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July 16, 2019

Anahita Sarabhai On Creating An Alternative Narrative With QueerAbad’s Zine, Tilt

Text by Ojas Kolvankar. Photographs by Joshua Navalkar

An LGBTQIA+ collective from Ahmedabad brings unsung South-Asian narratives under the umbrella of its annual zine, Tilt. QueerAbad co-founder, Anahita Sarabhai, tells Verve how up-and-coming queer artists are portraying their multi-hued perspectives

What inspired you to start Tilt?
When we started QueerAbad we dreamt of many things. Co-founder and former member Shamini Kothari and I curated both the zines, as we were interested in queer art practices. Her interest came from an academic perspective and mine from an artistic one. We wanted to turn our interest into something tangible, so we continued thinking of how we could integrate design, make it accessible and give a platform to the queer community to showcase — and speak about — their work.

In the beginning, it was a passion project for both of us. We hoped to bring together the queer art that was around us but wasn’t being seen in mainstream media. Along with topics like body image, we wanted our identities to bleed into the artwork that we created. While we were thinking of a name for the zine, we went through multiple ideas that we thought could symbolise queer aesthetics, one of which was to consider something that is off-centre, or not straight. But we realised that the concept of tilting our perspectives and queerness itself function to do this; so we came up with Tilt.

Why is the zine focused on South-Asian queer people?
The focus on South-Asian, brown, queer bodies is a deliberate one. We want to put forth their stories to bring them into the larger conversations. This platform also helps the community to interact with each other in interesting ways and share experiences that are starkly different or disturbingly similar across the board. There is a severe lack of representation in mainstream media. Perhaps it will help if more zines or alternative forms of media like ours focus on these identities to bring them to the fore.

Given the socio-political situation in Gujarat, how were you able to convince contributors to collaborate for the zine?
While we wanted to open up the platform to local queer artists and art practitioners, the zine also aims to bring together artists across South-Asian countries. The socio-political environment of the state where we operate from and live in has not deterred our contributors from sharing their work with us. On the contrary, it inspires them, as queer art is also a medium of responding to daily scenarios. There were a few people who were hesitant, though. Some didn’t want their names to be printed, and perhaps that has to do with a lack of acceptance and precarity that prevails here. Despite everything that is happening around us, representation is of utmost importance. When we approach people they understand that this is exactly the reason why we need to speak up.

The zine touches upon an array of subjects ranging from mythology, sexual practices and menstruation to parenting, housing, literature and stories of queer individuals from smaller metropolitan towns. What is your curatorial vision?
It’s not only about personalised stories. Especially in India, if you like talking about this mixed bag of mythology versus our sexual practices versus our religious beliefs versus the almost bureaucratic kind of problems of where to live, where does the trans narrative fit in all this? It’s a combination of disconnected aspects of our lives that, in fact, encompasses the reality of queer lives. The idea is to bring these stories that are usually seen as separate ideas, together. A big part of how we curate the content is dependent on the kind of entries we get. Design plays a major role in stitching them into one larger narrative that still holds true to each individual body of work and artist.

What are your thoughts on queer-friendly spaces and your attempt to navigate them through the zine?
There are spaces that some queer bodies feel safe in due to familiarity or personal connections. There are, however, no established queer safe spaces within Ahmedabad, as of now. The covers of both editions of the zine are a reflection of how Shamini and I have accessed public spaces over time, whether individually or together. Our mere existence in those spaces was already ‘queer-ing’ them. Queer bodies do a multitude of things to public spaces and places that don’t expect and understand them. Our covers are a window to these experiences.

I can speak for Ahmedabad because I have lived here pretty much all my life. It has been, and still is, a very interesting experience of negotiating that kind of constant public gaze. Our bodies do not fit into any of the stories or lives that these people are living around us, and yet, there we are, present and real and existing. Freedom of mobility without the risk of violence is important, but we are not there yet.

How have you found the response to the zine in tier-two Indian cities?
The response has been fantastic, and we are working towards diversifying into different languages and increasing representation. It’s a work in progress and always will be as the zine takes on a new form every time. We have received a really good response from Gujarat-based queer folk, artists and art aficionados; they come back with interesting questions and find themselves unexpectedly surprised.

Different Strokes

Designers of the zine, Mansi Thakkar and Anjali Kamat on the unconventional visual language of Tilt

What was your creative vision for Tilt’s first issue?
Mansi Thakkar (MT): We didn’t have a rigid agenda, it just developed organically. We started with the cover and knew that we wanted to create a visual pun with the word Tilt while giving it an Indian flavour. Anahita (Sarabhai, co-founder) came up with the idea of showing the inside of an auto with the mirror tilted to reveal a couple. We went with that and added an Amdavadi street because we wanted the local community to relate to the zine. As for the layout, we decided to keep it minimal so that the focus remained on the individual pieces.

What is your design ideology?
MT: The idea behind this zine was to include as many perspectives as possible. And that is reflected in the final content that Anahita and Shamini (Kothari, co-founder) selected. My job as a designer was to create a space that let each of these pieces express themselves as they wished to.

Anjali Kamat (AK): The main goal of creating Tilt was to present the pieces from varied creators in a simple, clean manner that enhanced them, and also infuse the off-centre definition of ‘tilt’ by way of design. The ideology we adopted was to not stick to a conventional design language, but to react to each piece individually and come up with an organic, queer-friendly approach.

How do you think independent platforms like zines have been able to foster artistic expression and diverse representation in terms of imagery, in comparison to conventional media?
MT: Zines are relatively easier and faster to produce than conventional media. That means more people have the chance to communicate their visions. They’re also easier to consume since they have an interesting mix of visuals and texts in short formats. Since zines are new in the space of visual communication, they allow for immense creative freedom. There is no one way to create a zine. Zines can have an expression and visual language ranging from extremely personal to a more designed and curated content style. I think zines have enabled a lot of inclusivity in our art and design society. We are able to see, enjoy and understand a lot more narratives that aren’t featured in mainstream media.

AK: Independent publishing formats free you from constraints like censorship and structure, giving space to experimentation with form, content, and even the audience. They give creators the agency to decide how they want to showcase their work. This builds an exciting, powerful space that allows for diverse, subversive, important and sometimes just really fun content.

Carrying over from the first issue of Tilt, what was your design approach for the second issue?
AK: For the second edition, we decided that we wanted to maintain the whimsical, home-grown design aesthetic of the first issue, while also reacting to the new pieces in front of us so that it all came together in a cohesive fashion.

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