Zuri McWhorter: On rejection of the mainstream

The Michigan-born artist and curator does not want her open-submission zine, ‘Juste Milieu’, to enter the mainstream.

Zuri McWhorter: On rejection of the mainstream

Zuri McWhorter, 29, is many things: a visual artist, a curator, a metaphor-seeker. “I spend a lot of time in my apartment, which has a ton of windows,” McWhorter told me. “At nighttime, white light floods my rooms, and I pretend that it’s the moon – but it’s really LED security lights from the building next door.”

As frivolous as such a thing may sound to her, these poignant interpretations truly showcased her mind to me as being one of a creative.

Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, McWhorter is the holder of two degrees in Irish Literature and Dramatic Performance, and the founder of ‘Juste Milieu’ zine: a seasonally-released non-profit publication designed for the quirky, imaginative and the rejected. 

The zines are composed of various different mediums from photos and poetry, to paintings, collages and digital graphics. This way, contributors avoid feeling oppressed by any imposed creative restrictions.

It is more than likely that you have not heard of Juste Milieu. However, that is precisely the point. McWhorter doesn’t want her creation to enter the mainstream.

"I don't want J.M to go mainstream because I see what it takes to sell out," McWhorter says. "It's a lot of stranger's opinions of what you should or shouldn't do, just to ultimately entertain another group of strangers."

Although McWhorter acknowledges that entering the "mainstream" wouldn't necessarily mean having to become a "sell out", she explained further that being highly known would not fit in with the ethos of Juste Milieu or her personal alignment with art.

“I genuinely think that a true artist or curator is a person who would create regardless of whether or not anyone is watching,” McWhorter says. "J.M is just like your favourite dive bar, but with all of your most talented and encouraging friends. I wouldn't want to risk taking that away by entering the mainstream."

Although the word “zine” initially derived from early ideas of “fandom” and exclusivity, the little books hold a vast history. The term entered the activist space during the 60s, becoming more informal, “underground”, and political. Zines then became a potential space to push for social change and acceptance – an inherent juxtaposition between the nature of submitting to a publication and risking rejection within the majority of current-day magazines.

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It is a mutual bond of past rejection that anchors many of J.M's contributors to its creator. First launching in 2017 with no set theme, the now-sixteen-issue's-strong zine accepts all submissions. McWhorter recalls the days of pinning her hope and sense of validation upon external publishers.

“I was just tired of getting rejection letters for my work, so I started my own zine,” McWhorter says. “It’s a leisurely way of bringing people together and it allows people a space to just make whatever it is that they feel. I try to keep it intimate, but aside from that there is no particular aim."

McWhorter is currently working on the latest issue of Juste Milieu, inspired by the theme of “film is not dead”. Despite J.M’s later introduction of themes after initially launching as entirely open-ended, contributors are not limited in their interpretation of the subject. In fact, it is often their artworks and taste that go on to inspire an issue’s direction.

“The theme of “film is not dead” was chosen because I love film photography and receive a lot of it anyway within the zine’s submission pool,” McWhorter says. “I find the concept of nostalgia that film-esque photography styles evoke to be intriguing, so I hope readers feel some sort of connection to good times in their past while looking through this issue.”

As somebody who creates themselves, McWhorter feels a particular sense of gratitude towards those who submit to her zine. Especially as creatives experience rejection in so many aspects of their careers – unwanted submissions, distasteful comments, endless editing processes – McWhorter is all too familiar with the hesitation that can come before deciding to share your work.

Juste Milieu feels like an exchange of trust, where the artists and writers appreciate the collaborative zine that I assemble, just as I appreciate their work," McWhorter says. “Curating the zine is my favourite thing.”

The act of appreciation is something that the name of the zine reflects. Translating into “happy medium” in French, Juste Milieu is about trust, balance and freedom: allowing both its curator and contributors a space to work together without external pressures and “Am I good enough?” doubts. So long as a piece broadly follows the issue’s theme, it will be incorporated.

Issue sixteen of Juste Milieu is now available online. Information on upcoming issues can be found via the zine's Instagram.

Header Image Credit: Zuri McWhorter / 'Belle Dorcas'

Author

Ciéra Cree

Ciéra Cree Contributor

Ciéra Cree is a 23-year-old Media/Magazine Journalism scholarship graduate with a passion for creativity. She has undertaken many creative endeavours including becoming a Poet Laureate, being highly commended by The Royal Society of Literature and running a publication (The Ruskin Journal). As someone philosophically minded, Ciéra enjoys the abstract and interpreting deeper meanings from works.

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1 Comments

  • Tom Inniss

    On 25 October 2023, 14:38 Tom Inniss Voice Team commented:

    Great read! Really interesting to hear about someone who made an opportunity happen for themselves.

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