16 January 2023
Ink, Paper, Alchemy II
Edition or Limited Series Publishing
For this edition of Ink, Paper, Alchemy, we explore publications that issue capsule collections, serialised volumes, and location-specific limited runs.
NANG is a 10-volume capsule collection founded by film critic Davide Cazzaro that takes a thematic look at cinema culture in Asia. Published twice annually out of Korea and Italy, the project started in 2015 and culminated in 2020. The magazine’s decade-long journey began in part to honour the legacies of film critics Alexis Tioseco and Nika Bohinc, whose murders in an apparent house burglary in 2009 in the Philippines, rocked the independent cinema circuit in Asia. Tioseco and Bohinc were regulars at film festivals and had become close friends with several people who went on to work on the NANG project.
What makes NANG unique from traditional publications is the set of conventions it chose to avoid. The volumes take on a journal-like approach, moving expressly away from the standard structures of glossy tabloids, newspaper columns and reports and instead create dialogues that are conceptually driven. Their editorial direction is helped by the publication being free of advertising.
Every issue of NANG has a simple white cover with the issue number and theme title printed on its masthead. It uses one hero colour for the entire issue utilising offset printing on Munken paper — a premium, uncoated stock known for its tactility. (Check out how Issue 1 was printed at Sweden’s erstwhile Göteborgstryckeriet.)
NANG’s pages feature thoughtful essays and conversations by filmmakers, artists, writers, directors, archivists, curators, and scholars of Asian cinema. These are richly embellished with not only film stills and pictures of the actors and crew, but also delightful details of storyboards and scripts complete with hand-scribbled notes and archival material behind projects and individual journeys.
Each issue is structured around a theme and is helmed by revolving guest editors. Issue 0 presents an introduction to the NANG project and previews of the first three volumes. Issues 1 through 9 explore a range of structural to conceptual threads: Screenwriting, Scars and Death, Fiction, In & Out, Inspiration, Manifestos, Scent of Boys, Loud Mess, and Archival Imaginaries.
The content of each issue varies across registers: from presenting the challenges of migrant filmmakers (voluntarily or involuntarily) and their concepts of identity and belonging, to thinking about influences that dictate the synesthetic elements of filmmaking and film viewing. Remarkably, readers can move from a purely educational conversation to a heart-wrenching anecdote with the turn of a page. The breadth of thematic arcs is tremendous on its own, but it is the multiplicity of voices and editorial inputs that make each volume of NANG a complete and unique project.
Only 1,500 copies of each issue of NANG have ever been printed with no plans to reprint despite several issues being sold out. Existing issues are sold online or stocked worldwide. In the UAE, you should be able to find copies at the Jameel Arts Centre library.
Side note: an essay by Tioseco written in the form of a love letter to Bohinc has been lauded as a seminal text on contemporary Filipino cinema. It highlights — sometimes poetically, other times in exasperation — how the notions of constructive critique and independence of thought can be difficult to navigate in imperious Filipino cinema cliques, notorious for its gatekeepers. NANG continues on the path of these two cited trajectories — criticism and uncensored speech.
All NANG images: Park Sung Soo.
The second series of publications in this feature is published out of Cape Town, South Africa. Founded in 2002 and edited by Ntone Edjabe — a DJ, journalist and former basketball coach from Cameroon — Chimurenga has become a leading platform for critical commentary on culture, art, and politics from across the African continent. Like many independent publishers, it arose from a lack of publishing platforms and started out being distributed by hand. Intended as a standalone book, Edjabe was soon overwhelmed with the interest shown by readers and journalists whose contributions fuelled one edition after the next.
‘Chimurenga’ is a Shona word that loosely translates as ‘liberation struggle,’ and while a lot of the publisher’s focus has been on South African apartheid, it has also built a significant pan-African discourse. By tackling difficult conversations around apartheid and xenophobic violence, Chimurenga targeted historical holes in the official narrative of the region — an approach that went on to become its raison d'etre. It was important to Edjabe that their publications be as relevant in Lagos and Nairobi as they were in Johannesburg or Cape Town.
With the quality and richness of content, and more specifically its investment in critical political discourse, Chimurenga has established itself as an important voice. The publisher is not limited by legacy formats, and hence, plays with multiple print and digital forms. This includes broadcasting, which covers the Pan-African Space Station (PASS), a multi-purpose platform conceived as an internet-based radio and pop-up studio, a research platform, and a performance and exhibition space.
