Tenderness as a tool: Zine-making workshop at the Feminist Library by Tamara Hart
On 11th June 2022, we held a zine-making workshop at the Feminist Library in Peckham, facilitated by visual researcher Tamara Hart and artist Pops comixs.
In this blog post, Tamara explains her idea of using zine making as a ‘tool for tenderness’.
Photos by Eva Megias.
To be tender is to be soft – tenderness is the pain felt when our wounds are touched. It points to weakness; a bruised peach (or perhaps a broken heart as peaches never heal). Within languages of emotion, tenderness can mean something different: a warm caress, an impulse to be gentle, to protect vulnerability.
For our MadZines workshop at the Feminist Library, we looked at tenderness as a tool within zine-making practices. Inherited from the political pamphlets of the abolitionist era, and later adopted by feminist and queer movements, zines are self-published material that lend themselves to social action. The Greek trans-anarchist zine Kraximo, for example, published in the 1980s by activist Paola Revenioti, advocated for the rights of trans and sex worker groups. Amplifying the voices of queer poets, hustlers, and intellectuals alike, it crafted an intimate archive of their experiences. In this sense, zine-makers can be viewed as caretakers, documenting the otherwise unheard voices of their communities. I see this ‘caretaking’ as an act of tenderness, a form of critical empathy to understand and protect one’s peers. It insists: I feel the same as you, I am enraged/saddened/overjoyed, my voice is a testament to your soreness.
While searching for ‘madzines’ in the Feminist Library’s collection, I noticed that each work wove together intimate experiences of mental distress, while attesting to the endurance of their authors. Laced with hand-written poems, ribboned borders, myspace links, and postal addresses, each zine was a visual poesis of psychiatric survivorship. Some recounted experiences in medical facilities, while others described the feeling of ‘word salad’ (when words come out in nonsensical ways), or provided resources and guides. Authors shared tips on how to survive psychosis, combat gender dysphoria, or avoid hospitalization. These zines exposed the pain of their wounds, while offering them solace through the act of documenting. In this way, archiving is a radical act – it offers a repertoire for mental health system survivors to view their personal experiences as reflective of a wider collective psyche.
As a visual anthropologist, my reckoning with popular culture is in its depiction of pathologised conditions. In films, for instance, there are limited resources for those who experience mental distress to define themselves, outside the scope of ill, or even dangerous subjects. I walked out of the cinema recently because, as usual, the horror film cast the murderer as a mental ward escapee diagnosed with schizophrenia. If the only cultural representation you see of yourself is as a murderer, how can you build alternate frames of reference for your identity? According to philosopher Paul Ricoeur, the modes through which we interpret the self depend on the linguistic and symbolic resources available to us. The goal of the psychiatric survivor movement, in my view, is to provide alternate resources for mad subjects to understand their individual and collective identities. The personal testimonies in zines are powerful tools not only in exposing the injuries induced by mainstream medical models, but also in providing a toolkit to manipulate their symbolic structures. Zine-making becomes a form of survivorship. It’s both playful and tender in its exploration of alternate frames of reference, allowing us to contest harmful narratives.
Nestled between stacks of feminist artifacts, our zine-making workshop used self-publishing practices to challenge such psychiatric frameworks. As caretakers, we thought about how to reconfigure the ways our ‘mad’ siblings are shaped within cultural imaginaries. How can we place mainstream narratives back into our own hands? Through fragmented visual narratives, we pieced together mini-zines that documented our experiences within (and outside of) mental health systems. Using collage, poetry, doodles, and anything else we could think of, we crafted collective archives; caring for ourselves and our community who have been wounded in the ongoing battle with psychiatric systems.
See below for more images from the workshop
Read about our other workshops and events