Banana is the DIY magazine by and for Asians growing up in the west

Look inside issue 4, and watch a film about Asian sexuality through the lens of two dommes named Dia Dynasty & Lucy Sweetkill

Independent publishing often advocates marginalised voices, but few publications successfully shuffle art and culture, gender and race, like Banana.  

From their base in Chinatown, New York, Kathleen Tso and Vicki Ho, are challenging the negative representations – or lack of representation generally - that is attached to Asian culture. Tired of reductive descriptions (at best), and total erasure (at worst), Tso and Ho created Banana in 2014. Together the friends hoped to celebrate “the triumphs and the trials of being Asian in a westernised world”, through a “physical and tangible” outlet.

“We noticed that the Asian creative class was lacking a community and a platform in New York”, say the founders. “We were extremely inspired by Street Etiquette, a creative collective that rallied the black community to the city and we hoped to do the same for people of Asian descent”. Identifying room for global change, Tso and Ho’s mission would by extension, naturally speak to a world beyond New York: “As our thoughts and research developed, we realised there were recurring patterns forming in relation to contemporary Asian identity across the globe. We felt we could speak to these patterns and through storytelling, help to retell them”.

The annual print publication comes with its own manifesto. Banana’s mission is to “navigate through the blurred eastern and western boundaries to create a voice for contemporary Asian culture” and the magazine’s distinctive title is a celebratory nod to this ethos. “The choice for the name Banana is meant to be an ‘insider’ joke”. Tso and Ho give some context and explain the intentional sense of parody at play here: “For anyone who has ever been called a ‘banana’, you will know that it’s a nickname that has been given to many first-generation Asians growing up in a western world. It’s not meant to be derogatory, but celebratory”.

“For anyone who has ever been called a ‘banana’, you will know that it’s a nickname that has been given to many first-generation Asians growing up in a western world. It’s not meant to be derogatory, but celebratory” – Kathleen Tso and Vicki Ho

This sense of collectivity is deep-rooted and can be felt with immediacy when flicking through any one of the publication’s four issues. Its content, although varied and transdisciplinary, is considered and curated, carving out a very specific tone of voice controlled by its Asian contributors at all times. “Everyone who contributes to the magazine and is featured is of Asian descent. We represent Asian culture by giving a platform to Asian writers, photographers, illustrators and other creatives”.

The aim here is twofold: to reclaim individual identity and to rectify any cultural misunderstandings through an informed reference point. “A big reason why we chose to create a print publication was that it is physical and tangible – allowing us to literally create something that captures a snapshot of Asian voices, a reflection of a time when it was printed. To be able to create something that can literally showcase Asian culture – or at least a little bit of it – is very important to us”.

Tso and Ho’s curation of voices and images in Banana takes a hold of powerless stereotypes and works to redefine them. For example, issue 004’s centrepiece is a 70-page feature which asks, “What is Asian American Masculinity and Femininity?” – a section of which comes to life through a short film, premiered above. Featuring Asian dominatrixes Dia Dynasty & Lucy Sweetkill, the feature-cum-short confronts “hyper-sexualised stereotypes, Orientalist fetishisation” and instead takes control of narratives. It’s this approach to collaborating with the community – and, ultimately, giving its voices a platform – which underpins the publication and is what the women believe will lead to societal change. “The best way for us to counter stereotypes is to showcase different voices in our community and let them speak for themselves. By giving different points of view via a platform, we can build a three-dimensional narrative for the contemporary Asian identity that isn’t represented in white-privileged spaces”.

Watch the full film above or click through the gallery to preview the new issue. Banana issue 4 is available now

Featuring Dia Dynasty, Lucy Sweetkill, Pain Puppy. Presented by Banana Magazine, Kathleen Tso and Vicki Ho. Director: Victoria Ng. Cinematographer: Aitor Mendilibar and Mirella Cardoso. Producer: Tiffany Diane Tso. Colourist: Mary Perrino. Music by Drum & Lace