From intersectional feminists and LGBTQIA+ platforms, to diaspora communities and the working class, marginalised groups have long wielded the revolutionary power of zines to carve out space for our voices and democratise the arts.
In fact, it was their radical potential that initially drew visual artist and writer, MZR, to the medium, providing the perfect canvas for his off-kilter narratives and surrealist tendencies. “What I love about zines is because they're self-published, you don't need to conform to market trends or get sign-off from a publisher, you're free to run with all kinds of wild and awful plotlines,” he explains. “Inheriting trousers with dodgy photos in their pockets, a future where glutinous flour is a controlled substance, a sardine who eats a possessed piece of plankton and gains a conscience - these are all stories I've put in my zines. The possibilities are endless. I think there's something beautiful and revolutionary in that, especially as a queer person of colour where so much of the current situation is not ideal and in order to survive, you need to dream beyond realities and have a sense of humour.”
This collective imagination of new futures and alternate realities is what lies at the very heart of MZR’s transportive practice. “I always try to make imagery that effortlessly conveys narrative,” MZR tells me. “The Hegemonic Magazonic is a zine series I make of dark humour shorts and Sardine Babydaddy and Tonight's Breakfast were one-off fable zines. Accessibility in mind, my intention was to have them the perfect length for reading on the toilet and then to have as intriguing objects in the house.”
Through unconventional plotlines and oblique symbolism, MZR places the power in the eye of the beholder. He teases us to make our own deductions and interpretations when faced with the unfamiliar and slightly unsettling, and there’s something kind of liberatory about that - about being given that kind of agency as a viewer.
In terms of aesthetics though, what links The Hegemonic Magazonic series together with Sardine Babydaddy and Tonight’s Breakfast is the kitschy mysticism and surrealist imagery that litter the covers. “I'm really into throwing together everyday objects into something surreal,” MZR says of his work. “I think if you need a degree to connect with art, it has ultimately failed. That's one of the reasons why I was drawn to zine-making as a medium, because of its accessibility. They were all labours of love that I made in my room, painting, drawing, writing and laying the text with good old Pritt Stick.”
MZR pushes the somewhat haphazard disjointedness inherent in DIY zine-making practice to extremes in his work. Through curious combinations of peckish pigeons and defective telephones, with half-eaten birthday cakes and leaky lunar landscapes, he creates tension, subverting conventional understandings of objects and space, in favour of tongue-in-cheek representations that ebb and flow between the different planes of reality and imagination.
In the face of a world that takes itself a little too seriously, it’s this playfulness that makes MZR’s practice so beguiling. Through fantastical dreamscapes and iconography, he is choosing to pen his own version of the world and, by default, daring each and every one of us to do the same.
Words by Linda Sou