With its print formats, Chimurenga has produced a periodical literary magazine, a newspaper, and multiple book projects in partnership with individuals and collectives. These are mostly in black and white offset prints on paper; the smaller volumes stapled instead of bound. The first publication series, Chimurenga Magazine, published a total of 16 paperback volumes, ending with The Chimurenga Chronicle (2011). Two years later, Chimurenga launched The Chronic ー a quarterly gazette featuring writing, art and photography that took a conceptual turn at covering news about Africa and Africans. The Chronic questioned notions of information dissemination and circulation, and what it means to publish timely news. For example, the first edition travelled back in time to a week of extreme xenophobic violence in South Africa in May 2008.
In a special edition published entirely in Arabic in 2015, Chimurenga Chronic: Muzmin was produced in collaboration with Beirut-based Studio Safar. Commissioned for Sharjah Biennial 12, the newspaper argued that the idea that ‘the Sahara exists as a boundary between the Maghreb and ‘Black Africa’’ was erroneous and that history and lived experiences tell us that ‘Trade caravans, intellectuals, literatures, human resources and political ideas have long circulated from Timbuktu to Marrakech, from Khartoum to Tunis, and Cairo and beyond.’
In 2019, as part of their Chimurenga Library Series, Chimurenga co-published its research on the landmark Festac ’77 with Afterall Books, in association with other august institutions in the field. It is the first publication to showcase the eponymous culture festival that took place in Lagos in 1977 ー an event where thousands of artists, writers, musicians, activists and scholars from Africa and the black diaspora assembled. It features photographic and archival materials, interviews and commissions that highlight an extraordinary moment in time for African politico-cultural history.
The Farside Collective is a small publishing practice, studio, and bookstore founded in the picturesque and historic city of Leh in the Himalayas. The collective’s second home used to be in Bretagne, along the French coast, but for the foreseeable future it is likely to operate from Zurich. Leh belongs to the disputed region of Ladakh: a territory of Kashmir administered by India but claimed in part by Pakistan and China. Location and history make Farside’s publications especially poignant and have been the key subject matter of the majority of content that it has produced.
Farside was founded by artists Debashish Borah and Hélène Thébault, who are also publishers, curators and distributors of small-batch art books and zines. While the publications they have produced are not necessarily serialised in the traditional sense, they collaborate with artists and photographers to focus on photo books that employ memory, migration, displacement, and borders as their themes.
Borah and Thébault’s interest in vernacular photography has pushed them to work with many local photographers who are based near to them, several, largely unknown. These collaborations have encouraged discussion around collecting photography, photo-archiving practices, and a desire to tell individual stories. To this end, they also have a darkroom and screenprinting studio on-site at Leh, where they have hosted artist residencies and workshops for some years.
Farside’s publications have a distinct DIY quality as they are printed and sewn in-house, in small quantities. There is nothing particularly exceptional about their paper or printing methods, but their content deserves attention. To wit, one is a sky blue zine with a lone cloud and the title, ‘Lonely Clouds;’ another is a black and white photograph and the stark white title ‘I dream of smoking in Toba Tek Singh;’ or a rather officious-looking, stapled yellow booklet with a logo and the title ‘Institute of Daily Objects.’ These and other volumes are filled with photography, found images, poetry, and minimalist storytelling; each one a small window into the sky and the ground and the world around the photographer, the chronicler.
One of their popular volumes is Borah’s own work — a green-covered zine with a cut-out window highlighting the word ‘Pakistani,’ from its title ‘The land with Pakistani trees’ (2018). The project is grounded in a village in Baltistan, a region shared by both Pakistan and India. In 1971, the Turtuk village was moved from one territory to the other and is now officially Indian, but it is home to trees that took root in Pakistan. It is a moving metaphor for the disruption caused by frontier wars that have torn through the lives of so many and have tried to stake claim over age-old customs that belong to no authority. First published in 2018, this publication had its third print run in 2020.
Apart from their publishing activities, Farside runs a small bookstore hosting independent publications and zines from the region and beyond. As an extension of its indie distribution efforts, Farside participates in international book fairs and has also organised pop-up shops in the commercial areas of Leh. In this spirit of collaboration, discovery, and co-working, Farside also co-founded Art Book Depot, an independent art book festival that took place in Jaipur in 2020.
Saira Ansari is a writer and researcher. This story series is inspired by her years-long work with Sharjah Art Foundation’s Focal Point book fair.