Giving a platform for voices, stories and narratives that deserve the spotlight is Biawak Gemok, a radical zine distro focusing on the underrepresented and intersectional that was established in March 2015. Before its two founding members, Nine and Liyana decided to join forces, each was dabbling in their own art-forms: Nine was selling zines and Liyana’s talent of writing instant poems (as part of her interactive experiment #GeraiPuisiSegara) was quickly spreading across the literary and art scenes in Malaysia. Syar, who was a frequent volunteer then, jumped onto the bandwagon officially in March 2017, and the collective has been charging forth, ever since.
Employing literature and language as tools of empowerment, Biawak Gemok challenges and shifts the cultural attitudes of Malaysians, while uplifting the lives of minorities by raising funds for Justice For Sisters (a legal fund for Malaysia’s persecuted transwomen) and Chow Kit drop-in centre PBKS (Pusat Bantuan Khidmat Sosial), run by non-profit SEED (Social and Enabling Environment Development).
LIYANA DIZZY, 30, SYAR S ALIA, 29 AND NINE, 40, FOUNDERS OF BIAWAK GEMOK
How do you split the responsibilities of keeping Biawak Gemok running?
Syar : We split the responsibilities according to what we’re all good at and what we
each want to do. Decisions are made collectively and by consensus in our group chat.
This isn’t our day job, so we try and make sure the work’s not stressful for anyone.
Nine : Syar and Liy are probably the most organised people I’ve ever met, especially
when they’re working together. To an extent I’m just kind of swept up in the
efficiency, but we check in to make sure nobody’s taking too much of the load.
With technology and social media being so ubiquitous these days, what functions do you think zines have in our community?
Nine : I got into zines before I ever accessed the internet, but engagement with
online spaces hasn’t rendered zines redundant, just as books and magazines
continue to exist, too. People still want tangible resources, and to access
entertainment or knowledge even while disconnected. Folks picking up zines at an
arts market or a punk show aren’t necessarily going to know where to find the same
kinds of information online, or in a similarly readable format.
Liyana: You either make a zine, or you read a zine. In other words, the function of a zine
is to engage literacy skills, which is part of education and essential in society. How
can you write if you don’t read? The experiences of reading and writing are part of
how we communicate, share, make sense of our world and lived experiences. Zines
may be analogue, but they don’t exist apart from the digital world. The internet has
amplified the potential reach of zines, and connected zines to readers from all over.
Syar : Zines absolutely have a thriving relationship with technology and social
media. Zine makers and readers have online communities to trade, share, and
collaborate on zines, digital technologies help make zines more accessible (PDFs for
example). So zines function in the same way – they bring people together, they
provide platforms for people to share their stories with the world, and they
encourage people to make their own creative output.