Edinburgh-based Andrew Kiwanuka is a multi-disciplinary creative, who applies his DIY ethos and yearning for greater cultural diversity in the UK to creating a number of thought-provoking, mixed media projects.
His latest output, We Exist! Black Series 1, is a short illustration zine illuminating various facets of Black culture, from politics and music, to food and style. Powerful allusions to critical moments in recent Black history, such as the murder of Eric Garner, are juxtaposed against seemingly neutral images, of Chuck Taylor high tops and Encona hot sauce, which nevertheless signify their own dense networks of socio-historical roots and importance. Words and text are kept to a minimum, allowing Kiwanuka’s bold, white-on-black iconography to speak for itself.
We spoke to Andrew about the striking new zine, and found out more about his background, influences and motivations. Here’s what he had to say…
BROKEN FRONTIER: What’s your artistic background? How long have you been making zines and how did you get started?
ANDREW KIWANUKA: I studied Graphic Design for two years at HND level at Amersham & Wycombe College, which was great, but the course did not really prepare me for the outside world and getting a job. I took a year out after completing the course to figure out what I wanted to do next, and a friend suggested going to university, which at the time was really appealing as I was in a dead end job. I went to Teesside University and ended up studying Media Production. I thoroughly enjoyed the course and most importantly I graduated. I think my biggest take from that whole experience was gaining an interest in filmmaking.
I have been making zines for nearly two years, which came about because I was looking for another creative outlet. I got really inspired after checking out zines made by people of colour, for example OOMK, Born N Bread, #BLKGRLSWURLD, Gal-Dem and True Laurels. I also loved the whole DIY ethos and the fact anyone can make one; it’s very accessible. Most importantly it allows marginalised groups to be heard. In my opinion the mainstream media in this country does not care about representing minorities and in particular black people, speaking as a Black person, unless it’s in a negative light. I believe we should be in control of our own narratives.
BF: Who are some of your other influences and inspirations – in comics and beyond?
KIWANUKA: I got into comics really late, so obviously I liked a lot of the Marvel and DC work. I particularly love the work of Aaron McGruder who made The Boondocks. I think that really sparked something in me that made me think I should be making work that reflects me and my culture. I also love the work of Emory Douglas, whose artwork featured in the Black Panther newspaper. The work he produced was truly revolutionary at a time when it was so needed. The way he depicted black people in his illustrations was so beautiful. It’s something I try to put across in my own work. Henri Matisse is someone I really admire, his work had a huge impact on me when I was younger and was getting into art.
BF: Is there much of a small press and/or zine culture in Edinburgh, where you’re based?
KIWANUKA: There is a really healthy scene in Edinburgh with a lot of great zines being made. The Edinburgh Zine Library is a fantastic resource and is a great place to go visit and read some amazing zines. It’s all free and really accessible, which is how it should be. Outside of Edinburgh you have the Glasgow Zine Festival, which is wonderful and brings in zine makers from all over.
BF: What gave you the idea to start We Exist! ?
KIWANUKA: I started We Exist! out of sheer frustration with the mainstream media and its lack of diversity. If you cannot see yourself in the world around you, then how do you know you truly exist? I wanted to create something that I could be proud of, and which celebrated black people and black culture. It has gone through a few tweaks to get to this point in regards to defining what it should be; the zine is constantly changing. The first edition of We Exist! was a real collaboration and I had some amazing people help me to get that edition together.
Big shoutouts to LoveSsega, Wasi Daniju, and Oliver Brown. For this one, We Exist! Black Series 1, I wanted to do an illustrated zine. I thought this would be a good way to showcase my illustrative work. I have a few ideas in respect to future editions which is very exciting.
BF: Can you tell us a bit about your process? How do you choose which images to include, and how do you achieve the white on black printing effect?
KIWANUKA: My process can be quite quick once I have a firm idea of what I want to achieve. I like to sketch out a few ideas, work on layout and what kind of things I want to show. For this edition I wanted to keep it quite clean and very simple. I took inspiration from my childhood and growing up in East London. I already had a sketchbook of ideas and from these ideas I chose the strongest images, the ones I felt would best represent We Exist! Black Series 1. I made a master copy for this edition, so I got black card and a white graphic pen and drew the whole zine by hand. The wonderful people at Out of The Blue Print located in Edinburgh helped me to achieve the white and black printing effect.
KIWANUKA: Hahaha, yes, that was a little self-indulgent, that date is my birthday. This is a real personal zine. I wanted to leave a little mark.
BF: What do you plan to do with future issues of We Exist! ?
KIWANUKA: Great question, I have a few ideas. I want to incorporate more photography in the next We Exist! I want to explore the Black series and have that as a standalone art zine. It would be great to get other artists involved. I have plenty of ideas so stay tuned.
BF: What advice would you give to anyone looking to get into self-publishing?
KIWANUKA: Do it! Find like-minded people in your area, get together and make a zine and distribute it amongst friends and family. If you cannot find someone, make one yourself, and just get your work out there. There are so many great tools online which can help you. Self-publishing is the way forward.
Interview by Ally Russell