My love for Malaysian Indie magazines (and why you should love them too)
Review by Farah Dianputri

My guilty pleasure during the MCO has been ordering local indie magazines. The first issue of Saya zine arrives at my door via Grab. It has a cover like one of those old-school composition books bound with black tape. A flip through the pages takes you across pastel palette micro verses with swirling typography and colours. The mesh gradients remind me of the rainbow paddle pops I had when I was younger, but in the case of this book the pools of colour seem almost reflective, as if enhancing what is written on the page. Saya is a curious word to think about for an English-speaking brain. Not just “I”, but “my” and “mine” it seems like a versatile way to fearlessly claim ownership without apologies or doubt. What better name could there be for this anthology of young writers interrogating what it means to be Malaysian?

When I look at other zines in my modest collection, a lot of the incredible writing and art I encounter within their pages couldn’t have been printed anywhere else. Where else would you find ink painting documenting Semai oral tradition than in Gerimis Art Project’s zine Cermor? Or visual journaling like Ugly Malaysiana v 2.0, which pays attention to the eccentricities of everyday design of menus, shop signs and rooms, if not in the pages of Process Magazine?

I love independent magazines here because they are the unfiltered testing zones for writing, not caught up in distilling writing into a style guide or a brand. There’s a playfulness in the writing featured here that’s far more appealing than the overt polish or blatant incendiary tones of more mainstream media outlets. To me, this is the real forefront of culture.

Despite this, these are the spaces that need the most help. I was recently disheartened to find that an indie magazine I followed decided to discontinue its print edition, citing issues with the current media landscape.

A statement by Quebec-based journal LESTE posted on Instagram on March 8 said that “Mainstream media as we know has hit a breaking point. Legacy media and bloated conglomerates own and eat everything. A handful of people own and eat everything....

“The reason smaller publications can’t ‘break through’ or pay you more is precisely due to this corporate media monopoly. So while it may not give you as much exposure, it’s important to remember to collaborate, work and uplift independent pubs.”

If we look at it in our local context it’s no surprise a similar story unfolds. The infographic below on mainstream media structure hammers home what we probably already knew. Traditional media in Malaysia is a highly centralised affair, structurally and politically.

However, there are more alternative avenues than ever now. Obviously, the major disruptor to the structure has been the Internet and social media. Yet the old bookworm in me still feels there is something missing in the way we consume information online. The long drawn-out processes from editing and publication, the physicality of holding something with material history still holds a sacred meaning to me.

Here comes the rub. To nurture an environment of talented and playful writers in print it’s up to a community of readers to support the type of publication they want to see more of. Not just in words, but financially. Devising means for a sustainable funding structure seems to be the biggest question mark hanging over some of the best independent publications and platforms in the region. I have yet to find a case study that effectively solves this issue without the help of side-hustles and big brand partnerships. So, for now, pledge for that Kickstarter campaign. Buy those print issues. Opt for that membership or subscription. Share the writing you love with the people you love.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the author's own and do not reflect those of CENDANA. CENDANA reserves the right to be excluded from any liabilities, losses, damages, defaults, and/or intellectual property infringements caused by the views and opinions expressed by the author in this article at all times, during or after publication, whether on this website or any other platforms hosted by CENDANA or if said opinions/views are republished on third party platforms.

Farah Dianputri is a writer under the CENDANA-ASWARA Arts Writing Mentorship Programme 2020-2021.

Share this article
Copyright © 2021 Cultural Economy Development Agency (CENDANA) | Terms of Service 
Generic Popup