Printed and rebel, Amsterdam’s zine scene survives hipsters and tourists
By PanDam and Mariam Aguilar Published Sat Feb 22 2020
Who would ever expect to find an anarchist bookshop in Jodenbreestraat Street, one of the most touristic spots of the capital? And yet there stands Fort of Sjakoo, one of the eldest stores of its kind, packed with shelves full of anarchist, feminist and left-wing political publications; the thoughts of some of the most important thinkers of history lay in ancient books, waiting to be read.
But the ten volunteers who run the bookshop have also made it their mission to provide a safe haven for zines, hand-made and self-published short magazines which display a creative combination of imagery and text on content that ranges all the way from science-fiction stories to justifying animal rights and vegetarianism.
Fort of Sjakoo receives zines from all over the world, says one of the volunteers, from European countries like England, Spain, Germany and Italy, but also from Russia, North-America and Canada. Fort of Sjakoo has promoted and supported Amsterdam’s zine scene for long: “I started making zines when I was a bachelor student and no one, back then, really knew what a zine was. I never looked at it as ‘self-publishing’. At first, I just gave them away to friends. Then I discovered that there were independent shops I could send them to as well, so I did,” explains Kristen Gehrman from Charleston, USA.
“Making zines is truly a labor of love”. Kristen has published ten zines since 2007. Her career as a literary translator has not allowed her to continue with zine production. Before, in her spare time, she would print between 50-80 copies of her work. Kristen’s zines are usually micro-fiction, short stories set around a single topic, like her Amsterdam-themed publication ‘Amsterdam Shorts’. “Boekie Woekie -an artist run bookstore for books by artists in Amsterdam- started selling my zines long before I’d ever been to Amsterdam. I remember hearing about the store from a friend and decided, out of the blue, to send them a few of my zines. I was delighted when the owner, Jan Voss, emailed me a few months later to say they’d all been sold and to ask for more.”
Tessel ten Zweege, founder of Pisswife, also describes a similar experience: “two bookstores in Amsterdam are always very excited to work with us. One day we literally just passed by with our zine like ‘do you want to sell this’ and they said: Ok”. Pisswife is a feminist art collective which produces feminist zines, organizes social events and publishes articles on its website. “It is for people who are already feminist, so we are not trying to convince anyone to join our cause,” says Tessel.
Tessel’s inspiration for opening Pisswife was a feminist library she had visited in London where: “there was a huge rack filled entirely with feminist gigs”. Convinced that no such scene existed in Amsterdam, Tessel founded her own feminist media -Pisswife- a platform where young feminists can share their stories. She guarantees that the best part of their project is the freedom it allows in terms of content, both when deciding what to write and what visuals to include. The team is composed of 15 people, where each one has its own field of expertise. Pisswife does not publish according to a strict schedule but rather whenever a new zine is ready because -according to Tesse- such pressure would compromise the product’s authenticity.