From illustrated sex dreams to a guide to “queering herbalism” to comics about the queer and trans Armenian experience, the fourth annual NYC Feminist Zine Fest (FZF), held at Barnard College on Sunday, February 28, was a showcase of radical, DIY intersectionality. Organized by poet Tai Maag, Barnard College zine librarian Jenna Freedman, artist Cassandra Leveille, and FZF co-founder Elvis B, among others, the fest hosted more than 60 zine-makers and artists who identify as feminists. The handmade wares they hawked were a perfect antidote to the digital world’s constant bombardment of clickbait, sponsored content, and pop-up belly fat ads. With prices ranging from $0 to around $10 on average, the fest was also a welcome, affordable alternative to the monied fine art fairs, where plebes can look but not touch.
We spoke to a selection of exhibitors about their work, the role of print zines in the digital age, and how zines fit into the current intersectional feminist movement.
Carey Dunne: Who are you, and what’s the story behind your feminist zine?
Sy Abudu: My name is Sy Abudu, I’m from Los Angeles, and I started making zines after a friend told me about a black lesbian DIY fest during my second year at NYU Film School. I had been collecting zines for years but never thought about making any myself until then. I thought, “That’s so perfect for me; I’m a black lesbian. This is the perfect event for me to do something I haven’t before.”
All my zines are based on collages that I create, mostly from images sourced from the Library of Congress’s (LOC) digital archives. Most are photos from the ’30s and ’40s documenting poverty and rural life in the United States. Photographers like Gordon Parks were hired by the government to work within the Department of Farm Security Administration, an effort during the Depression to combat rural poverty. The LOC is such an amazing resource. I’ve always been searching for black imagery, finding ways to combat what I see as issues with visibility in mainstream media. For me to go to an archive and see these black faces — a lot of them unidentified, but still very important for me — helps me work through things that are going on in my own life. A lot of the subjects in the photos I use are black women, so there’s an element of intersectional feminism —I’m reflecting on issues that black women deal with.
Barnard Zine Club
CD: Who are you, and what’s the story behind your zine?
Suze Myers, president of Barnard Zine Club: Barnard Zine Club is Barnard College’s home for DIY independent media. Every semester we create a themed zine from submissions from club members and the larger Barnard and Columbia community. That zine is called STICKS & STONES. Past themes have included “middle school dance,” “growing up,” “road trip,” and “the apocalypse.” In addition to making zines, we table at zine fests, invite other zinesters to hold workshops, and do other punk-ish, zine-y things around the city. Our meetings are full of ’90s girl band playlists, vigorous collaging, and vegan snacks.
CD: What role do zine-makers play in the digitally driven media landscape?
SM: I think this question is actually a tricky one — I know it seems like zines had their heyday in the ’90s with Riot Grrrl and have had a sudden resurgence recently, and it’s easy to see this as a direct response to our increasingly digitized world. But people never stopped making zines! The mainstream media just stopped talking about them, and they fell off a lot of people’s radars. But zinesters, especially people of color, queer and trans people, and other marginalized folks have always, always, always made zines, even when no one was paying attention to them. I think the reason they seem to have a resurgence is that these zinesters have new platforms (like Instagram or Tumblr or Twitter) to talk about zine-making or even promote their zines, which makes it seem a whole lot more visible, and then other kinds of media start picking up the “zine trend” as if it’s a brand new thing. There definitely is something to be said for using our hands, glue sticks, and scissors to make something that stands in direct contrast to staring at a computer screen all day, but that’s not what pushed me to make zines in the first place.
CD: What role do zines play in today’s feminist movement?
