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For Indonesian Women, Feminist Zines Are a Powerful Rebellion

Yudhistira Agato

Yudhistira Agato

"[It's] a medium where the person or community you want to know about is usually communicating directly. It's their voice."

This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.

Though feminism isn't new to Indonesia, the country has witnessed a growing number of groups fighting for gender equality over the last decade. In the age of social media, zines have simultaneously seen a comeback as a preferred medium of expression and communication in some feminist and DIY communities.

Sri Taarna is co-founder of Unrest Collective, a group that seeks to amplify local and marginalized voices by distributing and making zines. They believe that access to information should be free and communal. Along with Ika Vantiani, one of the first female zine writers in the country, Taarna is also a member of a prominent female empowerment group in Indonesia called Kolektif Betina,

Broadly spoke with Taarna about her introduction to zines, her involvement in Indonesia's underground scene, and what she prepared for as one of the speakers of FemFest 2017—an event in Jakarta that discusses gender, sexuality, and feminist issues.

BROADLY: How old were you when you came across feminism, and how?
Sri Taarna: I was probably 13 or 14 when I first encountered feminism through the Riot Grrl movement. I was a punk kid in the mid-90s, and it made an impact on a lot of the girls in my community. Bands like Bikini Kill were huge influences. I grew up in a punk community that was dominated by men, although many of the women were close-knit friends, we looked out for each other in the pit at shows, it didn't always feel like we had a voice. That was also what led to my introduction to zines. At first, it was punk fanzines, but later I picked up zines on topics from feminism, to personal zines, to comics, to anything under the sun really.

How did you move to Indonesia?
I moved to Indonesia sort of by accident. I was living in Thailand and went on a trip with some American friends. I met the local community of punks, activists, and feminists and just connected in a way I hadn't in Thailand. I initially moved to Bandung, and frequently stayed in Jakarta. I made the permanent move to Jogja about four years ago. I moved to Jogja in large part because of a zine project I was working on with the Kulon Progo farmer activists. I was already spending a lot of time in Jogja and felt like it was a good place to start a collective space and participate in the local community.

Did you start writing zines right away when you got here?
My first zine in Indonesia was Punk Bukan Criminal in early 2012. It was a zine I made for the Aceh punks who were incarcerated in December 2011. There was a massive outpouring of support and protest from punks all over the world, and I wanted them to see that they weren't alone, that so many people cared about what was happening to them.

My second zine was to learn English for locals and Bahasa Indonesia for foreigners. I try to make sure everything I write is inclusive towards Indonesians. It wouldn't make sense for me to create media that doesn't include the people around me. Now I make all of my zines twice—one in Indonesian, one in English. Same format, same content, just different languages.

Did you ever feel weird being a foreigner promoting these beliefs in a relatively conservative country with a vastly different culture compared to the US?
What beliefs? Feminism? Zine culture? Both of these things have a rich and long history in Indonesia. I definitely didn't introduce either of these concepts here. While culturally different, the appeal of hand making your own book about anything you can imagine is appealing across cultures. Most of my local friends identify as feminists, and it's something that is evident in their activism, artwork, and daily lives. I try my best to check my Western bias and not have a colonizing role in my communities.

How effective are zines when it comes to promoting ideas like feminism compared to mass media that have wider reach?
I think it depends on whom you want to reach. Bitch magazine, for example, from the US, started as a zine and became a well-respected feminist magazine. It's easy to put everything on a blog or social media these days, which can be a powerful way to communicate, but I think people still appreciate zines. They have certainly survived in punk and activist circles, and appeal to crafters and artists as well. The type of people that make zines now are very diverse, which is part of what makes being part of this community so fun.

I think when mass media gets ahold of something, it can easily be distorted or misinterpreted. Zines are a medium where the person or community you want to know about is usually communicating directly. It's their voice. It's a form of media that is available to nearly everyone, particularly because it is so affordable. A black and white photocopy is cheap, and you don't even necessarily need access to a computer. You can handwrite and hand-draw them.

What will you present at FemFest 2017 and what do you hope people get out of it?
I'm hosting a zine workshop with the help of my friend Ika Vantiani. My goal with workshops is by the end of it people have a tangible result—a zine they can take home—[and they] feel happy that they got to contribute something, [and have] the realization that zines are for everyone. I think people sometimes feel intimidated to make their first zine, they think they need to be a professional writer or artist, but it's actually really easy, and it's a zine. There are no rules! You can make whatever you want about literally whatever you want. It's my hope that people see zine making as an egalitarian space where their voices deserve to be heard just as much as the next person regardless of their gender, sexual identification, or educational, creative, or class background.

This interview was produced in conjunction with FemFest 2017.