Zines And The Socially Conscious Creative Process Of Nicki Aquino

Emily P.

Nicki Aquino PZ ‘21 describes her artistic process as a consolidation of colors, symbols, and concepts she comes across in her daily life. Zines, small magazines with an artistic emphasis, are her mode of synthesizing her brain scatter into a force for social change.

Aquino is an Education major and one of the organizers of Claremont Zine Fest, an event held on April 13th at the Claremont Packing House. Students enrolled in Pitzer’s Asian American and Queer Zines course, taught by Professor Todd Honma, typically organize Zine Fest. With Honma on sabbatical, Aquino, who previously completed the course, and Pitzer students Linda Huang and Mai Nguyen organized and showcased their zines at the event.

Aquino draws on her surrounding environment for inspiration. She uses social media as a tool for examining larger cultural trends and exploring the re-appropriation of pop culture icons on sites such as Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr. Preferring to create zines or other art pieces in relaxing spaces such as the Hive or her dorm, Aquino describes moments when she connects her personal experiences to surrounding narratives she absorbs as random exciting moments of creativity promoted by unconscious, unstructured reflection.

“My favorite part is when I come up with an idea out of nowhere. I’ll be doing something completely unrelated, like cooking rice or taking a shower, and I’ll come up with a brilliant idea; what I think is brilliant at least. Those pockets of creativity are what I seek and crave in art. If I follow this idea into a piece, I love seeing the through line and my journey in realizing how everything fits together,”she said.

Aquino notes consolidating her brain scatter has led her to experiment with many different mediums, including pen sketches, painting, animation, and collaging in Photoshop. She believes her experience with animation is the scaffolding for how she synthesizes personal and cultural themes in her art.

“In movies, they paste a bunch of scenes together to create a larger story. When I think about certain experiences, I do see a through-line, and I think it is reflected in art in a similar way it is in movies. I think whether or not I am actually aware of it, I do take note of those small ideas and experiences, and these can come together like movie or story,” Aquino notes.  

Aquino found zines to be the ideal format for using many artistic mediums to articulate the beliefs and ideas resulting from the through lines within Aquino’s brain scatter. This process if reflected in the two zines Aquino constructed for Zine Fest.

One of Aquino’s zines showcases her art in juxtaposition with zine culture’s forgiving, open-ended, and informational qualities. “I realized zines allowed me weave those fragments of my brain scatter into a zine as a collection. I could just put a bunch of isolated pieces together, and then while reflecting on it in creating the zine, recognize through-lines and meaning,” said Aquino.  

Aquino’s second zine displayed at Zine Fest utilized components of zine culture to address injustices in the Hawaiian tourism industry. Aquino’s personal narrative was integrated into the zine, depicting her signature use of eclectic visuals and the identity work involved in discussing an industry profiting off Native Hawaiian people, as Aquino is Native Hawaiian.

“I wanted to create a guide for tourists and people who aren’t really familiar with the industry and the social underpinnings of it. It was more of a cartoon comic with a step by step, and I wanted to make it accessible for people. I felt Zine fest would be a great way to distribute that type of information, because it is severely underrepresented in mass media.”

Synthesizing her identity work and artistic style, Aquino found zines to be a creative outlet and a tool for social change. Attention toward social forces and inequalities in society is also reflected in Aquino’s other art pieces.

In December, Aquino showcased her work at Trap Art, an art and fashion show held at the Avalon in Hollywood spotlighting the work of artists of color. At Trap Art, Aquino met many other creatives and had the opportunity to branch out from mostly showcasing her art on social media. The event’s focus on promoting the work of young artists with diverse backgrounds lead Aquino to reflect on Pitzer’s art community as a microcosm of the larger and mostly white art world.

As a young artist, Aquino feels fortunate her ideas and work have gleaned recognition, since she feels young artists often struggle with gaining legitimacy. As a member of Pitzer’s student senate, Aquino believes Pitzer provides students more of a voice than most other institutions of higher education. Yet, students should keep pushing for increased representation. Aquino asserts the more Pitzer focuses on amplifying student voices, the better position the college is in when incorporating diverse perspectives into its art community.

She claims diversifying Pitzer’s art community is a matter of creating comfortable spaces for students of underrepresented identities. Increased diversity in opinions and narratives will prevent the art community at Pitzer from being confined to expressing the views of a certain “type,” refraining from promoting a single, homogenous narrative.

Summarizing her artistic style, Aquino says, “I use pop culture or commercial icons to juxtapose and create different themes as a form of social commentary. Identity will surface, but I ultimately aim to address themes of superficiality or consumerism in particular.” Evidently, Aquino’s ideas start as brain scatter and ameliorate into a drive to express her unique experience regarding cultural phenomena, whether this expression is filtered through the medium of her choice or manifested in a zine.

Feeling fortunate to have found a niche in Pitzer’s art community reflecting her values, Aquino expresses her beliefs artistically through zines, art shared on social media, or pieces displayed in larger shows. She recognizes the importance of comfortability when engaging in identity work involved in the artistic process, advocating for students to recognize the value in the consolidation of their fragmented, scattered takeaways derived from their daily experiences.

Emily P. PZ’22 is a combined Environmental Analysis and Sociology Major from Seattle, WA.

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