In times of censorship and clampdowns on free press the world over, independent publications like zines have held a special place within counterculture movements. They’ve been used to carve out spaces within larger social narratives by communities that strive to claim to thrive outside of the dominant establishment. Zines have grown from being a niche tool to a slowly flourishing culture in India, rich with music, art and young voices expressing their thoughts and ideas.
Characteristically personal and self-published, zines aren’t only for artists – anyone and everyone can create and publish one, and they can be about anything from your favourite movies, poetry and feminist icons to political commentary, satire, sci-fi and elephants. ‘Zines stand to explore the foundational principles of free expression, creativity. The DIY-ethos of this style of publication makes it accessible to all, and include artistic expressions from photography to collages, lithographs, handwritten words and film.
Homegrown spoke to Himanshu and Aqui of Bombay Underground, the organisation that provides a platform for independent artists, zine-makers and writers – apart from creating zines themselves – and aims to form a community of like-minded individuals. Talking about the growth of Indian zine culture, Aqui said she hadn’t really met a ‘zine maker’ until about two years ago, and now, even though a larger number of zine-makers are emerging, India doesn’t have a street culture of zines, as is characteristic of communities elsewhere. Zine-making is an entirely personal initiative, both Himanshu and Aqui explained.
It is the responsibility of the creator to create, publish, and sell their zines – on the streets, outside art galleries, to their family and friends. However, Bombay Underground has noticed that Indians are against the entire distribution process – “We still follow the hierarchy of ‘selling’ to be a ‘dirty job’”, Himanshu tells us. Further, “some of the zines in India are very radical, which is why they aren’t circulated too much,” Aqui says. Because of this, the zines that are circulated in and around the country are primarily sold online, or in art galleries and such spaces, if offline at all.
Nevertheless, zine culture in India is alive and well, if somewhat floundering as it takes on its own avatar. The content that is emerging is vibrant, powerful and needs to be seen. We’ve put together a list of some of our favourite zines coming out of India, and these wildly wonderful creations only remind us of the continuing importance and passion of print media/culture.
[The following are arranged alphabetically and in no particular order of preference]
One of Bombay Underground’s many homegrown zines, A5 is crowdsourced, and has already grown to an impressive 20 issues. “Our objective with A5 is to keep print media going – with the simple idea of bringing new material to our readers via print,” Himanshu tells us. A5 issues cover a variety of themes, covered by a variety of artists, writers and photographers.
HG Loves: Issue 14 - Brown and Proud. Its fourth page features a short, incredibly powerful, illustration-accompanied story, that begins with the line, ‘The morning after I was raped, I made my rapist breakfast.’ A story of a rape victim from a completely unique perspective, this story is definitely a must-read from this issue.
Created by the Eye Art Collective, Eyezine is an online webzine that focuses on challenging the status quo. The feminist collective comprises of student activists, artists, journalists, writers, filmmakers, designers and illustrators. They report on relevant issues from India and around the world in this independent zine, even as they simultaneously provide a platform for young artists working on feminist counter-cultural issues. All in all, one of the key printed pages that are providing an alternative, real voice to patriarchal mainstream media.
HG Loves: The myriad voices of Eyezine. Their feminist ideology is cross-cultural and intersectional, with no limits on who can contribute their story to the publication.
III. Gaysi Zine
The Gaysi Family’s zines deserve to be treasured. Of all the collective voices that the LGBTQ community in India has, few catch our eye as much as this community has over the years. They have chronicled the community and its life through its many ups and downs. Nothing they do captures our imagination more than The Gaysi Zine, their annual, self-published magazine, however. It aims to make the concept of queerness a more relatable, everyday concept, while still choosing to tell these tales incredibly creatively. Each of them is a work of art on their own, and their stories inside deal with everything from the objectification women face on a daily basis, to stunning artworks criticising India’s current stance on LGBTQ rights, comics on sexism, and more. As far as bringing the conversation on LGBTQ rights into the open goes, few do it better than The Gaysi Family and we’ve fallen in love with each edition they publish.
HG loves: The Gaysi Zine Issue 5 – The desire-themed edition offers a whirlwind of emotional experiences, and you can feel the weight of the words carrying life lessons, pain, joy and longing, all channeled through a single sentence — a sentence that has the power to provide both author and reader with a perspective that’s not always easy to find, regardless of your sexual orientation and gender identification. You can read more about Gaysi’s zine here.
