The counterculture that’s as popular as ever

3 Mins read

Zines are a subculture that never says its last word, an endless story showcased in museums and shared at workshops or fairs like the one at the Wellcome Collection.

Scissors, pens, and magazines are scattered across tables. The zine counterculture, popular in the United Kingdom, has been highlighted in recent weeks at the Women in Revolt! exhibition at the prestigious Tate Britain Museum and also at the Wellcome Collection Museum of Medicine and Art for a day of a fair, a creative workshop, and conferences.

The organizers, Beck, Seth, Saurin, and Sasha, four young librarians at the Wellcome Collection, launched this project just over three months ago.

Sasha has never made zines, while Beck entered this world just ten months ago: “What I love is that it’s a medium that allows exploration of many different subjects. I’ve made zines about witchcraft but also about tarot.”

All four had participated in zine fairs before: “I loved immersing myself in this world; there is a lot to learn,” Sasha said.

At the end of the first floor dedicated to the Being Human exhibition, artists, enthusiasts, and visitors gather around U-shaped tables with colourful zines covering various topics: tarot cards, drag queen stories, and tales about black hair.

There are 17 exhibitors, including Zoe Thompson and Korantema Anyimadu. Both have created their personal zine because they felt “not represented by mainstream media”. They wanted “to find their own type of art form”.

In 2017, Thompson founded Sweet Thang, and the previous year, Anyimadu created Hair Shop and The Salon. This period was pivotal, as noted in articles from the time, such as Mashable‘s 2016 piece on “a new golden age for zines” and The Guardian‘s 2017 article: “Promoting diversity and representing women on their own terms, female-led, DIY zines are on the rise in the UK.”

The following year, the London College of Communication Library at the University of the Arts London even dedicated an exhibition to preserved feminist zines.

“It was an inspiring year for collective representation; our voice mattered. Zines enable us to hear from unrepresented voices,” Zoe recalls.

The founder of Sweet Thang aims “to foster a creative space for women, femmes, GNC people, and non-binary folks. We focus on themes of resistance, healing, and free artistic expression. This is a space for joy, in whatever way that manifests.”

She has just completed her ABC’s zine project for Black History Month: “What I like is the broad DIY spirit; you can do whatever you want, how you want. There is less censorship: it is just pure thoughts.”

Zoe also shares her passion for zines through workshops she has been organizing for two years, such as the one at the Nunnery Gallery on November 19th.

Poster advertising a Zine Fair in London, using different shades of pink.
Zine Takeover poster [Héloïse Le Fourner]

The first exercise is to write what one would wish for in an ideal world. Each paper is then placed together to form a manifesto. “It is a great exercise for people to think about. And at the end, there is a long manifesto representing beliefs of different people from different backgrounds gathered at one moment in one room.”

Korantema Anyimadu proposes another exercise to start: “Think first of a memory, then the objects around at that moment, the sounds, the feelings, and why is it a precious memory.”

Participants on the second floor of the Wellcome Collection can put these exercises into practice during a workshop. About fifteen participants, mostly young women, have come alone or with friends.

Among them, the London Drawing Club and its founder Liza Halykina: “It’s the first time I’ve made a zine. I find it a very interesting way to present information and art. It’s more complex than a simple canvas.” Armit, a club member, adds: “It’s a very accessible activity. Everyone can do it. And, there’s an environmental aspect because we reuse magazines.”

It’s a world into which one can dive even if one doesn’t feel like an artist. Beck, one of the organisers, explains this success: “It’s quick and easy to do; it’s just collage, and what’s interesting is to see the evolution of this object.” At the end of this workshop, some zines may become part of the Wellcome Collection library’s collection.

For nearly seven years, Loesja Vigour and Nicola Cook, librarians, have been collecting zines “around physical, mental, and practical health and intersectional issues: racism, transphobia, LGBTQUIA+ access to health care.”

They can also be found at Bishopsgate Institute and Peckham Feminist Library which provided a large number of feminist zine archives for the exhibition Women in Revolt! It is the largest show ever mounted at Tate Britain, with more than 100 artists and collectives represented.

It’s “a colossal manifestation of social history in this country” according to The Guardian. The two archivists consider zines “a format that has as much historical value as historical archives. Zines enable marginalized voices to be represented in the research field. They are amazing primary sources.”

The librarians also regularly propose a Zine Club to explore different themes because, as Zoe Thompson says: “Reading a zine is like having a conversation with the maker: it is vivid, whether it was made yesterday or 50 years ago.”

Featured image by cottonbro studio via Pexels CC

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