SM: Zines are playing a huge role, especially with young people and especially with issues of intersectionality. They give a voice to people who are voiceless, not only in traditional mainstream media, but within the white corporate feminism that persistently occupies popular conversation about contemporary feminism. Zines have allowed me to be in control of my own narrative and its dissemination, and that’s crucial for me as a woman of color. I also think zines have been a really wonderful way for teenage girls to develop their own feminisms. Zines are accessible and relatively easy to make, and they combine aesthetic and discursive processes that I think are really fruitful for young women — I know they were for me! Just check out Crybaby, one of the tablers at FZF this year. The two girls who were sitting at the table are both in high school, and they’re producing these gorgeous zines with tons of stories from other girls their age about feminism, catcalling, creativity, body image, etc. It’s so beautiful, and it kind of makes me wish that I were 16 again.
CD: Who are you, and what’s the story behind your zine?
Anna Tararova, member of Meowville: Meowville is an artist collective started by Jacqueline Beas and Anna Tararova from Cleveland, OH, that includes artists all over the US. Sex Dreams is a collection of dreams and fantasies submitted anonymously online, with illustrations created by Jacqueline, Anna, and Isabelle Francis-Bogue. The anonymity is meant to make our contributors feel safe and comfortable expressing their sexual fantasies, which can be an extremely empowering experience. Most of our contributors are women, and quite a few are queer, gay, and non-binary people. We only omit submissions that are demeaning or violent and could be triggering to our readers.
Along with writing, we also welcome visual art submissions. In Sex Dreams Volume 2, we included paintings by Anna Wagner, a queer artist living in New York City. Her paintings are reimagined French, pornographic, turn-of-the-century prints that are typically hetero- and phallocentric in the most misogynistic ways possible. In Anna’s paintings, the phallus is a tool with which cis men oppress others and ruin the environment, while the heroes of hotness are queer and loving. This kind of collaboration and participatory research is vital to the ideas of intersectionality and inclusion in feminism. We are always looking to include new perspectives on desire and sexuality.
CD: Who are you and what’s the story behind your zine?
Arev P. and Shakar M., members of the Hye-Phen: The Hye-Phen is a trans, queer, feminist, and Armenian digital magazine and transnational cyber-collective. Our collective members live around the world, and we organize horizontally and communicate digitally. We publish essays, poetry, and art related to issues that do affect — or, in many cases, should affect — Armenia and the Armenian diaspora through a trans, queer, feminist, anti-racist, anti-imperialist, and anti-amot (“amot” is the Armenian term for shame) lens.
“If it doesn’t exist, make it.” This logic is how the Hye-Phen was created in 2013, when Shakar created a zine of hand-drawn comics on the queer Armenian-American experience. He thought he was the only queer or trans Armenian on the planet, even though he grew up proximate to LA (Little Armenia). And, even after relentless Googling, he found disturbingly scarce literature, research, art, communities, or figures that explored the Armenian-American experience or racial identity, let alone the queer, feminist Armenian experience.
He posted his zine on Etsy with the presumption that Armenians didn’t know what zines were, and that Armenia was so minor and invisible that every non-Armenian would be inherently apathetic. But within several days, he internet-met other queer Armenians, who knew other queer and trans Armenians, and eventually, we created a Facebook group with over 50 queer, trans, and feminist Armenians from all around the world.
So, it wasn’t only a zine that created this community. It was definitely a sparker, but the internet and the shared feelings of invisibility, isolation, and nonexistence, and a hunger for the opposite, played a huge role in the formation of this fierce and needed community. And we can’t just exist either in cyberspace or physically. We’re planning a collective trip to Armenia this summer in which many of us will be meeting physically for the first time.
CD: What role do zine-makers play in the current digitally-driven media landscape?
AP and SM: Perhaps for some, zine-making purely evokes a pre-internet aesthetic and nostalgia — it isn’t rooted in necessity. But the movement traditionally is centered around a DIY, anti-capitalist, low-cost framework that’s necessary to marginalized folks — like us — who don’t have adequate access to the resources and platforms that merit visibility. It’s the only way that we (can afford to be) heard and distribute art, ideas, experiences, identities, and information.
The NYC Feminist Zine Fest 2016 took place at Barnard College (3009 Broadway, Upper West Side, Manhattan) on February 28, 12–6pm.