A Bombay Underground creation, this zine is an ongoing, three-month-long series that documents Aqui’s interaction with the women of Shivshakti Nagar in Dharavi, Mumbai. It culminated in a photography workshop, the photographs of which are included in the zine, all taken by the women themselves.. This zine aims to address the contributions of women from a background not considered to be intellectual – contributions that are most often ignored. As the foreword of the zine states, “This book is a documentation of the experiences of the participating women, aimed to support them by providing them with a space for creative expression and relief while also using their images and words to raise awareness of the issues they face.”
HG Loves: The fresh perspective of life in Dharavi for women that are usually portrayed as oppressed and creatively restricted.
The underrepresentation of female characters in Hindu epics like the Mahabharata is being constantly targeted, and Annushka Hardikar, a recent graduate in Visual Communication from the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore, decided to discuss this issue in an incredibly creative way—through a zine, which she created as her final year project. She wanted to link together the women of the time at which the Mahabharata was set, and the women of today’s Indian society; she thought this was necessary for her target audience, ‘the millennial generation’, to be able to connect to these stories. She picked three complex, extremely influential characters from the Mahabharata as the protagonists of her zine—Kunti, Gandhari and Draupadi.
HG Loves: The sarcastic, almost biting tone that the zine embodies makes it all the more fun to read. Hardikar’s zine is creative, funny, stunning, young and everything we love. You can read more about the zine here.
Relatively new on the zine block, The Thursday People was founded by two teenagers, Tara Anand and Anshika Bajpai, with the aim of transforming what is usually a personal experience into a physical interaction. “We’re not looking to make traditional print media, we’re looking to see how far we can take print media,” Tara tells Homegrown. Their zine forces you to engage, instead of reading passively, and be a part of the final creation.
HG Loves: Playlist Zine #4: Bombay – This issue celebrates all the eccentricities of a diverse city that’s filled with contradictions, quirks and charm.
VII. Unfolding the Saree
Conceptualised, written and designed by Mira Malhotra, this gorgeous zine questions the very notion of sexuality and chastity – the concept of the ‘angel in the kitchen’ and ‘fallen woman’ through the Indian context of an Indian saree. The saree changes its appeal and role from the ‘modest’ Indian woman to the ‘sexy’ vixen with bikini blouses of Bollywood. Malhotra explores these implications through Indian culture through one of its most iconic attire.
HG Loves: Its overall design. This eye-catching zine is created and designed like a real saree, complete with it being hung on a little wire.
VIII. Warehouse Zine
26 young visual artists, writers and poets came together to give birth to Warehouse Zine, a bimonthly webzine. Concentrating on conversation, community and collaboration, this zine hopes to create a space for conversations arising from daily observations. The team’s working towards creating an alternative narrative, bridging the gap between cultural discourse and young citizens of India encouraging them to be a part of “reflect, revive and renovate the way we think about the very spaces we occupy, and endlessly create,” as they state.
HG Loves: What If The World’s Best Assassin Was Hired To Kill The World’s Luckiest Man? This piece is as interesting as it sounds. The story is incredibly written, leaving you hanging on to every last word complimented by stunning illustrations that truly bring the story to life.
IX. Zeroxwalah Zine
A Bombay Duck Designs initiative, Zeroxwalah takes you on a nostalgic journey to the days to the ‘zeroxwalah’ – photocopy shops. Focusing on the ones in Fort, Mumbai, this ‘fanzine’ is like an ode to the unmistakable smell, warm-to-the-touch xerox papers in a kind of simulation of the physical experience of going to the shop. The stark colour palette and fragmented style of the zine pays tribute to this distinct culture and the city. “The method of production of the zine bears a similitude to the content with the intention of providing a hands-on feel,” they write.
HG Loves: That almost the entire zine is in black and white, with very distinct yellow ‘ZEROX’ signs – it highlights this very significant aspect of Mumbai life.
X. 100% Zine
Founded and edited by Sameer Kulavoor & Lokesh Karekar, this Indian visual art zine showcases artists that do not and cannot be categorised. Multi-disciplinary in their approach and thought, 100% Zine moves away from client-based creations and towards works of contemporary designers and artists working across fields from India as well as Japan, US, UK, Taiwan, Singapore, Poland, Iceland, Australia and Canada, to name a few. Each issue focuses on a selected theme, resulting in a heterogeneous melting pot of aesthetics and styles – “like a themed curated exhibition in your hands,” as they say themselves.
HG Loves: 100% Sketchbook – in this issue, the 100% team has picked spreads from the sketchbooks of 15 artists, that includes their most prized, deepest, personal and observed experiences. A peek into an artist’s sketchbook can show you their works in progress, in different stages, as ideas and thoughts change and develop.
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