Detroit artist, educator, and organizer Cyrah Dardas is making the art she wants to see in her community. But sometimes, getting integrated into a community as a queer artist is challenging. Luckily, that was not Dardas’ experience coming to Detroit.
“I feel very helped by the queer community here,” Dardas said. “I also feel like, that is starkly different than, maybe like, how I felt with my family or how I felt in other places. So, I felt not so much like I needed to carve [out a place], but that I was able to be a part of. Whereas, in some of the other places that I operate in, there is a lot of carving out that needs to be done.”
To further establish safe spaces for artists, Dardas and her partner Bakpack Durden—a fellow Detroit artist—started Paper Street Press, a zine press advocating for QTBIPOC (Queer & Trans Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and Disabled BIPOC.
Zines (or formally, fanzines) have served as the ideal medium to catalog DIY art and culture, but Dardas and Durden are adding a new spin.
“Paper Street is an invitation for artists to examine their process and focus less on the product and in doing so, be invited into the richness of that process and celebrated for it. It’s so frequently that we're looking for products out of people. And that, unfortunately, makes that person somewhat of a consumable thing and their work becomes consumable.”
Dardas’ upbringing as an artist and a student—she was partially homeschooled—informs much of the work she does. After working with textiles at a young age, she fell in love with the ability to put her creations out and into the world. That ability is something Dardas sees as a privilege she would like to pass on to other marginalized artists.
Although Paper Street Press was originally conceived as a strictly virtual project, it has branched out to host what Dardas calls “sanctuary spaces.” There, artists can find a place to create and be supported, and the work they complete at the sanctuary spaces will end up in a Paper Street zine.
“So, the idea is that we're processing, we're grounding, we're communing. And that's going to be archived in a way, and then that will become a book. It's really rooted in how I truly believe that creativity is a part of healing,” she explains.
For Dardas, healing and creativity go together in many ways. Another one of her works, Aban, draws from the sacred geometry of Persian gardens to create frameworks, or systems that bring people closer to personal and communal liberation.
“Tapestry from Iran is an abstracted version of an aerial view of a garden, a Persian garden construct. And they were reconstructed and reconstructed and looked at ... and they were thought of in a way that—basically, you could figure out through using sacred geometry, which exists inside of these plants, you can then use that same system outside of those plants to help facilitate the plants grow better together. And ... I think that that is very beautiful, metaphorically, when you're thinking about human structures and systems and frameworks.”
The idea is to use these frameworks to help people find a process that works for them, whether it be in art or in education. For Dardas, finding a learning process that works for the learner is a top priority in her teaching. She explains how her experience with homeschool and self-teaching shaped the educator that she is today.
“I think I was able to explore and learn through that exploration and that play and frankly, just being kind of left alone to navigate what drives me and I, I try to embody that same energy when I'm working with young people, I try to not be prescriptive. I try to practice a lot of consent, and I try to advocate for play. I think the biggest difference is that I was often very alone, and I didn't get to have the community that I think is so vital to learning.”
As an educator, Dardas looks to humanize the relationship between student and teacher, creating more room for empathy and understanding so that students can be their authentic selves. Additionally, discussing pronouns and normalizing being a queer person are some of Dardas’ top priorities.
“It's not helpful for young people when they're trying to figure out who they are for people to be constantly presenting them with one option. So I like to bring in an expansiveness around gender ... All of those things are very normal parts of the human experience, and pleasurable parts of the human experience. Children need to be invited into pleasure and joy.”
Support for arts and culture coverage on Stateside comes in part from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.
This post was written by Stateside production assistant Lucas Polack.