Chutney Mag

Culture, art and equality with Osman Bari

In a conversation with Osman Bari, founder and editor of Chutney Magazine, we unpacked the magazine and its diverse contents. Chutney Mag is a Toronto-based 3 section magazine acting as a platform for South Asian communities. It is structured after its namesake in 3 different sections — ‘chop, mix, and preserve’ which mirror the steps to making actual chutney, and includes carefully curated art to accompany each editorial piece. An architecture major at the University of Waterloo, Osman found his calling in graphic design. He took a semester off from his corporate office job and took to working on Chutney Magazine. Editing, illustrating and publishing the magazine by himself, Osman says that the first issue of Chutney Magazine was a success with all 75 copies selling out. The second issue is set to hit the market in June 2021. 

Maheep: Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

Osman: My name is Osman Bari. I was born in Pakistan, and I grew up in the Middle East. I moved to Canada with my family about 11 years ago. I went to the University of Waterloo where I studied architecture. I just graduated last year. I’m currently working as a freelance graphic designer and a writer.

Maheep: So what IS Chutney Magazine? 

Osman: Chutney is a magazine that I started back in 2019. The magazine is structured around 3 different sections ‘chop, mix, and preserve’ which mirror the steps to making actual chutney. The first section is ‘chop’ which consists of stories by our volunteers that challenge conventions and stereotypes. The second section is ‘mix’ which includes stories about cultures influencing each other and blending intersectionality. The final section is ‘preserve’ which is about preserving old stories while incorporating the evolution of history with new traditions. In the first issue, each section had 3 stories but I am grateful for the increase in the number of contributors who are making it possible for the second issue to have 5 stories in each section.



Maheep: What inspired you to start working on this magazine? 

Osman: The aim of the magazine is to provide a platform for people from marginalized backgrounds to share their personal narratives and stories on their own terms. I started the magazine out of frustration with mainstream media and how they were depicting various marginalized communities. I was affected by this personally as a Muslim. On a global scale, the muslim community is either vilified or portrayed as these agents of terror and we are just totally misrepresented. It was actually the Christchurch mosque attacks in 2019 that really prompted me to start the magazine. I needed a medium to invest my energy and my frustration into productively. I also knew other people around me felt the same way so I thought it would be an interesting way to get people together and contribute to this publication.


Maheep: That’s great. I’m glad you found yourself a constructive platform and thanks for sharing what inspired you. The name of your magazine is very interesting, and I have heard that phrase a lot in my own south asian family,  so I can relate! What’s the story there?

Osman: It was inspired by a phrase that my mother always says to me in Urdu, “meri dimaag ki chutney mat banao,” which translates to “do not make chutney with my brain.” Obviously she would say that when I was annoying her, but I was inspired by the fact that chutney, being food from South Asia, holds a place in our language and culture. It’s not just a food item to eat with samosa —it has a definite presence, it represents something on a larger scale. I was also inspired by how it became a colonized food. The British colonized India and took to many cultural components and now chutney is also eaten by people across the world, yet it is still a distinctive food item associated with South Asia. I thought that was a nice name to represent the vibe and the stories that I wanted to share in the magazine. It is also a fun name to keep the theme of the magazine light even if the stories in it get a little heavy at times.


Maheep: Right. What I interpreted when I read the name was that it binds all the South Asian countries together as well. India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, all have common cultural aspects, especially with food, that tend to overlap. 

Osman: Yeah, definitely. It represents the entire community and not just one of the countries.

Maheep: So you’re responsible for the art and the design? I loved the retro vibe you went for — what was your inspiration? 

Osman: The retro look comes from the printing process — the magazine is risograph printed. Risograph is a process which involves a maximum of two ink drums being printed at the same time. The process entails soy based inks being overlaid on top of one another, ultimately, when the final image comes together, you do get this retro vibe because the inks are slightly misaligned as the resolution is not extremely sharp. It prints the images in very fine dots — that’s where the retro vibe came from, but it also happens to be a personal preference. I wanted to package the whole magazine in that colourful aesthetic.


Maheep: That’s awesome! What do you envision the future for your magazine to be?

Osman: I think it would just be great if it could reach more people. I would love it if more people from marginalized communities would like to get involved and contribute stories. Of course I get many contributions from South Asian immigrants but I think I want to see the magazine capture stories from minority groups across the world. That is more important to me than having an established and “proper” magazine. If the magazine resonated with more people, I would be very happy about that.


If you wish to get your hands on this publication, keep an eye out on the magazine’s website for the drop of issue 2. While it is Toronto-based, Chutney Mag can be shipped to other parts of the world. Osman added that he is always open to feedback, including readers’ responses to the work, how they feel the magazine can be improved, and of course, any stories that particularly resonated with you.


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