The newly-opened Zine Library gives city dwellers a taste of zine culture by offering a host of Indian and international zines.
Bright, colourful book jackets dot an otherwise lacklustre wooden table. Unconventional titles catch the wandering eye; Scum Manifesto says one title, Pissing in a River says another while yet another asks a strange question, Are Pay Phones Important? This is because one has set foot inside the newly opened The Zine Library. An initiative of Bombay Underground - an organisation founded by artists Aqui Thami and Himanshu S to preserve and promote zines — The Zine Library is the city’s first and only library dedicated to zines. “Zines are completely different from magazines and the two must not be confused,” insists Himanshu, who heads the library project.
For the uninitiated, zines are self-published, original works that are usually circulated or sold independently by the artist. However, more than the method of creation, it’s the nature of the content that sets these creations apart. “While not all zines are protest heavy, a majority of them give voice to personal expression. The content is hard-hitting and often, laced with political commentary. Zines provide a subversive, democratic platform to individuals to debate, question and criticize mainstream ideas and practices,” explains Himanshu. However, Himanshu laments the fact that many zines today lack powerful content. “Some of the zines today are made by design school students who obsess over graphics and the quality of paper. These zines lack a certain voice, a voice that came from the underbelly of the city,” adds the artist.
But zines in The Zine Library do not lack this voice, as Himanshu has curated the collection himself. In fact, they come from Bombay Underground’s zine collection, which boats over 1500 titles. One can expect to find fanzines, feminist zines, genderqueer zines, old-time Indian publications associated with protest movements, zines sourced from European and Spanish collectives and lots more. The collection even boasts some popular labels like Ambivalently Yours, The Chapess - an all-women’s collective, John Porcello’s King-Cat as well as zines on Che Guevara, Savitribai Phule and Bhagat Singh. Himanshu also points out some sepia-toned leaflets, which are old Hindi song and dialogue books that were sold in cinemas during intervals.
Artist Aqui Thami, whose zines are part of the collection, says her creative impulse stems from a need to communicate. “I make zines about issues I feel strongly about. An authentic zine must have the ability to shock people out of their stupor,” says Aqui. One of her zines, titled Periods, presents first-hand narratives of women’s period experiences. Apart from perusing through a host of zines, at this library, one can also purchase zines and partake in zine-making workshops.
When asked what prompted him to set up a zine library, despite the fact that bookshops in the city are dying a slow death, Himanshu says, “There is a need for it. There is no space for zine makers to display their work or for people to explore zines. Also, it’s relevant in today’s world, where there is a need for alternative voices and perspectives to be heard. Plus, the physicality is wonderful. It feels good to be able to access someone’s personal feelings and opinions.” Nitesh Mohanty, professor at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) who has brought his second year Culture and Media Studies students to the library agrees. “Zines are one of the oldest, most democratic mediums of expression. People should be exposed to the zine culture. There’s lots to learn and imbibe from these creations,” says Nitesh.
The Zine Library at Kitab Mahal will be open on Fridays and Saturdays, from 3 pm to 7 pm