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SICKNESS AFFINITY GROUP'S ZINE LIBRARY

A sneak peak into sick and disabled zine print culture.

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  • Jan 18 2023
  • Frances Breden
    is dedicated to community-oriented and collective artmaking in digital and IRL spaces. She is one-sixth of the queer feminist art collective COVEN BERLIN (covenberlin.com), with whom she’s worked since she came to Berlin from Vancouver in 2014. Frances is a founding member of Sickness Affinity Group (sicknessaffinity.org). She is currently pursuing her Masters in the Art in Context program at the UdK, Berlin, where she is the editorial lead at the student magazine eigenart (eigenart-magazin.de). She co-curates the screening series PRESENTS with RA Walden (presentsscreening.de).

Welcome to our library! Before I have the pleasure of taking you through some of my personal favorite zines, I’d like to tell you a bit about who my collective is and how we made a library. I’m Fran, a member of Sickness Affinity Group (SAG). SAG is a mixed-ability group of people who work on the topic of sickness/disability/accessibility and/or are affected by the same. We’re a support and resource group that tries to put the well-being and access needs of its group members first. We have meet-ups in Berlin and online, and you’re very welcome to join our mailing list at sicknessaffinity.org <3

Self-published books, texts, and magazines (affectionately called “zines”) can be a low-barrier way to make art. Making zines is fairly cheap, distributing them yourself can be easy, and, for the artist, can be less labor-intensive to create than a dance or a video. For a reader, there can also be less access barriers to getting and reading a zine than, for example, attending an exhibition. Maybe because of this, there’s an amazing disability-centered zine scene. In 2020, some SAG members and I gathered this collection together and debuted it in the form of a reading room at the project space Kotti-Shop in Berlin. The zine library’s current home is, unfortunately, a big plastic IKEA bag on top of my wardrobe, so if you have any ideas where a fitting forever home for the library could be, please do reach out!

You may see that some of these zines don’t have to do directly with sickness, but rather with other access barriers, such as racism or sex work stigma. This is because SAG believes ability and accessibility is related to all forms of discrimination, and you can’t have disability justice without social justice for everyone. (1)

 

Accessibility in the Arts: A Promise and a Practice

By Carolyn Lazard, 2019

A straightforward guide to hosting accessible events and exhibitions. This publication is aimed at small institutions, but can be useful for anyone hosting shows. It has a simple and detailed checklist for possible accessibility measures you can consider for your events, and takes into consideration that you may have a small team, a low budget, and a lack of time. A practical must-read!  


Artzine vom Überleben [Art Zine about Surviving]

By SchwarzRund, 2018

“A Zine about living, surviving, bipolarity, and music that fights against the silence of depression.” A personal, poetic zine, talking about the power of music and the void of depression. Lovely drawings in black and white. SchwarzRund is a powerhouse.


Building Towards an Autonomous Trans Healthcare 

By Power Makes Us Sick (PMS), 2018

Centerfold art by Alex Velozo

For me, PMS’s main message is that health is social, and that, at the end of the day, we are the ones who take care of each other, not state systems and certainly not healthcare companies. PMS provides community self-defense tips, herbalist support for before, during, and after gender-affirming surgeries, hormone-sharing networks, and a lot of dank memes. Very tender, very punk.

 

DAMN*: Deutsch-Asiatisches Zine no. 1: Identität [German-Asian Zine #1: Identity]

By Deutsche Asiat*innen, Make Noise!, 2019

A beautiful zine by a necessary collective in Berlin. The pages are full of illustrations, richly detailed and brightly colorful photographs, and personal poems and essays. Many essays echo a theme of having an identity forced on the author by white supremacist German society, and them rejecting that identity and looking for their own way to describe themselves and their experiences. DAMN*’s pages are full of pain and joy.

 

Do you want us here or not?

By Shannon Finnegan, 2017

This zine makes me lol. The artist draws cartoons of furniture they would like to have in galleries and museums, which feature phrases like “Museum visits are hard on my body. Rest here if you agree,” and “I’d rather be sitting. Sit if you agree.” A fuck you to people who design exhibitions and shows for people and don’t include places for visitors to rest.

