no idea wtf to post. So I started posting pictures of my favorite women/queer celebrities and personalities I know about and admire. There i started to develop this idea of how I wanted to collective to work, I wanted it to be fun, I wanted it to be radical and I want it to be a celebration of humans you didn’t know existed.
What's something you think that young creatives don't know or expect when it comes to running your own small business?
The post office is a VR game of what hell is like.
How important is the theme of identity when it comes to your work and when working with others a part of The Bettyz?
It’s always been important to me being the daughter of immigrants but throughout the years of doing the bettys, my understanding and practice of identity has become a priority. While vending especially, I was put in positions where I was in overly white spaces and I just was confused, culture shocked, more unfortunately, being taken advantage of. I sometimes have cried my entire commute back home and then some, but Im one of those girls that cries a lot at first but then gets righteous and I promised myself every time I was going to be better and make sure I was always representing the underrepresented. It’s a lot of work and learning and its never enough but fulfilling. Everyone around you has a unique story, to dismiss or think its not relevant is just really unfortunate.
How do you want The Bettyz (and yourself!) to grow in the next few years? Where do you see the future of zine making and independent publishing?
I am retiring the bettys in 2021, it is one of those all good things must come to an end kind a thing. I will be starting a new brand and pursuing crafting. I’ll always be making zines though. When it comes to zine and independent publishing i think it will always be thriving. It really is an excellent tool to get yourself out there and do whatever you like that sense of freedom can be rare and independent publishing is one of those gems.