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sweet-thang zine: NOSTALGIA (Issue 5)

In 2016, Zoe Thompson launched sweet-thang zine as a response to the lack of representation in the independent publishing industry. Featuring work from Black creatives of marginalised genders, sweet-thang has released 7 issues to date, each with a different focus that is explored through a variety of artistic mediums. This month we had our writers review sweet-thang Issue 5: 'Nostalgia', which offers readers 100 pages of art, poetry, photography concerned with "preserving, archiving, [and] storytelling" - and, additionally, an interview with archivist and mixed-media artist, Ego Ahaiwe Sowinski.


Content Warning: Please note that this review contains a brief mention of sexual assault and female genital mutilation.

A group of people in funky clothing, checkerboard patterns and bucket hats, sit together. Each person holds a bunch of flowers, either daffodils or sunflowers. In the background is a a pattern of squiggles, made up on light pink, orange and green to match the rrramble colours.
Photo credit: sweetthangzine.com

Isaac

Opening the Nostalgia issue immediately brought out a desire for the tactile. I wanted paper that I could flick through, dog-ear, spin, and stash in a pocket to take out sporadically. The first page of the zine encourages this, with the text ‘this zine belongs to: ’ emblazoned over a dotted line that invites you to write, to scrawl, to bring yourself into paper. But, all this takes place on a screen, thus my relationship with the zine as a tactile thing is necessarily relegated to the realm of longing.

This instant sense of longing was appropriate for the Nostalgia issue; the very form of the digital zine is nostalgic, not in the sense of reminiscence, but in the sense of an ache for what has been left behind. Funmi Lijadu’s cover evokes the memory of making magazine collages from drawers of old things and Mixam, the digital host, plays an animation of turning the page when a button is pressed. But, without the dust and crinkles of the real thing, it’s all too clean. Just as the issue evokes the past, it simultaneously distances me from it, and this uncomfortable contradiction offers a great frame for thinking about nostalgia without complacency.

There is much to enjoy in this issue, with my personal favourites being Cleo Thompson’s photography, Victory N-Ekeoma’s ‘Technicolour Teenhood and Unjaded Twenties’, and Oyinda Yemi-Omowumi’s ‘NOSTALGIA’. Each was tonally and formally unique, but all shared a commitment to taking the issue’s theme seriously, striking a balance between sincerity and irony, and considered the role of nostalgia without falling into blindly romanticising the past nor condemning it as the site of contemporary pain. I feel each piece added an extra level to my thinking about nostalgia, and had the potential to be a stand alone commentary.

None of this is to disparage the other contributors to the issue as lacking in substance; the standard for content is generally high with only a couple of pieces that I really didn’t like. However, Nostalgia taken as a whole is stronger than the sum of its parts. I have already espoused my belief that nostalgia is a contradictory emotion, rooted in both the presence and absence of the past, simultaneously comforting and home-sickening. Placing tonally different pieces together brings out these contradictions and encourages a kind of introspection that the individual works cannot evoke. Reading C. Alexis’s ‘words’ immediately after Tanicia Pratt’s ‘if the powerpuff girls were black…’ gives us two radically different readings of childhood nostalgia side-by-side, and this juxtaposition enables us to really get to grips with all the messy feelings that come with it.

I actually wish the editorship had leaned more into this messiness when compiling the issue. Zoe Thompson’s foreword notes that ‘This issue discusses both the pleasure and pain of thinking about the past’, and I cannot dispute this. However, I do feel that this could have been pushed further, structuring the zine with more jarring cuts between pleasure and pain to really drive home all the complexities of nostalgia - utterly refusing to pin it down with any kind of analogue aesthetics. Nevertheless, Nostalgia remains a provocative, alluring, and deliciously experimental zine, that I would invite everyone to dip into and see where you are borne by its nostalgic current.

A group of black people, wearing a funky selection of clothing. Several people wear clothing patterned in checkerboard, the person furthest back wears a lime green, woolly bucket hat. All hold various types of flowers. The photographic is bordered by images of flowers and rhinestones, reminiscent of a collage.
Photo credit: sweetthangzine.com

Sabrina

The zine opens with fill-in-the-blanks – and just like that I’m already transported back to those crafting how-to books that I’d devour as a child. So much nostalgia in those same dotted lines that I’d carefully print my name above!

TODAY’S DATE: …Monday 13th January… I AM CURRENTLY NOSTALGIC ABOUT: …School break-times, peering through classroom windows and waiting for my best friends to come out of Maths…


To complete the nostalgia “experience”, I decided to read whilst listening to NYALLAH’s “Take a Breath” playlist, and it certainly enhanced the atmosphere. Samoht’s ‘Let You Go’ playing alongside C. Alexis’ poem about sisters worked perfectly for me – maybe not lyrically, but the vibes! As I said, perfect. (I also tried Kristina Baptiste’s rollerskating playlist, but it was a bit too boppy to read alongside…probably because it was just too good at harnessing that disco energy!)

Amidst poems, playlists and photoshoots, the interview with independent archivist and mixed-media artist Ego Ahaiwe Sowinski was an unexpected but interesting switch-up. There were plenty of thought-provoking insights. What resonated most with me as a non-white member of a majority White British sector (archaeology), was the credit Ego gave to Dr Gemma Romain for “creat[ing] pockets of opportunity for [Ego] to research alongside her”. It reminded me of our responsibility to hold the metaphorical ladder steady for the ones who come after us, whether it’s career- or just personal development-wise. I too remember my previous mentors with my own deep gratitude (and sense of nostalgia).

