Zine exhibit explores wellness themes and creative expressions from the pandemic

January 30, 2023
A staff member of Special Collections and Archives holds open a zine from the current exhibit on the fourth floor of James Branch Cabell Library.

“Zines from the Pandemic and Beyond,” an exhibit on view on the fourth floor of James Branch Cabell Library, explores the personal and the universal themes expressed in zines. The exhibit features zines and artists’ books from VCU Libraries Special Collections and Archives’ holdings that explore themes of health, activism and creative expression. Many items featured were created in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Zines are small-run underground publications created independently by individuals or small groups. As a medium of expression and communication, a zine often takes the form of a booklet and is created through inexpensive means of printing and production.

According to Caroline Meyers, research and collections specialist, in the opening statement for the exhibit: “The impulse to create and disseminate printed matter with a do-it-yourself ethos has existed for centuries. This took on a new urgency with the COVID-19 pandemic, as people sought new ways to share and access health information, agitate for social change, and engage in restorative play. Among zine creators, the creative process of journaling and zine-making can be therapeutic activities.” 

A collection of zines from the current exhibit on the fourth floor of James Branch Cabell Library.
Central to the exhibit is Lōkē vol. 2, pronounced “low-key,” a collaborative zine produced by friends in Brooklyn, NY. It documents fragments of performance-based works. While researching the publication, Meyers found that many of the creative projects featured in the zine either ceased production or changed form at the beginning of the pandemic. Consequently, Lōkē served as a conceptual jumping-off point for the selection of the rest of the works in the exhibit.

The exhibit also features zines from the Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project (RRFP), which are similar to Lōkē in their use of bright colors and snippets of information to make their content accessible. While the RRFP zines were published years before the pandemic, they speak to community-oriented health care efforts that have long existed, but became increasingly visible during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Wingnut Anarchist Collective is another example of this idea: Active in the mid-2010s, the group that authored this zine articulates their commitment to mutual aid in Northside, Richmond. An uptick of participation in mutual aid- aid for everyone, by everyone- accompanied the pandemic. Since Special Collections and Archives’ zine collection has a wealth of materials from the 2000s and 2010s, it was important to Meyers to illustrate how practices that became highly visible during the pandemic have been documented through zines for decades prior to 2020.

The exhibit is on view during regular building hours. This exhibit was curated by Caroline Meyers with contributions from Yuki Hibben, Celia Donnelly, Mary Plaku and Moira Neve. As a companion experience to the exhibit, a free workshop on creating zines will be held in spring semester 2023.

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Want to know more? VCU Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives holds more than 700 zines, 4,000 independently produced artists’ books, as well as mini-comics and small-press publications. The department is open to the public. Visit Special Collections and Archives at Cabell Library or make an appointment by contacting (804) 828-1108 or

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