This Sunday 14th May at the Rich Mix, London sees zine-makers, illustrators, filmmakers and more from across the UK and the world gather for one of the UK’s most exciting zine fairs. Now in its fifth year, DIY Cultures Fair continues to amaze with its diversity of voices and varied program. It was co-founded (and is currently run) by Sofia Niazi of One Of My Kind (OOMK), Hamja Ahsan of Shy Radicals, Free Talha campaign and Other Asias and Helena Wee of Other Asias and POST artists.
It brings together 90 exhibitors’ stalls offering original publications, clothing and more – directly from the creators. Not satisfied with providing a vibrant and well-attended zine fair alone, Niazi, Ahsan and Wee have also curated a series of panel discussions and workshops. Highlights this year include a discussion on the politics and policies of ‘Theresa May & the Others’ and how to resist. There are discussions on autism and ‘Introvert Resistance’ and creative DIY responses to Brexit.
A long-table explores a topic that also featured last year, in fascinating and challenging ways – Neurodiversity. Workshops cover everything from Origami mandala cards and creating a pop up disobedient exhibition to Black Arts Magazines and control and resistance in Call Centers.
This year, running alongside the festival until Friday 2nd June is DIY Knowledge – an exhibition “exploring self-education, information and news beneath the mainstream, imparting knowledge from the margins”. It brings together films, comics, digital art and zines from Tanzania, Uganda, Palestine, Korea, Liverpool, Brexit campaigns and Chicago’s DIY scene.
Ahead of the festival we spoke with artist, illustrator and co-founder of DIY Cultures Fair and OOMK, Sofia Niazi.
Firstly, could you give a little background to DIY Cultures Fair. What were some of the motivations behind it?
DIY Cultures started in 2013 as a day festival of zines, art and activism. The fair was co-founded (and is currently run) by myself, Hamja Ahsan and Helena Wee. We had worked together to organize a smaller local zine fair the previous year, Tooting Zine Fair, and myself and Helena were supporters of Hamja’s Free Talha Ahsan campaign, which aimed to highlight and challenge his brother’s extradition to the US.
I was a zine fair regular, making and selling zines at a lot of the big and small fairs – Alternative Press, London Zine Symposium and smaller ones which were locally organized. There were so many things about ‘zine world’ that I liked, it was an open and friendly art community and more accessible than any other art scene I knew about. But it was only relevant to a certain group of people, mainly people who had gone to art school, there were hardly any people of color or Black people. I wanted to be involved in a festival or fair that was broader and appealed to more people.
The physicality of zines allows people to gather around them in a way which is not replicable online. It allows for a space to emerge, outside of art school, for creative people to meet, share ideas, and make connections with people who they can develop collaborations with. This was the most valuable aspect of art school for me and it’s what most people can no longer afford to experience, I know I would not have paid £9000 a year to study art and neither would my friends.
DIY Cultures is a small part of a much broader effort from many artists and groups to make artmaking more accessible, relevant and able to exist outside of mainstream institutions and galleries. We want to challenge the ‘outreach project’ approach and encourage people to do it themselves, to become the curators, authors and artists and to make culture instead of just consuming it.
What are some of the barriers and challenges facing zine-makers and creatives of color?
For some of the more illustration focused zine fairs, I think the fact that there are far less people of color going to art school affects the quality of our work. For people who are not taking that into consideration when selecting exhibitors, it means we often miss out even if the content is far more interesting than a lot of the work on offer. I think the DIY scene is far more forgiving and much more focused on the content, spirit and intention of a zine or publication. Zine fairs are still the most open art environment I’ve been in and judging from the exhibitors we have this year, they are no longer a white boy world.
Not only does the fair provide a huge and varied list of creators, writers and more, you bring together panel discussions and workshops. Had you always wanted a space for discussion and knowledge-sharing as well as being a zine fair?
Yes, we want people to come to DIY Cultures with their questions – not just to browse and buy stuff but to listen, learn and teach. The zine fair may not appeal to everyone which is why it’s important to have a series of talks which touch upon broader issues and put a lot of the zines in context.
This year there’s a great deal of collaborative links on show – with ZineFutures East Africa, OOMK’s Zines from Malaysia collection as well as twinning with Chicago. Could you tell me a bit about these projects? How important is it to make these kinds of connections?
We’re really keen to build international connections with artists and groups who are interested in DIY practices and/or exploring intersections of art and activism. It’s something we’ve done in previous years through including and inviting zine fair exhibitors from different parts of the world to share their work. This year we have a wide range of international exhibitors with artists and publishers coming from Chicago, Dar es Salaam, Tokyo, Stockholm, Milan and The Hague.
We’ve announced the first DIY Cultures Twin City as Chicago. There will be a table dedicated to zines from Chicago’s DIY scene that people can buy. In addition, the four-week DIY Knowledge exhibition features work from Palestinian Chicago based Leila Abdelrazaq and over 20 publications from the group Temporary Services. We will also be exhibiting zines from Malaysia in conjunction with Odd One Out – a Kuala Lumpur based publication.
Many other connections have come through people attending previous years’ festival too. This year we’re delighted to be exhibiting work from Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) in DIY Knowledge. ZineFutures East Africa (with Bookstop Sanaa Art Library & Creative Learning Space), was a project that saw a new generation of artists and creatives reviewing over 54 years of Tanzanian and Ugandan independence and producing their own zines/comics. The zines have been exhibited in Dar es Salaam, Kampala and we are very excited to be hosting the collection in London at DIY Knowledge until 2nd June.
As well opening up the festival to international artists, we’ve been especially keen to welcome zine makers and groups in the UK who are based outside London. Zine culture is thriving up and down the country and we’re excited that this year we have zine fair exhibitors from York, Leeds, Birmingham, Northampton, Brighton, Luton, Southampton, Reading and Manchester.
Images: Saira Niazi