This publication from Chinatown, NYC, has certainly dazzled us this week, and not just because of the holographic overlay on the cover. The annual magazine is onto its fifth issue, and continues to uphold its reputation of presenting a diverse set of stories of Asian and Asian American culture and food.
Started up to reclaim the racial slur ‘banana’, previous issues have always carried an illustration of a banana on the cover, in various states of unpeel, and this cover by Eric Hu is enhanced by that holographic layer that sparkles in the light – it’s a somewhat camp addition that plays on some of the queer-focused content within.
The first up being a feature on the drag queens of Taipei. Taipei is one of Asia’s most LGBTQ-friendly cities, yet still has a long way to go regarding public acceptance of same-sex relationships and lifestyle. The drag scene, the author Kathleen Tso says, can be separated into pre- and after- RuPaul’s Drag race, with the influence being clear on the small yet vibrant scene, one that is burgeoning as new audiences find it through the ‘gateway’ TV show.
Not letting up the queer focus, a conceptual high-end photoshoot brings together non-binary and multidisciplinary artists wearing only swathes of paper bearing Chinese calligraphy that originally denote pejorative terms for those out of the norm. It shows a side of culture and male sexuality that you don’t often see.
There’s plenty of variety in the magazine too – the editors have presented a range of different lived experiences – from the way that millennial parents are bringing up their third-generation children in the US to embrace their Asian heritage rather than obscure it, to the legacy of the Pacific Railroad, to a playful photoshoot of different shaved-ice desserts that wouldn’t look out of place in The Gourmand.
The magazine relays its underground scene vibes with a layout full of deep-hued gradients and black overprinting. This works especially well in pieces like ‘The Reverse Commute’ where the yellow-to-red images and text make for an eye-catching set of interviews, but in other places the text is occasionally completely lost in a too-closely matched colour combination, like the red and purple in the recipe section.
Overall it’s a strong issue from Banana, showing that sometimes it’s worth the yearly wait for an independent magazine, as it allows the small team to put together a publication with well-researched, photographed and written content that adds up to more than the sum of its parts.
Founding editors: Kathleen Tso & Vicki Ho