What do you do when you can’t find people who look like you in the pages of your favourite magazines?
You do what Jameela Elfaki did: you make your own. The English-Sudanese creative began working on AZEEMA in her final year of college; a print publication focused entirely on and for middle eastern, North African and South Asian womxn. What was originally intended as a small act of rebellion and a way to connect to her heritage quickly snowballed when other young womxn from the MENASA diaspora got in touch, psyched on the fact that their stories and communities were finally getting the airtime they deserved. Three years on, editor in chief Jameela now helms a small but talented team who work tirelessly without corporate backers (or even office space) to bring stories about the Yemeni civil war, Iran’s first female surfer, the female rap scene in Cairo and more to light. AZEEMA has grown into so much more than a solo project—it’s now an entire online and offline community of young womxn with stories to tell and experiences to share, all on their own terms. I caught up with London-based Jameela to find out more.
Hey Jameela! You’re super-multi-talented—shooting photos, creative directing, editing and more. Did you grow up in a creative environment, or is that something that came to you later on?
Thank you! I grew up in a super-creative home; I’ve always been told the possibilities are endless and the sky is the limit. My mum really encouraged my creativity from a young age. I think everyone develops, so my creativity is always evolving.
AZEEMA was a final project at Central Saint Martins that’s taken on a life of its own. Have you had any pinch-me moments during the last few years growing this community and producing the mag?
Sometimes it’s actually very overwhelming. There is so much to think about now, it’s grown so much from a small personal project. I think taking on the Nike project—a Modest sports film and photo-series—in January was very much a pinch-me moment.
What’s one story that’s been featured in AZEEMA that you wish you could have read when you were younger?
There are so many, but one that was written by a close friend of mine about learning to love her curls. We have very similar hair and mixed heritages and I think it’s something that we both really needed to hear when we were growing up.
You have such a strong online community that also manifests itself in physical events like DJ nights and life drawing. How have you gotten creative in maintaining these ties throughout isolation?
It’s been really hard not being able to do our events! We turned to using our digital platforms more. We realised we weren’t using our platforms to the fullest, so we created a Ramadan calendar which was a month of amazing activations including members of the community who did takeovers, workshops and live streams over the course of the month. It was great to share our platform in this way. Running your own publication and business is never easy.
What have you learnt about yourself and your identity during the process?
I’ve learnt to be gentler with myself; at one time I was almost working three jobs at once and trying to keep too many plates spinning. Ultimately, something suffers when you spread yourself too thin! I allow more time for myself now, to do things that make me happy aside from my work. I’m always learning more about my identity, and the magazine is something that has really helped in so many ways.
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A lot of young girls look up to you and your team. Is there anyone who inspires you personally to keep creating?
It’s amazing to think that! I wouldn’t say there’s one individual that inspires me to keep creating. There is just a need for us to keep making culturally relevant work, reflecting on the world and situations around us.
What does the world need more of in 2020?
There are many things the world needs more of! I’d like less COVID for starters and more humanity.