For objects that were originally created to be almost throwaway do-it-yourself projects, zines have had remarkable staying power in recent years. Now, the New York Public Library is inviting visitors to check out its own collection in a new exhibition, Allison Meier reports for Hyperallergic.
Zines can range in topics from poetry to recipe books, but these booklets often have a streak of social justice and political activism that mainstream publishers traditionally stray away from. Due to their nature as small, cheaply-made and easily disseminated treatises, zines are a way that marginalized people are able to communicate with each other and express their thoughts in a creative fashion.
“The library has historically collected things outside the mainstream, whether it be periodicals or pamphlets,” Karen Gisonny, the New York Public Library’s periodicals curator, tells Meier. “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.”
The new exhibit, titled “Protests in Print,” features 16 zines made during the last nine years. Ranging from a collection of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s writings from prison to a collection of works by a group of “black punks, queers, feminists, outsider artists, and musicians” called Shotgun Seamstress, the library’s zine collection shows a tiny glimpse at the variety of styles, messages and art that people are making in copy shops around the world.
“We’re always trying to find different ways to bring these things out so people know and see what we have,” Gisonny tells Meier. “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.”
To people concerned that this exhibition marks the appropriation of zines by mainstream culture, there’s no need to worry. Not only has the New York Public Library been amassing its collection for years, but zines have been making their way into academic circles for decades. Zine libraries may have once been the domain of volunteer-run organizations, but more and more frequently they are ending up in the collections of places like the University of Kansas and taught in schools like Wellesley College, Colin Moynihan reports for the New York Times. For anyone curious to learn a little more about what zines are all about, “Protest in Print” is a great introduction to a larger world.
“Protest in Print” is on display at the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building through January 18, 2017.