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Girl Gang Leeds

Ahead of Girl Gang Leeds’ 2nd birthday, Elle Bennett chats with founding members Kaz and Emily to find out more about the collective, learn about their highlights of 2018 and gets the low-down on what’s in store for 2019.

Back in 2015, Girl Gang launched as a creative collective for women, non-binary and trans people in Sheffield. It began when two female business owners decided to collaborate on an immersive screening of the cult classic Mean Girls. They realised there was a need for an inclusive and collaborative community, and thus Girl Gang was born. Together they wrote up a manifesto, focussing on establishing a supportive and welcoming platform for women, non-binary and trans creatives, and posted it on social media.

“I saw this manifesto and was like ‘Oh my God, yes! This is something I really want to be a part of!” Kaz excitedly recollects. At the time, Kaz had finishing university and was looking for something to do and wanted to make some new friends, so a group like Girl Gang seemed to be exactly what she needed. Around two years later, Kaz moved to Leeds and decided to bring Girl Gang with her. “It took me a while to find my feet, but we had a big meeting and loads of people came. They really helped us get the ball rolling and helped to form our team,” explains Kaz. “That’s when I met Emily, and it just sort of spiralled from there”.

Since then, Kaz and Emily – along with the rest of the Girl Gang Leeds team – have been tirelessly hosting meetups, gigs, exhibitions and more; all showcasing the work of local creatives and bringing together women, non-binary people and the LGBTQ+ community.

“Girl Gang help tackle the self-doubt and ‘imposter syndrome’ that can inhibit new creatives.”

2018 was a massive year for Girl Gang Leeds, with them holding some of their biggest events ever and establishing a constantly growing network of artists and musicians. Their event for International Women’s Day was one of the year’s highlights. It was an evening of inspiring talks from badass local creatives and activists, featuring: illustrator Kristyna Baczynski; Bobbi Rae and Emma Hardaker of Modes of Expression; the Leeds-based DJ collective Equaliser; Tina Leslie, the founder of the anti-period poverty charity Freedom4girls; and independent porn producer and performer Vex Ashley. “At that point, it was one of the busiest things we had done,” Emily tells me.

Girl Gang at Leeds Zine Fair

Girl Gang’s success points toward the strong and shared desire to foster a sense of connection and community among women, trans and non-binary people – especially in large cities where you can easily find yourself feeling isolated and alienated. “I think we all just relate to that feeling of wanting to meet new people and make new friends. For some people, it’s an [opportunity for] artist collaboration; but there’s also just everyday people who want some friends. I think that need for a community is what really brings it all together,” says Kaz.

And it’s true, often the perception of ‘boys clubs’ within artistic circles can leave people who aren’t cis-men feeling discouraged, unable to make their voice heard or be taken seriously.

Collectives like Girl Gang play a huge part in lifting up women and members of the LGBT+ community, instilling confidence and creating a welcoming space free from competition or hierarchy. Girl Gang help encourage numerous new artists hoping to make a name for themselves by creating a platform for them to present and sell their work. “Like with our Festive Arts Market,” Kaz says, “some of the stall holders had never done a stall before and were like, ‘Oh God, this is my first one!’ But by the end of the day, they were all really positive about it and said it really inspired them to try and do some more”.

Girl Gang tshirts designed by Olivia Talbot

Kaz and Emily are keen to tell me about illustrator Olivia Talbot, who held one of her first exhibitions with Girl Gang in 2017. “When she first started with us, she was so unsure about selling her stuff, but we were like, ‘It’s amazing you should definitely do this!’” Emily tells me. By connecting established artists with emerging artists, Girl Gang help tackle the self-doubt and ‘imposter syndrome’ that can inhibit new creatives from achieving everything they aspire to. “When you’re working in isolation it’s really easy to look at other people on Instagram and think ‘Oh I’m not as good as them’, but actually when you meet them you break that barrier and realise they’re just a normal person”.

Heading into 2019, Girl Gang Leeds have a tonne of exciting events on the agenda. On 13th February they’ll be holding a special meet-up in honour of Galentine’s Day at Redondo Beach in Headrow House. They’ll also be celebrating their 2nd birthday on 2nd March by throwing a huge party at Wharf Chambers. The day will be filled with performances from some of Girl Gang’s favourite bands, such as Kamikaze Girls, Kermes and Dream Nails; “they played for us last August and we love them,” Kaz tells me. “They’re the epitome of feminist punk and DIY; they really align with our values”.

Girl Gang at Leftbank

Along with a bunch of other fantastic punk and indie bands, there’ll, of course, be lots of birthday cake. They’re going even bigger for International Women’s Day too, with a whole week of events, workshops and talks taking place in celebration of women, non-binary and trans folks. There are more Art Markets on the horizon, as well as Girl Gang’s monthly meet-ups and their opens decks spot at Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen called ‘Join Us in the DJ Booth’, which takes place on the first Monday of each month.

All the amazing achievements of Girl Gang over the past 2 years are an encouraging sign of the work being done to platform marginalised voices and create safe spaces for women and the LGBTQ+ community. Nevertheless, Kaz and Emily note how sometimes being a part of Girl Gang can feel like a bit of a bubble of positivity and inclusivity, which has made them more critical of the lack of female, non-binary and trans representation in the wider world; “but I don’t think that that’s a bad thing. I think it just makes you more aware of stuff,” Kaz explains. “Things don’t change if you don’t pick up on them like. If nobody points them out and tells you what’s wrong, then nothing’s going to change,” says Emily. “So even though it is a little hard-work noticing these things all the time, it’s not going to change without it”.

So make sure to follow Girl Gang Leeds on Facebook, Twitter (@GIRLGANGLEEDS) and Instagram (@girlgangleeds) for updates on their ongoing fight against the patriarchy, as well as how you can get involved.

Elle Bennett

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