6'98 Redefinitions review

With the theme of ‘Redefinitions’, this zine beautifully weaves together multiple pieces of prose, poetry, art and photography to create a collection that depicts the complexity of our identities and the human condition. Henry James said that the human experience is ‘a kind of huge spider web of the finest silken threads suspended in the chamber of consciousness and catching every air-borne particle in its tissue’ and that’s exactly what 6’98 presents; each piece captures the tiny details of what it is to be human and to feel in a world that’s wonderfully harsh and chillingly beautiful. The zine champions a multitude of personal experiences, reflecting glimpses of individual feeling yet also portraying the connections between us all. Crucial to the theme of ‘Redefinitions’ is how 6’98 places a view of the world beyond the Western gaze as we see what it means to redefine who we are, where we are from and who we aspire to be.

Edwin Boadu, the founder of 6’98, begins the issue with a letter that pitches the thread of thought that the zine goes on to unravel “if we position ourselves in relation to definitions, then I liberate myself by redefining the position expected of me, to one that I own”. Referring to his own experience of identity as a ghanaian male, Edwin grounds the theme of redefinitions in its own personal importance to him. Briefly outlining the complexities of those who feel neither here nor there, he opens the zine reflecting on the importance of including multiple stories.

“the body can touch others, but can the self?”

Image Credits: Amaan Jah

In first opening the zine you are struck with the pieces of collage artwork that fill this issues pages. Fragmented cutouts of different eyes depict and explore the idea of how we all see through a different set of experiences and life histories. Then, Riana Davis’ piece Now you can stop asking me about my hair much appreciated okay thanks, mixes photographs of herself along with a poem she has written. Her joy and hope is reflected in both the photographs and her poem. She writes: “there is hope because every dead thing resurrects, because it is organic matter” and  against the green background, everything returns in “rebirth and...”. The end is left open as everything is constantly evolving. In Timi Sotire’s piece, she interviews Rahima Gambo— a journalist who investigates the effects of the terrorist group, Boko Haram and how conflict has shaped the lives of girls living through this conflict. She documents the impact of such violence on the community but also redefines the hopefulness of the girls, captured in the photos that are part of her multimedia project ‘Education is Forbidden’. They show girls in pale pink hijabs and matching long, floating dresses. They are dancing around in an old classroom with faded blue walls; they are playing outside against the vibrancy of the sun and mango trees. Smiling and beautiful.

Zach Myer’s insightful interview with Florian Hertz depicts how one’s life doesn’t need to be hindered by change. In spite of Florian’s severe encephalitis, which made him leave a professional career in opera dance, he has re-channelled his creative energy into photography. His photographic close ups of human bodies highlight a crackling sexual charge. Zach’s interview with Florian brings to light the many challenges of art and the artist’s accountability in capturing pictures that don’t objectify minority groups. Florian’s work champions diversity in all senses— race, sexuality, body sizes and age. My favourite photograph in this collection is a close up of a gaping mouth, showing a raw but truthful image of saliva, facial hair and rosy pink lips. Pierre Yves Als’ photography collection in the zine similarly captures sensuality through images; he pictures the body in motion: sudden blurs of movement of hands and exposed bodies. An unbuttoning of plaid shirts and a t-shirt over the head, all in black and white.

"Here, again, we are learning
new languages in old concepts"

Image Credits: Sara Pocher

‘Lament of a Modern Geisha’ by C.H. Riva captures the difficulties of navigating her identity as an Asian woman who faces racial fetishisation. Such categorisation reinforces racial stereotypes as they “flatter people who look like you: people who they expect to behave in a certain way”. Racial fetishisation makes you doubt whether the attraction you solicit is because of your individuality or whether you’re an object in a category. Even more disturbing is how it solicits unwanted attention and even violence and this poem shows the subtler forms of racism.

A common theme that weaves throughout the zine is how we use language to find ourselves and to create redefinitions, capturing how the self is constantly evolving. Cecily Bateman’s poem redefines the word poet, as it deals with the “complex shade dynamics of the black and grey and white” world. It makes you realise the multiplicity of experiences in her shifting definitions throughout the poem that equally resonate with truth. Rita’s piece Dearest ______ questions the line between the self and the other, and human intimacy. It starts with questions of uncertainty: “What if I am the Other also?” And the returning question of “what is the Self?”.  The line “the body can touch others, but can the self?” took my breath away. It ties together how we achieve true connection through something that transcends the body, something like the soul. The questions culminate to the final paragraph that powerfully concludes with a momentary certainty in the self.

This theme of language and expression of identity takes a darker turn in ‘Marrow and Earth’, a prose piece on how pain manifests itself in the character’s attempt to create a new language to escape the pain felt and almost inexpressible in the language we have now. Georgie Newson-Errey lyrically expresses through her language the difficult barriers that we attempt to overcome as we attempt to redefine things: “Oil, you said, pointing at the window. Spider, you said, pointing at a tangerine.” Is it possible to redefine things and unlearn our pain through language? In a striking piece, What’s in a name? Usage of the term ‘refugee’ in Europe amongst refugee communities and advocacy, Tiara Sahar Ataii expresses the political definition of the term ‘refugee’ and how its been continually redefined in media depending on the audience. The word represents “object of sympathy” in left wing media while becomes demonised as an object of vilification in right wing media. Tiara also depicts the complex definition through contrasting the multiple ways to say refugee in Farsi and their connotation compared to English. The lexilisation of the word ‘refugee’ instantly portrays a sense of Otherness in English and is ultimately “a title and not an identity”.

Not only is this zine beautiful and important in its own right, but is also a necessary addition to the student work at Cambridge. With the historical standing and traditions of Cambridge it is easy, to feel, to a certain extent, like an imposter. Having a collection, as this zine does, of multiple stories and experiences is crucial in addressing this. As a child of diaspora, being born to Chinese parents in Uganda then moving to the UK for boarding school, I’ve often had to redefine my cultural identity, and this has often left me feeling lost. Who is the self? Where am I from? The need for constant self reflection and redefinition has been crucial to my sense of identity and I find solace as I see myself in so many of these moving pieces. It’s hard for me to say that I now know myself when I find that I’m changing every term, learning and unlearning things that I thought were true, learning that there are no concrete senses of being, and this zine teaches you that you can be lost and found at the same time.

These pieces  are only a few snippets of the amazingly intimate and insightful pieces in this issue of 6’98. Despite the diverse range of featured work, these lyrical pieces, important interviews and breathtaking collections of art and photography capture how we are all universal in our individualism, connected in our struggle to redefine.

The launch of the magazine is Tuesday 5th March at Queens College, and copies of the zine be on sale then. Alternatively               , buy a copy now!

Cici Peng

Creating a platform for BAME students

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