I entered Bar Le Ritz PDB exactly one week ago last Thursday night, excited to get my hands on the most recent issue of Yiara, a student-run undergraduate feminist art and art history publication. Now in its fifth year, Yiara continues to bring together visual and written work from undergrads at various universities in Montreal. This year, it features artists and authors from Concordia, McGill and Université de Montréal, as well guest contributor Magdalena Olszanowski (artist and PHD candidate in Communications at Concordia) and an interview with Mina Shum, director of Double Happiness and Ninth Floor, by Maya Popovich.
The lights were dim, and streamers hung on the bar’s colourful walls. This would not only be a night to celebrate five amazing years of this unique publication, but also a farewell to Amelia Wong-Mersereau, who after two years as editor-in-chief, will be graduating Concordia in the spring. I chatted with her early in the night about the current issue and the future of Yiara.
Neglecting her slice of pizza, which I later found out she had been trying to eat for the past hour (sorry!), she told me about how this issue came together. She explained that, as in previous years, there was no particular theme to this issue. They received many submissions, and went into what she described as a “rigorous jurying process,” dedicating one full day to artworks and another to written works. “We’re not looking for excellence,” she said, “but new, interesting, and important work. What hasn’t been represented.” She also emphasized the importance of dialogue between the team and the contributors. Through editing, sometimes even rephotographing artwork, it was important for the Yiara team to not dismiss a piece simply because it wasn’t “perfect”: “We want to have a conversation with people who’ve submitted,” Wong-Mersereau explained. And it really paid off. Flipping through the pages of the issue as we spoke, I was so impressed by the quality of this publication. It has weight – literally and figuratively – and a lot to say.
“There’s a lot more painting that usual. A lot more essays, and some poetry. The interview is a real highlight,” said Wong-Mersereau. She also had a lot to say about the cover, which for those of us who have been collecting Yiara over the last five years, is very different from what we’ve seen from them before: “The cover is a major departure. All the years prior, the cover was a creative exploration of the Creative Director, and was usually quite organic and abstract.” This year, the cover features a black and white archival photo of arrested students – a still from Shum’s Ninth Floor, a documentary about the 1969 Sir George William’s Affair, when Concordia students occupied the ninth floor of the Hall building after a professor was accused of unfair grading and discrimination towards six Black students. “It’s loud in its own way,” she says. Much like the pieces inside, it is thoughtful, relevant, and extremely powerful. This year’s Creative Director, Laura Lalonde, a Communications student at Concordia, designed a dynamic and visually striking issue.
This year’s issue features a diverse team and list of contributors. Marieke Denil, Camille Durand Gauthier, Roxa Hy, Maidina Kadeer Ozbek, Caroline Kinkead, Zezé Le Lin, Zoe Maeve, Natasha Molinari, Laurie Cotton Pigeon, Corinne Spitalier, Emma Wallace, Eli-Bella Wood, and Julie Zenderoudi’s works “naturally come together in various ways,” explains Wong-Mersereau. “But that isn’t intentional I guess,” she continues, “the conversation happens naturally.”
Yiara continues to be a special and significant publication for the Montreal art student community. “The biggest thing is how it brings together the community,” she said, “it’s one of the only cross-university, bilingual publications and this is an important platform for conversations to take place.” What else is so special about it? It’s quality. From the first issue, the Yiara team has always emphasized this. “The printed page is still so magic,” says Wong-Mersereau, “it’s tactile, exciting, so quality is still so important for us.”
“It’s really amazing how each year can be so successful,” she reflects, “Our founder can be really proud.” Each year, the magazine keeps growing and reaching new heights. But, as it was when first published five years ago, Yiara is still free. “I’m just really proud of it,” says Wong-Mersereau. In the future, the team hopes to put out a 5-magazine pack and focus on reprinting older issues, which are difficult to find. In the meantime, you can pick up your own copy of issue 05 at various cafes and reading rooms in Montreal universities, including the Fine Arts Reading Room at Concordia. It is also now available online, in full, here. And you can also check out past issues here. Wong-Mersereau also suggests you keep an eye on their Facebook page for summer events and upcoming call-outs.
Happy five years, Yiara!