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Student-run literary journal aims to provoke thought

Jesse Ulmer presents her written work "Drawing Wolves" at the Labyrinth release party on Thursday, May 7, in the Viking Union Gallery. // Photo by Kesia Lee

As a platform for student expression, Labyrinth’s reach has been getting progressively wider since its inception.

Beginning at Western in the 1970s, Labyrinth started as an annual student-run publication displaying artwork focused on gender identities and marginalized experiences, said editor-in-chief Johnna Gurgel. However, not everyone could submit to the magazine. Labyrinth’s focus was on women writers and artists.

Over time, Labyrinth has evolved into a publication that accepts work from anyone, regardless of gender, Gurgel said. The publication features writing, paintings and drawings with videos featured in the online edition. The producers of Labyrinth also encourage non-Western students to submit their work for a chance to be featured, Gurgel said.

This year Labyrinth’s theme is “Examining the Internals and Externals of Identity Marginalization.” Instead of sticking with the same theme, Labyrinth changes the focus of the art every year. The theme of each issue is chosen by the editor-in-chief and must deal with a social justice ideology.

Like the “Communities Unbound” theme of the 2014 edition, this year’s Labyrinth staff is attempting to distance the edition from themes of recent years revolving around the human body, such as 2012’s “Beyond the Body” or 2013’s “Bodies In Motion.” The theme this year is more concerned with human identity.

Johnna Gurgel, senior and English major, is the Women’s Center Associate Coordinator for Creative Programming and the editor-in-chief for Labyrinth. She has been working with the publication since June 2014.

“In this edition, there’s a wide variety of things that have to do with identity portrayals and assumptions in terms of gender,” Gurgel said.

Since all of Labyrinth allows artists to freely express themselves, some of the content contained in the publication may not be suitable for viewing in certain environments.

“A lot of the artwork has been provocative in terms of nudity and sexual content,” Gurgel said. “The stories needed to be in there, the stories needed to be heard. They’re consequently quite graphic in their content.”

Submissions for Labyrinth closed on February 16 with around 300 pieces sent for consideration. About 60 percent of the submissions were accepted for Labyrinth. When choosing submissions, the selected theme of Labyrinth came into play as well as unique artistic perspectives.

Junior Hannah Streetman, an English major, submitted her poem “A Woman of Worth” right before Labyrinth’s submission deadline. Streetman didn’t expect to be chosen to be featured in Labyrinth because of the last-minute submission. Despite her doubts, the piece was selected as one of the featured submissions for Labyrinth.

Streetman wrote the short poem for a class when she realized it fit in Labyrinth’s theme of internal and external identity. The poem observes roles women are expected to fulfill in life and the difficulty of satisfying them. The poem aims to expose the ridiculous nature of these expectations, Streetman said.

Women are expected to be attractive but not vain, and to be assertive but not demanding, she said. To Streetman, there are conflicting beliefs about the meaning of being a woman and Labyrinth gave her a platform to express this freely.

“[In] some other publications you have to worry about how incredible your writing is, and the form of your writing” Streetman said. “With Labyrinth, it’s really more about the message rather than the way you’re giving it.”

This year, Labyrinth advertised on Facebook and other pages, focusing on non-Western related art and writing pages in an effort to attract a diverse number of submissions.

“We got some submitters who don’t know about Western or are not affiliated with Western,” Gurgel said. “They submitted anyway because of the presence we made online.”

Bringing all these submissions together is the Labyrinth designer, senior Enkhbayar Munkh-Erdene. As a designer for the Associated Students Publicity Center, Erdene was assigned by the center to organize Labyrinth’s layout and to design their posters after the publication requested help in advertising their newest issue. Though she has had experience as the lead designer for The Planet Magazine, Erdene said she found the theme of Labyrinth to be a challenge when coming up with a design for the publication.

“The theme of Labyrinth this issue is very broad,” Erdene said. “It deals with people’s identity and no one’s identity is the same.”

Erdene had complete creative control over the design of Labyrinth. During her time designing the publication, Erdene felt an impact with the submissions.

“I was reading all of the submissions and some of them really hit me,” Erdene said. “I was really blown away by everything.”

About 90 percent of the artwork featured in Labyrinth will be displayed from now until Friday, May 15, in the Viking Union Gallery. The print version is available on stands on campus.

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