Since visiting the country for the U-Symposium events over recent years, I’ve got to know Singapore’s publishing scene a little. Magazines like Underscore, Staple, and Rubbish Famzine — a particular favourite — are contributing to the broader, global, world of independent magazines. These all have something to offer, but Mynah is a new title from the small south east Asian island state that I find especially interesting.
While many indie mags subscribe to an international agenda, Mynah is determinately local. Promising to share ‘Singapore’s untold stories,’ it looks closely at life in the country. The name comes from the mynah bird, which the editors explain is so ubiquitous locally it has become invisible – and therefore the perfect symbol for the stories they’ve picked up for the issue (a profile of the bird is discreetly merged into the magazine’s logo, above).
The 162 page annual magazine takes pride in its country; we visit the largest public collection of local art, housed in the growing MRT subway system that covers the island (above); listen in to a discussion between two women poets about their work and its relationship to their country; and wonder at a scathing overview of ‘Tanglin,’ a soap opera that claims to reflect Singaporean life but clearly doesn’t: ‘Tanglin is an act of speculative fiction… what would Singapore be like if all its ugly problems went away?’
A collection of images of the recently demolished Rochor public housing project (above) questions the state’s obsession with the new, while images produced on disposable cameras by migrant construction workers show a very different side to the country than the shiny vision they’ve been imported to help create (below, and also on the cover, top): . The country is known for its censorship and state control; even as the government opens up to the potential of a creatively-led future, it is rare to read openly critical texts, however subtly couched.
So the content is intriguing, but the design is also worth noting. It’s been great to witness the interest in making magazines in countries like Singapore, but also curious how the established western indie aesthetic gets so closely copied. Underscore stands out for taking its minimalist approach to a zen-like level of calm, and Rubbish references the cheap but vivid educational texts available in the Bras Basah shopping complex.
Mynah sits between these two, with a busy, spontaneous feel that relates to the subjects in hand; the MRT story uses the system’s specially commissioned LTA Identity font, and a story about 90’s gaming uses Windows screen-grabs. Much of the design is messy, to be frank, but it works, it feels like Singapore, or at least the day-to-day Singapore of Photoshopped menus (above), shop signs and the general clash of east-meets-west – a point highlighted by this Singapore Bingo card for western journalists (below).
That’s the reason Mynah is our Magazine of the Week — it offers a different vision of what a magazine produced the other side of the world might be. Instead of seeking to mimic the west’s editorial rules, Mynah feels like it wants to look like a part of the local fabric.