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WEIRDO Zine Creator Naz Toorabally talks about South Asian Visibility

Creator Naz Toorabally and contributors from the first issue of WEIRDO Zine (Photo Credit: Arhantika Rebello)

While there is a lack of alternative South Asian visibility and acceptance across the mainstream media, South Asian people are also not widely represented in subcultures such as punk and goth. Created in response to this, WEIRDO Zine was born as a platform for South Asians to share their experiences, perspectives and imagery on being part of subcultures.

In August 2019, artist Naz Toorabally put a callout for contributors for the first issue of WEIRDO Zine and received overwhelming feedback. On the same day, she found out that journalist and filmmaker Mobeen Azhar was looking to interview South Asian punks and goths on his BBC Asian Network radio show for an episode called Being a Misfit, Naz ended up being invited onto the show and met two fellow weirdos that later contributed in the zine.

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(Photo Credit: Arhantika Rebell)

What does “being a misfit” mean to you?

Being a misfit, to me, means being a non-conformist.

What is the mission behind WEIRDO Zine?

WEIRDO was created to expand the one-dimensional representation of South Asian people by platforming the perspectives, experiences and faces of alternative South Asians. This zine was born out of frustration with the continued lack of South Asian representation in the mainstream, alternative, and South Asian spheres, notably, in fashion, beauty and music. I was tired of not seeing people like me represented by brands or on stage at gigs and wanted to create something to addressed that. It’s also about connecting South Asian people with similar interests as many of us don’t necessarily have brown friends who share our interests.

As you have mentioned in the zine, people usually don’t associate South Asians as part of the subculture, like being a punk or a goth. Do you think that ideology is starting to change now?

I’d love to say that we’re starting to see change now, but I don’t think that’s the case. If it was, I wouldn’t have created WEIRDO. It’s a combination of what society expects – the stereotypes – of South Asian people and expectations placed on us by our own communities.

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‘Life as a mixed-race misfit’ by Meera Rose Soalnki

Is there any public figures or books or CDs that has influenced you to become a punk when you were growing up?

I wish I had a really interesting and profound answer for this, but I probably have my dad to thank for introducing me to bands like Nirvana and Metallica which started me off on my journey to discovering punk and other subcultures.

What do you think are some of the prejudices that South Asian (punks) are still facing these days?

South Asian people on the alternative scenes are not represented across various industries including music, fashion and beauty – this is a form of prejudice. The lazy explanation would be to say that South Asian people are not interested in subcultures, but we see thriving punk and alternative communities across Asia and Africa. In the case of British Asians, the first issue of WEIRDO shows that we are part of the subculture community, even if we’re not fully accepted.

It’s certainly not an experience unique to South Asian people. It’s experienced by alternative Black people and other people of colour. That’s why WEIRDO exists and why events like Afropunk and Decolonise Fest exist.

What can we expect to read from WEIRDO Zine and who have contributed to its first issue?
The first issue explores identity and community in British subculture among the South Asian diaspora. We received contributions from musicians, models, music fans, cosplayers and more; some identified as punks or goths and others as alternative as a broader identity. The pages are packed with art, photography, personal essays, poetry, interviews and more. I’m so proud of what we created and look forward to starting work on the second issue later this year.

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Interview with Ishani Jasmin, interviewed by Naz Toorabally

Which feature or story makes you smile the most?

Ah, this is such a difficult question as I took something away from each piece that made me smile because it was relatable. The first feature in the zine is a photoshoot I arranged with some of the contributors which makes me smile – it was surreal shooting with a group of fellow brown weirdos because I’d never spent time with a group of people who looked like me and shared similar interests to me before.

Is there any advice you’d like to give to those who feel confused and not represented in mainstream media?
My advice would be that you don’t have to wait for mainstream or even subculture media to represent you. There are over 7 billion people in the world, so there’ll be other people who feel the same way.
If you can’t find the representation you’re looking for, then create it for yourself by making zines, organising events or creating an online community. It can be really daunting at first – I held off starting WEIRDO because I wasn’t sure it was something anyone else would care about but turned out that I was wrong. If you’re alternative South Asian, then please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you!

Follow WEIRDO Zine on their website here and on their Instagram here

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