Aiesha Wong isn’t of the opinion that Dublin is accommodating of artists. Still, she doesn’t want to cynically wallow in the city’s shortcomings either.
The common narrative is that Dublin is hostile towards the arts, says Wong, a graphic designer, musician and multimedia artist. “Everyone leaves, and all the artists emigrate.”
But, she says of herself and the other co-founders of Stray Magazine, they don’t want to produce a piece of work that exclusively holds a negative viewpoint. “We’re more, ‘Okay, this is the narrative but things are happening too.’”
Launched in mid-August, Stray Magazine presented itself as “a love letter” to the artists who keep the city’s cultural scene alive and vibrant.
Intending to document subcultures and artists on the peripheries, Wong says, their fundamental objective is to inject some sense of hope into the local arts scene.
“It’s more about being uplifting,” she says, “about showing that there is stuff here and combating the ‘arts is dying’ kinda vibe.”
The idea to create a magazine was a spur-of-the-moment thought at the start of the summer, Wong says, sat outside a café on South William Street.
Joined by the magazine’s three other co-founders – writer and DJ Ly Hagan, visual artist Faye Dolan, and arts manager and multimedia artist Daranijoh Sanni – she says they wanted to demystify and make the world of publications a bit more accessible.
“As someone who already works in magazines, it’s hard to break into the industry,” Wong says. “Most arts industry jobs are run predominantly by upper-class, or at a minimum, middle-class people.”
The majority of the Stray team are working-class, she says, “and I think what we’re trying to do is just show that, it literally doesn’t matter who you are. You can do it and you don’t have to be rich.”
Ly Hagan, Stray’s editor-in-chief and a student, says they felt writing opportunities were scarce for people who didn’t have a college degree.
“There’s a kind of divide between who’s doing the writing about Dublin and who the actual players are,” they say. “So, I think it was about giving those people a voice to talk about the things they are involved in.”
Collectively, the four co-founders were drawing on a DIY spirit that emerged over the course of the pandemic, according to Faye Dolan, Stray’s web coordinator. “There’s been a rise in community-led events and people running their own spaces.”
“It’s really inspiring,” she says. “Like there are so many people who made their own brands, host club nights or are making music, doing it on their own.”
Wong says their ethos is to a certain degree countercultural. “It’s slightly a critique of what’s happening in Dublin, but I think it’s more just about being open.”
The magazine was kickstarted with an article by Cian McCarthy, a DJ born with a malformation in his ear drums so he has to wear hearing aids.
Detailing his effort to create music despite his disability, the author described the distress of losing all hearing for five months.
It was, Wong says, precisely what she wanted to represent the magazine.
“Like, whether it is because of Dublin or this, there is a common struggle to make art,” she says. “There is a struggle here, but it concludes on a positive note, and that’s the thing, we don’t want to be ‘Dublin is shit, everything is bad and hard.’”
Daranijoh Sanni, the magazine’s community director, says Dublin’s art and creative scene tends to be quite serious. It is something he has consistently striven to react against.
An experimental hip-hop artist who performs under the moniker of E The Artist, Sanni classifies his disorienting, glitchy electronic output as “sillywave”.
He began as a promoter four years ago, at the age of 16. “I couldn’t get booked for anything,” he says. “So, I just booked myself.”
His events, like his music, have both challenged audiences and allowed them to cut loose by embracing something more fun, with two of his more recent events being a post-civil war Nigerian music night and a club, framed as an over-the-top international boxing “Fight Night”.
For Stray’s own launch, Sanni booked the trolley-based eccentric electronic group, Acid Granny. Their donning of outlandish costumes, use of toy instruments, and bizarre, satirical lyrics, he says, hold a greater significance to the arts scene than might be apparent at first.
“They seem like outcasts who make meme music,” he says, “but they’re also very gifted musicians. They have more to say than they give off and they give people the courage to say things.”
The magazine’s launch, Wong says, was in one respect a celebration. But more importantly, she says it became an opportunity for people to connect and create a more meaningful community of previously disparate artists.
“We’d all have friends from different groups and sections of Dublin,” she says. “With everyone being together, I think Stray has the ability to be a glue. It’s like a facilitator, especially in the arts scene, of making connections.”