By Heiba Lamara
On Sunday 7th April the Rich Mix in Shoreditch played host to the first day-long DIY Cultures Festival. The venue was packed out with zine stalls, artists’ books, comics, crafts, talks, workshops, films, video-art and music. Organised by OOMK and Other Asias, it incorporated the best of DIY zine culture with cross-disciplinary arts, providing a platform for creatives who are low on budget but high on skill.
DIY Cultures was my first zine fair, and it gave me the opportunity to talk to and learn from different artists, buy and swap work directly with them and forge some fantastic collaborative links. Most importantly it showed me how to get on and start doing the things I loved while side-stepping the year-long unpaid internships and the suspiciously expensive master-classes with the ‘expert in your chosen field’. I only caught the last few minutes of the talk but I distinctly recall a man walking out of the Unemployment and Creativity Panel Discussion muttering “intense” and looking like the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders. DIY Cultures can do that to people it seems.
The zine fair, which was spread over two floors, brought together a wide range of independent publications and artwork which ranged in subject from riot grrrl to extradition, unemployment to urban gardening. The result was a forum for discussion and debate, a trading place and inadvertently, a classroom for struggling artists. Operating on the fringe of our mass-market society, DIY Cultures and its celebration of independent culture makers drew in a large crowd, and the cafeteria of activities, talks and wares subverted any attempts to browse selectively.
The writer Wilson Harris wrote, “political radicalism is merely a fashionable attitude unless it is accompanied by profound insights into the experimental nature of the arts and the sciences”. The festival’s claim to alterity and autonomy was certainly supported by its operation at the intersection of art and politics.
One of my favourite purchases was Developmentia - “like dementia but with foreign donors” - a witty handmade zine by IMASE/Other Asias which offered a guide to identifying the symptoms of and providing the cure for exploitative development projects.
The latest issue of SCARF, a cross-cultural journal edited by Kinsi Abdulleh, which was as brilliant visually as it was in terms of its literary exploration of race, art and identity, was another favourite.
Although I couldn’t attend all the talks, I was glad I had the chance to listen to the panel on Prisoner Zines, Writing and Creativity, hosted by Marek of Not Shut Up Magazine, Nicki Jameson of Prisoner Fightback, and Trenton Oldfield and Hamja Ahsan of the Free Talha Ahsan Campaign. Situating their conversation within the context of the Strangeways prison riot, the ‘War on Terror’ and the Government’s current austerity measures, the panellists provided valuable insights into the relationship between prison reform and prison literature, the politics of distribution, and the possibility of a new generation of confrontational prisoner writing.
DIY Cultures firmly established itself as an important cultural event not to be missed. In Rethinking the Public Sphere: a Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy, Nancy Fraser describes subaltern public spheres as ‘parallel discursive arenas’ created by subordinated social groups in order to circulate counter-discourses which assist in creating new interpretations of their ‘identities, interests and needs’. In this way, subaltern public spheres act not only as ‘spaces of withdrawal and regroupment’ but as ‘bases and training grounds for agitational activities directed toward wider publics’.
Add a few quirky illustrations, some homemade cupcakes and you have the DIY Cultures Festival!