A New Exhibit Celebrates Xerox Art, Zines and DIY Culture in the Bay

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A photograph of 11 fanzines strewn across a table. Their titles include 'Teenage Hussy,' 'Bush Isn't the Problem Imperialism is' and 'Rock Paper Scissors Collective.'
Fanzines, fanzines, fanzines. The invention of the color photocopier transformed what was possible in DIY culture. (San Francisco Library/ Rae Alexandra)

There are some true treasures in the new exhibit Positively Charged: Copier Art in the Bay Area Since the 1960s. Spread across two venues — San Francisco’s Main Library and the San Francisco Center For the BookPositively Charged traces how the advent of the photocopier inspired artists and bolstered a variety of activist communities.

At the Center For the Book, the exhibit celebrates photocopied collage art and zines that were brought into the world by Bay Area free thinkers, using the lowly photocopier and whatever materials they had to hand. Wry postcards, idiosyncratic fanzine creations, art projects turned into mailers and some gorgeous collage work are all on display.

Original works of collage by Bay Area artists Sas Colby and Sally Wassink sit tantalizingly alongside the copies that went out into the world as postcards and mailers.

Hands wearing white gloves hold up a framed image of the Golden Gate Bridge over a photograph of the Bay Bridge. The image is duplicated underneath.
Sally Wassink’s San Francisco postcard from the 1980s. (Top) Original collage, (Bottom) The photocopied postcard. (Rae Alexandra/ San Francisco Center for the Book)

One mesmerizing piece that spans almost an entire wall features multiple works of collage by Enrique Chagoya, photocopied and combined into a single fold-out booklet. In this piece — titled Tales From the Conquest/ Codex — the Mexico-born, Berkeley-based artist juxtaposes images of traditional Mexican artwork with characters from American comic books. In one section, Wonder Woman sits between an Incan statue and Our Lady of Guadalupe. In another, Superman encourages a boy named Manuel who came “to the USA for a better life.”

A folded out booklet inside a display case shows traditional Mexican artwork and American cartoons.
Enriaque Chagoya’s ‘Tales From the Conquest/Codex’ (1992) on display at the San Francisco Center for the Book. (Rae Alexandra)

Where the Center for the Book focuses on the visual creations of artists using photocopiers, the library portion of Positively Charged provides some historical context. It explains the origins of the photocopier, how the technology developed over time and demonstrates how underground movements stayed connected and energized by handmade photocopied materials.


The library’s exhibit includes independent music presses and activist papers from the ‘60s and ‘70s. There’s the first-ever issue of the punk rock fanzine Search and Destroy from 1977. There are feminist calls to arms from the ‘70s and ‘80s. You can even see one of the first-ever excerpted reprints of Valerie Solanas’ Scum Manifesto from 1968, issued shortly after she shot Andy Warhol.

There’s some great art on this side of the exhibition as well. Works by Miné Okubu show how the artist, author and internment camp survivor photocopied whimsical self-portraits, embellished them with flourishes of color and sent them out as Christmas cards in the very earliest days of copier technology.

A freehand sketch shows a girl wearing a Christmas hat, in movement, with two small birds on her shoulders. She is looking over her shoulder at the sun which has dots for eyes. Stylish writing next to the girl says 'Greetings 1958. Miné Okubu.'
A photocopied Christmas card from 1958 by Miné Okubu. (Rae Alexandra/ San Francisco Main Library)

The joy of Positively Charged —which was curated by Jennie Hinchcliff and Maymanah Farhat — is the sheer inspiration it provides. It lovingly recalls a pre-internet time when tactile pleasures were prioritized. It also asserts the ongoing relevance of zines — the San Francisco Center of the Book has many local fanzines on hand to read at will. And, best of all, it reminds us that the act of getting messages, thoughts and things of beauty out into the world is still in our own hands.

‘Positively Charged: Copier Art in the Bay Area Since the 1960s’ is on view at the San Francisco Center for the Book (375 Rhode Island St.) and in the San Francisco Main Library’s Skylight Gallery (100 Larkin St.) through March 19, 2023. Exhibition details here