 

Ho Lover: about dating & friending sex workers

By Sunny, 2011

This is a really down-to-earth zine talking about what the author has learned being friends and lovers with many different sex workers during their life. This zine is a great example of allyship: the author's aim isn’t to talk for sex workers, but to not leave all the exhausting work of fighting stereotypes and misinformation on sex workers’ shoulders. This zine has a lot of real talk about conversations Sunny has experienced in which non-sex workers are afraid to talk with their friends and lovers about consent, disclosure, sex, safe spaces…

 

Issues: given names && given bodies

By Salvi, 2020

I love how sweet, small, and poignant these little zines are. A diary full of glitch art, collages, and sketches, Salvi talks about mental health, coming out as trans, and the ways Salvi’s body is forced into categories by others. They show how making a zine can be such a regular, small, mini lil thing and still so powerful.

 

Krüppel Zeitung: Zeitung von Krüppel für Krüppel [Cripples Newspaper: The Newspaper by Cripples for Cripples]

By Gabi Salje, Henry Meyer, Horst Frehe, Joachim Schalthöfer, Kurt Schwarz, Nati Radtke, Solveig Eisert, Swantje Köbsell, Udo Sierck, Ursel Michalski, 1985

This newspaper rocks my world. Emerging from the Cripple Movement in West Germany in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the Krüppel Magazine’s writers lay their social position bare, rejecting all non-disabled people’s demands for politeness. They’re asked: “Why Cripple Magazine?” They answer, “The word ‘disabled’ hides our real social conditions, while the name cripple clearly shows the distance between us and the so-called non-disable The word cripple seems more honest to us, a word which the non-disabled and their seeming desire for integration [...] can’t hide so easily behind.” 

As an ignorant millennial, I was surprised with how nuanced this magazine is, effortlessly tying feminism together with the struggles of poor people, and other socially disadvantaged groups. A treasure of a publication.

 

The ___ and ___ Oracle

An offering from members of Sickness Affinity Group

Booklet one of two 

By Sickness Affinity Group, 2020

I helped make this zine! And I think it’s great. To make this Oracle, me and some friends and collaborators from SAG sat down together to ask questions to an all-knowing, infinitely compassionate, tender, and furious oracle about access, burnout, being a good person, and creative practice. We then all wrote back in the voice of the oracle to answer those questions. The experience was magical, and gave us the feeling that we are all we need. Although you can get from reading the zine that it is written by a small group of white friends, and therefore has some lack of perspective, it is a personal and heartfelt meditation on access.

 

Join the Künstlersozialkasse (KSK) [Artists’ Health Insurance and Pension Fund]

By Feminist Health Care Research Group (FHCRG), 2018

This zine is an act of care for anyone overwhelmed with German bureaucracy and paperwork. The FHCRG offers a practical, English-language, step-by-step guide to accessing the KSK, a public health insurance fund which covers half of freelance creative workers’ health insurance payments and also contributes a pension and care home fund.

The authors also gently hold the reader around the fear, confusion, shame, and avoidance that dealing with these kinds of paperwork and systems can make us feel. The zine holds your hand and breaks the enormity of the task into manageable chunks. The zine helped me get into the KSK.

 

Queering Couch to 5K: Balancing chronic pain and exercise, no diet talk, hot tunes!

By Cherry Styles, 2019

This zine reaches out such a comforting hand to people who are interested in exercising but have a complicated relationship to sports. Cherry Styles talks about their personal journey from receiving a chronic illness diagnosis to beginning to run, to completing a 5 kilometer run. They talk about how hard it was to figure out what would feel good for them between the pushy advice from their doctors, their exhaustion from working long hours with chronic pain, the difficulties queer and gender non-conforming people can have with positive experiences in their own bodies, and disordered eating. Cherry shares outfits, playlists, and emotions that helped me to start running <3

 

What the Heal: chronically healing when there’s doctors, diagnosis and medicine to deal with too

By Gut Almighty, year unknown

While going through an endless series of visits to German doctors’ offices, Gut Almighty takes medical pamphlets and makes absurd collages out of them. A sea of white, clean-cut doctors smile out of the pages and say “Let me explain your body to you…”. Gut Almighty counters them with their “Doctor Appointment Survival Kit”: included is “one sneaky recording device” and “one mate to come along.” Prepare for gut-wrenching humor.

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  • Footnotes
    1. I would also recommend you to follow the Lohana Berkins Library run by the queer/trans/inter-health center Casa Kuà in Berlin, a library explicitly focusing on BIPOC authors on topics including health, pleasure, resistance, decolonization, and empowerment.

    As a note, I have used the pronoun “they” for all authors as a neutral, as it is not so easy to find out much about every zine’s writers. Finally, a big THANK YOU to all of the contributors who recommended zines to us, gave us zines they had collected, or donated/sold zines to us that they had made! We love you.

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