Dripping in “Arab nostalgia”, 3asal mag platforms MENA creatives who are abandoning conformity and thrashing outdated stereotypes
We talk to 3asal’s founder and editor-in-chief about what inspired her to found the magazine and some of the exciting features she’s worked on so far.
- Elfie Thomas
- 26 May 2022
“I started 3asal as a celebration of Middle Eastern and North African women and our beautiful, infinitely varied stories”, Taiba Al Nassar tells It’s Nice That. “So many of us grow up with resentment towards our identities when we’re restricted from expressing ourselves authentically. I rejected my culture for years because I wasn’t shown its value or my own value within it.” As Taiba has gotten older she’s learnt to value her cultural identity in all its complexity and beauty. Now she’s determined that other young MENA girls will not have to struggle in the way she did.
As a fashion student at Central St Martins, based between Kuwait and London, she now has all the creative tools and know-how to make her vision a reality. Within the glittering pages of the magazine, you’ll find poetry, photography and art created by and for a “new generation of MENA girls who are abandoning conformity and breaking out of outdated moulds”. From step-by-step tutorials on the curly girl hair method to critical essays on the effects of European colonialism on Lebanese beauty ideals, the magazine arms its readers with the critical theory, role models and practical tools to explore the complexity of their cultural identities and to celebrate them freely.
One of Taiba’s favourite features to coordinate was a conversation with Yalla! Party. A perfect example of the kind of creativity 3asal aims to platform, this Brooklyn-based collective is uniting NYC’s queer MENA community through music and dance parties. “I was honoured to be embraced by the diaspora on a side of the world I’m not as familiar with, and to be trusted with their important, sacred stories,” says Taiba.
Not only concerned with highlighting creativity of the present and future, a parallel aim for 3asal is to celebrate historical icons and visual culture of the MENA region and its diaspora. This is wonderfully achieved in the cover story of 3asal’s first issue which features a mysterious chiaroscuro shot of Egyptian creative consultant Nadia Azmy. As part of a project entitled Revisiting the Legacy of Egyptian Cinema , Nadia looks out from under a glamorous diamanté-studded fish-net veil, re-imagining herself as her favourite Egyptian actress, Soad Hosny.
“The editorial design, much like the content of the magazine, is largely inspired by Arab nostalgia and the visual language present throughout our childhoods,” continues Taiba. “There is so much personality and playfulness in Arabic printed matter across so many different mediums.” 3asal harnesses this vibrant culture through its editorial design, which draws inspiration from old notebook layouts, sticker sheets, candy wrappers and old Arabic textbooks. Taiba adds that when she’s at home in Kuwait, she goes on regular drives, grabbing inspo from shop signage and local supermarket labels. One of these supermarket expeditions undoubtedly provided the reference for 3asal’s charming logo – a classic bear-shaped honey pot with a 3asal label embellished on its belly. Summarising her feelings about the editorial style of the magazine, Taiba says: “in a way it all returns to 3asal’s objective of finally actualising the space we all so deeply wish we had in youth.”
With so much packed into the first two issues, all centring around its core values of “community, authenticity, and celebration”, we can’t wait to see what the next instalment of the magazine will bring. While Taiba gives little away about what’s in store, she asserts that the platform will continue to “grow and nurture the big, beautiful community we have collectively built, and facilitate connections between MENA girls all over the world”.
3asal magazine: Issue 2 (Copyright © 3asal, 2022)
About the Author
Elfie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in November 2021 after finishing an art history degree at Sussex University. She is particularly interested in creative projects which shed light on histories that have been traditionally overlooked or misrepresented.