The poetry was, as poetry usually is for me, a bit hit-or-miss. I’m not a huge fan of poems with so many line breaks that I feel like my internal reading voice is hiccupping uncontrollably. Funnily though, the same Poet of the Irritating Line Breaks also contributed some pieces that I really enjoyed, so the ball is round, as they say!

Alongside the misses, there were plenty of hits. I loved the opener ‘Homesick Sister’, ‘Choking Flowers’, and ‘split from the lineage of saints’, to name a few. The last three lines of ‘if the powerpuff girls were black…’ (Tanicia Pratt) were excellent. Those lines, especially the word “replicated”, reminded me of cultural appropriation and the several viral TikTok trends that originated with Black creators and/or culture. (This article interviewing Black TikTok creator and advocate Kahlil Greene has examples.)

A section that really threw me back in time was Queenie Djan’s mashup of ink portraits and Disney characters, engaged in both pointed yet hilarious dialogue. I refer particularly to the panel with Genie starting: “She wants the D-” and the portrait interrupting, “-estruction of Patriarchy”. “She wants the D!” is a phrase that makes me cringe, especially because of when it was said to me at school by boys that I considered friends. It’s amazing how just one phrase could have made me so suddenly uncomfortable and doubtful of my place within our friendship. I wish I could have been as unfazed and quick-witted as this ink portrait!

Ironically, the focus on nostalgia made me feel more present in my current self. Nowhere was this stronger than when I was reading Jasmine Simone’s ‘a manifesto of universal introspection’, particularly when Simone urges us to protect our own energy and to really look at our own worldview. I’ve often been easily swayed by what others say, and only recently has that started to change – but after this zine I’m going to try harder to stay more truthful to myself and what really matters to me. Thanks, Nostalgia, for helping me move forward.

The first two pages of the digital copy of sweet-thang zine's 'Nostalgia'. The first page (left) is light blue and blank. The second page (right) is light blue, there are three pieces of text on the page in bold capital letters. The first (top) reads 'This zine belongs to:', the second (middle of page) reads 'Today's date is', and the third (bottom of page) reads 'I am currently nostalgic about:'. Below each line of text is a large blank space with a dotted line for readers to fill in.
Opening pages of sweet-thang zine's 'Nostalgia'. Photo credit: sweetthangzine.com

Amy Colourful. Exciting. Emotional. There’s something for everyone. Stunning photographs. Powerful poetry. Playlists. I searched for some of the music so I could listen to it whilst reading to see how it would add to the experience but the music was too upbeat, not matching the serious tone of the following pages. I turned it off thinking perhaps each piece of art should be appreciated on its own. Except each piece was not on its own. Sweet-thang’s Nostalgia is a patchwork of experiences that combine to create a rich tapestry of voices. The pieces are strong enough to stand on their own, but are even stronger together. There is a definite sense of community and unity throughout.

This was my first time delving into the world of zines and Nostalgia made me feel very welcome from the start. The warm, eye-catching collage cover in all its ambers and reds drew me in. On the first page, there is room for you to put your name, date, and what you are currently nostalgic about. I liked the idea of having your own space. If you own a hard copy, this allows you to make the zine more personal. I can see how this would make it feel more special, like a memory you can hold in your hand.

And ‘Nostalgia’ is what it's all about. The introduction is short and sweet. I know immediately what the zine stands for and what it means. A space to unlearn “our subconscious acceptance of old, extremely harmful, eurocentric beauty standards, of gender and sexuality”. The tone is chatty and informal. Strong and engaging. I want to dive straight in and learn more.

I especially enjoyed the Disney artwork by Queenie Djan. The tongue in cheek humour makes the important messages stand out. The phrase, “Equal rights for others does not mean less rights for you. It is not pie.” stood out for me because it’s something I’ve wanted to use in arguments but never been able to put into words. Now I see the words plain and simple on the page, it seems so clear, so obvious. There is room for everyone. Another piece that stood out for me was ‘Nostalgia’ by Oyinda Yemi-Omowumi who paints a stunning picture of words. The vivid descriptions make the bittersweet experience feel rich and immediate. It has inspired me to try and write in a similar way about my own memories.

The zine wasn’t what I expected. When you think of nostalgia, you might think of warm, happy, fond memories. I wasn’t expecting poems and artwork about sexual assault and female genital mutilation. Maybe nostalgia is not about looking back through rose-tinted glasses, but about sharing experiences both good and bad. Maybe it's about finding ways to move forward and come together to overcome challenges. I have hardly any criticisms about this zine because it feels so personal and important. At times, the tone felt disjointed but at least it was never dull or predictable. This zine has moved me and inspired me to do some more writing of my own. As a final thought…I think those Disney prints should be plastered everywhere.


A two page-spread of art work from Sweet-thang's 'Nostalgia' zine. On the left is a drawing of Maya Angelou with a speech bubble saying "Now. Say it back to me.". On the right is a drawing of the frog from Disney's "The Princess and the Frog" with a speech bubble saying "Equal Rights for others does not mean less Rights for you. It's not pie."
Artwork by Queenie Djan for Sweet-thang's 'Nostalgia' Issue 5. Photo credit: sweetthangzine.com


Edited by Florence Strang Boon.

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