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  Zine and heard

Zine and heard

Published : Jun 13, 2016, 10:43 pm IST
Updated : Jun 13, 2016, 10:43 pm IST

The Internet and censorship have a strange relationship.

A copy of 100%Zine’s Sketch Book issue.
 A copy of 100%Zine’s Sketch Book issue.

The Internet and censorship have a strange relationship. As a platform known to be commendably democratic, the cyberspace is a space for free expression regardless of where it comes from and what its ends are. The debate around the pros and cons of this aspect of its nature aside, voices from the margins of young urban society are finding increasing opportunities to be heard because of it. One among the many manifestations of this phenomenon is a surge in the popularity of zines in India — independent, home-made magazines traditionally defined as the go-to outlet for ‘nerds and outsiders’ who wish to be heard independent of mainstream censorship. Published as well as online zines such as the Gaysi Zine (a zine for Indian voices on Queer issues), the Eye Art Collective (a counterculture zine), 100%Zine (an Indian visual art zine) and more are making sure that subjects hitherto untouched by mainstream media are explored, discussed and made available to anyone who wishes to understand them better.

“The basic idea of a zine is to champion alternative content — something that mainstream magazines or publishers tend to stay away from,” says Sameer Kulavoor, who co-founded 100%Zine with Lokesh Karekar in 2011 as a platform for talented graphic artists to express themselves and showcase their skills. Today, the zine has published six issues touching upon several relevant themes that feature the work of professional as well as budding visual artists (across illustration, graphic art, fine art and photography) from India as well as Japan, US, UK, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Korea, Poland, Iceland, Australia and Canada. Sameer adds, “There was a lot of visual art talent in India and few platforms to showcase their work when we began. At that time, Lokesh and I had about eight years of experience with our work behind us, and felt the need for creating something that would publish personal and original work. When we sat together and conceived 100%Zine, we also decided to never tamper with artists’ sub missions. The idea was to pick the right artists for a certain theme and then give them complete freedom of expression. So, no edits whatsoever.”

Echoing the foundational principle of free expression, Manisha of Eye Art Collective shares that zines are also a medium to challenge mainstream narratives. She says, “Eyezine (www.eyeartcollective.com) was founded out of a necessity for non-corporate-controlled media with a feminist perspective. Several years ago, the first feminist zines were created to challenge the mainstream narrative, usher in counterculture and bring fringe narratives to the surface. We had started out hoping to create a similar countercultural network on a global platform, now possible because of the Internet. We were tired of yellow journalism steeped in rape culture, slut shaming, gender stereotyping, misrepresentation and brutality, and wanted to offer an alternative.”

Given that the Internet brings with it a vast, global audience to everything these zines have to say, the age of technology is decidedly an age of advantage for the alternative narratives they seek to represent.

Sushant Divgikar, who was recently featured in the Gaysi Zine, affirms that having a platform like Gaysi can go a long way in educating people about issues that are relevant to marginalised communities like LGBTQ and therefore relevant to society in general. “I think zines like this are a great initiative to have people on the margins of society write about their experience or just write in general. Take Gaysi, for instance. People need to be educated about the LGBTQ community and the best way to do that is to read about it. The more interesting articles they read, the more they are likely to understand that we are just people, like everyone else,” he opines.

Finding people who have something relevant to say, too, has never been easier, courtesy the rise and rise of social media. Manisha avers, “We are a digital media platform, so our primary reader base is on social media which we use for audience engagement, fundraising, and community organising. Most of our columnists and writers joined us after interacting with us on our Facebook page, and since we have been extensively covering student protests, most of our articles have been shared by students, activists and academics on social networking websites.” Even for zines that are published in magazine form, social media serves as a means for spreading the word around and is partially responsible for the surge in popularity and readership that zines are now receiving. Sameer says, “Social media is helping us reach out to new talent as well as a new audience. And though we know that a printed magazine could be perceived as old school in this digitally-oriented age, our content and design are contemporary and so is the way we present it. We do not print thousands of copies and keep each issue a limited edition so that it is, for all intents and purposes, a ‘collectible’.”

Publishing an independent zine doesn’t come without its challenges, however. Manisha shares that the format lends itself to a few obvious hurdles, but the final outcome is completely worth the effort. “Being a volunteer-run organisation, we started out with a team of five and we’re still terribly under-staffed due to lack of volunteers. Having said that, when we started out, we did not anticipate the overwhelming contributions and support that we have received so far and our readership has grown substantially. We have activists from different parts of the world reporting on current events now too, so our news coverage has also expanded,” she says and adds that the format allowing for the operation of a non-hierarchical team is what gives them the independence needed to facilitate free expression, which is what truly matters in the end.