The radical roots of DIY zine-making

Posted filed under Featured, Research.
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This article was previously published as a blog post on Bristol & Bath’s Creative R&D Amplified Publishing pathfinder website

Home of rebels and revolutionaries, Shelby x Studios is an online platform to connect with other people who want to create a world with community care at its core. By imagining the world without binaries and chains we hope to envisage and enact the dismantling of systems of oppression on the ground in our communities.

Late stage capitalism means we are facing extreme poverty, systemic racism, environmental crisis and if that wasn’t enough, the global pandemic has deepened inequality and made injustice ever more apparent. In order to move towards futures of freedom and joy, it is important that we focus on caring for ourselves and those around us. I believe that collective care is necessary ammunition in the fight against capitalism and that collective creativity is the foundation of our freedom.

My experience of chronic pain and burnout led to no longer being able to participate in activism in the ways that I used to. Shelby x Studios, which uses art to make social justice campaigns more accessible, was built in response to this and connecting with others with similar experiences. Through this platform, I recently launched a digital zine: ART X ACTIVISM = REVOLUTION. Inviting artists and activists to create content spanning illustration, written articles, film and audio, it aims to amplify radical messages from the perspectives of those with lived experience.

Short for ‘magazine’, zines have a long history rooted in radical politics, starting out as political pamphlets and DIY sharing of educational resources. Their low cost, the minimal experience needed and materials required mean zines tend to be made by people excluded from conventional forms of publishing. They have been particularly popular in feminist, punk, anti-racist, anti-imperialist and queer communities.

Countering the often violent and misinformed portrayals presented by mainstream media, zines allow us to tell our own stories, to reclaim our cultures and express the rich nuances of our identities. They are a vehicle for storytelling that seeks to preserve radical history and resist the erasure of marginalised narratives. Zines exist to make art, spread awareness of issues, engage and connect communities and subcultures and elevate voices that otherwise don’t get heard. 

Being able to share information without censorship feels increasingly important in digital spaces. Providing a catalogue of infographics, interactive worksheets and visual notes, Shelby x Studios is building a digital archive of educational resources, using history to inform current activism. Creating a space where anyone can tell their story has resulted in the building of an incredible community and generated some inspiring collaborations.

Shelby x Studios is aligned by four core goals: Community, Art, Revolution & Education, with CARE perfectly becoming an acronym that underlines everything we do. 

(Amplified Publishing Live Drawing by Camille Aubry)

As a fellow on the Amplified Publishing pathfinder of the Bristol + Bath Creative R + D Programme, I will be exploring how the radical roots of DIY zine-making impacts the future of publishing and how we can use digital publishing to:

  • Make activism more accessible
  • Amplify radical messages
  • Share educational resources
  • Build communities of care

My core questions are:

  1. What is the role of digital publishing in making social justice work more accessible?
  2. What is the impact of using creativity in digital publishing to engage audiences?
  3. What is the relationship between the digital and the physical?
  4. How do we create genuine communities of care online?

I will explore these questions through a series of zines titled*:

  1. The Radical Roots of DIY Zine-Making
  2. TAKE CARE
  3. Revolution = Love (Part 2)
  4. Motherhood & The Movement
  5. Choose Your Own Adventure
  6. The Sound of Revolution

*Working titles

Both the radical history of zine-making and my roots as a printmaker have played a big role in how I have approached this research. Digital publishing has generated new ways of reaching audiences but due to its often intangible nature, something which digital publishing can lack, is the ability to ignite our senses. Combined with human imagination, the advancements in technology continue to go beyond expectations and I am interested in how perceived parameters around this can be challenged. I’m especially keen to explore the role of traditional techniques used in both the creation and distribution of zines and what this looks and feels like when reimagined and applied in digital spaces.

With the aim of making activism more accessible, amplifying radical messages, sharing educational resources and building communities of care, I plan to experiment with different forms of creativity to develop hybrid digital and physical experiences. Disabled artists and artists who experience chronic pain have for a long time found new ways to come together and connect within and beyond our networks. Having entered wider consciousness in response to the pandemic, new possibilities around access, such as collaborating with people across the country and internationally, have opened up. Holding my research discussions with people in both physical and digital spaces will inform how content is produced and shared across the different spaces we navigate, with a focus on exploring frameworks for embedding care.

The opportunities that come with digital publishing allow us to push the boundaries of what a ‘zine’ could be and therefore how people access the content that Shelby x Studios offers. Through this process, the current zine will continue to shapeshift from static pages to recorded discussions, interactive worksheets, visual notes, moving images and other forms of creativity I am yet to imagine. 

The process of collaboratively creating content can be healing and allows space and time to reflect, connect and develop ideas. This space for discussion between artists and activists will enable us to challenge one another, raise new questions and highlight the importance of sharing ideas and resources. By celebrating the role that community plays, I hope to engage new and diverse audiences, whilst strengthening existing relationships. 

In order to overcome barriers to participation, I seek to push back against the ways in which current systems can prohibit us. This series of zines will unpack what activism means, challenge stereotypical associations of particular identities and bring hidden topics out of the shadows. 

If you are interested in anything this blog has gone into, I would love to hear from you. You can contact me via hello@shelbyxstudios.com, check out more of my work via www.shelbyxstudios.com or instagram and support the zine here.

Grace Kress is a politically conscious artist, working on design, illustration and community engagement projects to strengthen social justice actions. She sees art is a powerful tool that brings communities together, makes information accessible, inspires change and spreads positivity. She is also the founder of Shelby x Studios; an online platform that combines art and activism to build communities of care, amplify radical messages and imagine the world without systems of oppression so that we can begin to dismantle them.

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