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).
For our third column for @wamnmedia, Liy wrote a timely review of Learning Good Consent. “At our Biawak Gemok booths, I often introduce it as a classic, one that many zine readers around the world recognise and even consider essential. Almost ten years on, and its introduction feels like it was written yesterday. I guess it’s because unpacking consent is a timeless personal process.” Link to the review in our bio! Zine cover art by Thomas Herpich.
Why are zines important?
Syar : There’s an intimate quality to engaging with something so closely related to the creator, that’s been literally touched by the creator or where you can see the human touch in how something’s been put together. The scale of zines also tend to be smaller than mass produced reading material, and the stories and topics shared can sometimes be more intimate too.
Liyana: Society’s inequalities mean some voices have access to platforms over others. There’s power in the process that many marginalised or erased voices can access— space for so many perspectives that aren’t mainstream enough to make it to major bookstores and magazines. You don’t need permission or approval from any industry power to publish a zine. You just fold some paper, begin, and photocopy when you’re done!
Nine: Zines tend to be raw, unpolished, made entirely on the writer’s or artist’s terms without being diluted by anyone else. If you want people to think about something that matters to you, you can make that happen through zines. They’re also usually very cheap, both to make and to buy, which make art and knowledge accessible at a low price, rather than only being available to the rich.