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Since the late 19th century, the New York Public Library (NYPL) has collected alternative publications, the institution’s acquisitions mirroring publishing movements over the following decades. The 1800s featured radical pamphlets, the 1960s saw independent and literary magazines emerge, while the 1990s spiked with DIY zines photocopied around the world. Recently, NYPL has focused on zines connected to social justice, with recent additions to their Alternative Press and Zine Collection currently on view in Protests in Print, installed in the DeWitt Wallace Periodical Room of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.
“The library has historically collected things outside the mainstream, whether it be periodicals or pamphlets,” Karen Gisonny, curator of periodicals at NYPL, told Hyperallergic. She noted that the 16 publications in the two display cases that compose Protests in Print date from 2007 to the present. “We wanted to show a range of social justice issues, and we’re showing [zines on] the environment, LGBTQ, tenants’ rights, Occupy Wall Street, indigenous people, incarcerated women, working class issues, a range of the issues, and what’s coming out of those places. There’s so much. And we have so much more.”
It’s a visually dynamic presentation, such as the sleek graphics of the 2012 Occupied Media Pamphlet Series that includes a poem by Stuart Leonard addressed to Walt Whitman and inspired by a march over the Brooklyn Bridge, as well as Mumia Abu-Jamal’s prison message. Others have a DIY collage aesthetic with the high contrast of a Xerox machine, from Shotgun Seamstress by Osa Ateo in Tacoma, Washington, a “zine by, for, and about black punks, queers, feminists, outsider artists, and musicians,” to The Point with discussions on public housing. Ancestral Pride out of British Columbia has Haida art encircled with the words: “Everyone Calls Themselves an Ally Until It Is Time to Do Some Real Ally Shit.”
Topics covered by the zines span recent movements like Black Lives Matter with an issue of Struggle, the environment with the long running Earth First! on ecological resistance, and disability rights in Mouth Magazine. Tenacious, which was started in 2003 by Victoria Law after being reached by three women who were incarcerated in Oregon, is represented by a 2015 issue, part of its ongoing community-generated discussions for imprisoned women, whether parenting, healthcare, or abuse. Each of these publications demonstrates how print is still widely vital to dialogue and communication, even with the prominence of digital media.
“We’re always trying to find different ways to bring these things out so people know and see what we have,” Gisonny said. “It’s such a strong reflection of what people are thinking and how they’re living today. And how people express that, and share that, is hugely important.”
Protests in Print continues at thew New York Public Library (Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, 476 Fifth Avenue, Midtown West, Manhattan) through January 18, 2017.