The very nature of an artist is to push boundaries when exploring the world around them and how they see it. Artists’ methods are as diverse as artists themselves, and when artists come together to create art, the resulting blend of styles and viewpoints often creates art that has the power to make an impact that is more well rounded than that of a singular artist.
The Packet is a new(ish) collective of artists, who have, over the last two years, been working together to create art inspired by zine culture. A group of friends who are in the creative arts in some form or the other, The Packet currently consists of Venuri Perera, S.P. Pushpakanthan, Sharika Navamani, Sandev Handy, Imaad Majeed, Cassie Machado, and Abdul Halik Azeez.
Zines: The preferred Packet art form
The Morning Brunch had a chat with Abdul Halik Azeez for a bit of insight into The Packet and what it does. Azeez shared that The Packet was an organic journey, noting: “(It) was an idea about eight of us who came together to do a sort of deconstructed art book inspired by zine culture, which started with punk movement in the 1960s and 1970s. Zines are a way for people to distribute their art. Artists and creators of any sort, make something in a booklet, photocopy, and give it to their friends. It is a way of exchanging art that is very democratic and cheap. We came together wanting to do a bigger zine book of sorts, made of multiple zines.”
Zines (short for magazine or fanzine) are small self-published works circulated independently by a single artist or a small group of artists, as in the case of The Packet. By nature, zines are non-official and non-professional, often being a personal platform employed by an artist to explore topics they are passionate about. Typically, zines produce less than 1,000 copies. The zines produced by The Packet, for instance, only number a maximum of 50 copies printed in batches of 25.
Zines as an art form provide unique cultural insight into small and specialist communities, and mainstream institutions like the Tate museum and the British Library have both begun maintaining zine archives.
A creative commune
Azeez explained that The Packet, as a whole, came to the understanding that there are benefits artists can receive from being in a community – from living together, spending time together, and being in an environment that fosters creative discussion and exchange of ideas. “Also, together you can create things that are greater than the sum of their parts,” Azeez said. “Different ideas come together and morph into something bigger; lots of the work we do is conversation-based. The zine was us meeting every few weeks for dinner, exchanging our ideas, and continuing to work on our own ideas.”
This collaborative inspiring environment meant that many ideas that were brought into the making of the zine book were influenced by how others within the group as well as those the group had interacted with were handling their own ideas.
The Packet came together, working on their zine, or as they now call it, “The OG Packet”, eventually starting an Instagram account for their work and regularly posting stories, articles, poems, and quotes. Azeez shared that the Instagram account in and of itself is an artistic conversation because there are multiple members of The Packet working on it at all times.
Instigating Collaborative Study
The Packet, as a collective of like-minded artists working with zines, wanted to inspire a zine culture in Sri Lanka and have recently set about making a zine archive. Azeez revealed that they have already received a couple of shipments of zines from all around the world that The Packet is using to curate a semi-public zine library for those interested in zines, a project funded by Pro Helvetia New Delhi.
Speaking of his personal experience with zines, Azeez shared that he had heard about zines, but hadn’t been able to experience them until he travelled, finding them to be a great medium with huge variety. “We wanted to create a space where people could see and interact with artistic publications like that,” Azeez said, emphasising that zines are so versatile, affordable, and democratic that any artist can create a zine.
Moving to build and inspire zine culture, The Packet instituted “Instigating Collaborative Study” (ICS), a programme where they worked with several artists over the course of a few months to create a zine and promote zine culture.
Issuing an open call for artists, The Packet eventually selected 10 artists to work on “Instigating Collaborative Study” – Tashyana Handy, Sarah Jaufer, Rupaneethan Pakkiyarajah, Muvindu Binoy, Kitty Ritig, Isuri, Iman Saleem, Firi Rahman, Bilal Raji Saheed, and Arun Welandawe-Prematilleke.
As one part of ICS, The Packet initiated 14 email threads with the residents of ICS and five members of The Packet. Something like the dreaded chain email of some years past, the thread is initiated with a pre-conceived sequence where each recipient is expected to reflect, respond, and pass on the email chain within two days with the chain being closed, at which point the thread’s initiator receives one last email after each other member of the group has responded.
ICS also saw workshops conducted by respected South Asian artists like designer and artist Somanath Bhatt, one of the curators of the Instagram platform @southasia.art which features South Asian artists, and Pakistani art collective Exhausted Geographies (@exhaustedgeographies).
Speaking on the outcome of ICS, Azeez shared that like with many forms of art, it’s not always easy to quantify the results of such a project. “We’re still coming to terms with the richness of the interactions. The email threads were distilled into this zine called ‘Mathematics’, which is an output of ICS.”
Building zine culture
With “Mathematics” out as a side product of the ICS project, The Packet has also published what they call “Letters Suffering” (part of a longer title), a zine The Packet worked on during the first lockdown. Compiled during the first lockdown and published with the support of the Goethe Institut, this collection of zines looks at the experience of The Packet during the lockdown and unusually addresses how people felt during the lockdown from a personal perspective. “We didn’t want to respond to big broad questions like what it meant to the economy or humanity as a whole,” Azeez shared. “We wanted to focus on the immediate experience. One of the questions was ‘what do you see?’ We ended up responding to the questions, writing letters, and a long series of emails that were composed into Letters Suffering.”
Another project by The Packet, “talk to you soon, ttyl” is inspired in part by the experience of eight people sharing one Instagram account and the accidental/conversations that abound from that process. “Talk to you soon, ttyl” was featured at the Future Landing Online Art Festival organised by the Serendipity Art Festival.
The Packet was also chosen out of over 100 applications, as one of eight chosen for the “Now On” grant by Pro Helvetia, with Azeez sharing that being a part of the “Now On” process enables The Packet to better create a space for young artists to come together and be together as a community, to cook together, have meals together, converse and exchange ideas, and see what comes out of it.
The Packet’s key ethos is about creating community as artists and building a space for Sri Lankan artists to express themselves in ways that aren’t available within existing institutional frameworks.
“The Packet’s journey has been unplanned over the last two years,” Azeez shared. “We’ve gone into unexpected spaces. We presented a prototype of our first book at the Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa in 2019, we’ve worked with the Goethe Institut, and received a grant from Pro Helvetia. We’ve done quite a few projects by now that are surprising. We never thought we’d be at this scale. It’s quite humbling to see the amount of exposure we’ve received.”