Azeema creates a zine all about collaboration, sisterhood and elevating MENASA voices
Continuing our ongoing partnership with Converse, we team up with the London-based platform and publication Azeema for a collaborative zine focused on sisterhood.
This summer, we’ve partnered with Converse to produce a series of articles and creative commissions to inspire and encourage everyone to get creative, even through the lockdown. So far, we’ve worked with the illustrator Fredde Andersson on a series of Zoom backdrops for socially distanced Pride celebrations and make-up artist Berny Ferr on four looks that interpret Converse’s Renew collection. This week, we’ve asked the London-based publication, platform and creative agency Azeema to create a zine in response to Converse’s Elevate collection.
Collaboration has always been right at the core of what Azeema does. The London-based publication and agency was launched by Jameela Elfaki in May 2017 as her final project at Central Saint Martins, as a way to address the blatant omission in mainstream media of MENASA womxn (from the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and beyond). “One of our main aims as a platform is to increase and support diversity and representation both visually and vocally,” Noor Palette, senior editor tells us. “Collaboration is key to fulfilling this goal.”
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Sisters #1: Lauren & Jade
In the past month, the platform has explored topics including the protection of women’s rights in post-revolutionary Iran, Ramadan celebrations during lockdown, the historical significance of Henna and tattoos in MENASA cultures, as well as the disastrous conflict currently happening in Yemen. Journalistically rigorous, sensitive and highly informative, Azeema’s stories are as rich as its print publications are beautiful to look at. And no matter what the medium, whether writing or events, womxn and their stories come first.
Converse has always used collaboration as a way of elevating others and their stories – just take a look at the brand’s London Instagram page to see this in action. So, for the third part of our ongoing project together, the brand asked us at It’s Nice That to find a collaborator to explore how creativity can be used to elevate others and their stories. We immediately thought: Who else could be better suited than the team at Azeema to take this on?
We worked with Azeema to hone a brief around the theme of “elevate”, exploring something completely intrinsic to why the platform exists: amplifying diverse voices and connecting people all over the world. Jameela and her team decided to create a zine to lift up their community; then, refining the idea, they landed on the more focused subject of sisterhood. A “special theme” for the platform, as she puts it, the word signifies a special bond and connection between womxn.
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Sisters #2: Fatima & Aicha
In the initial stages, the team also spoke of wanting to encourage everyone and anyone to get creative, wherever they are, despite the challenges and tragedies of our current moment. “The pandemic, followed by recent events, has been an emotional rollercoaster, to say the least,” says the magazine’s deputy editor, Sunayah Arshad. “So being able to involve the community and hopefully inspire others to stay motivated and positive is important to us.”
For Azeema, the current global lockdown has been tough, but has also engendered a time of fresh connection and creativity. “Having a digital platform (both our website and social media) has allowed us to stay connected and engaged with people,” says Sunayah. “There’s so much that can be done virtually or online, whether it’s a virtual shoot or an informative conversation on Instagram Live.” They used all this experience in putting together the zine, which required a high degree of interdisciplinary collaboration.
Azeema started out by thinking about those in the MENASA community currently living together and supporting each other during this challenging time. Instantly, three particular pairs of sisters came to mind. “We’ve worked with them in the past,” Sunayah says, referring to Glaswegian sisters Fatima and Aicha, DJ duo Rishy and Sana, and last but not least, Lauren and Jade, also known as Adefuego. “We knew they’d be able to pull together something amazing that represented them and their relationship in a unique way,” says Sunayah. They certainly didn’t disappoint.
The three pairs of sisters were tasked with capturing “the uplifting spirit of sisterhood and exploring its role during these unprecedented circumstances”, the Azeema team write in the zine’s introductory note. The pairs were asked to adopt “a DIY approach” to collaborating and creating at home, and were briefed to “curate a photoshoot that reflects and celebrates their togetherness, heritage and culture”.
At the same time, the pairs were given a lot of creative freedom. “All three pairs have their own unique styles,” says Sunayah. “We’ve seen examples of how they create visually through their previous work, so wanted to give them free rein to shoot. We completely trusted that their creative process would have our core values in mind and we were so excited so see what they’d come up with!”
The core Azeema team got involved at important stages throughout the production of the zine, from ideation to art direction, graphic design to project management. It was difficult for the team to not physically be present for many of these processes, but in spite of the distance, the anticipation to see the results of the shoot spurred them on. “Seeing the final images and videos brought us so much joy as well as seeing everyone have fun making the work,” says Jameela.
Impressively, the project was executed with a swift one-week turnaround, the speedy deadline bringing about a “think fast, act now” mentality which, of course, couldn’t have been possible without some astutely organised project management. At the heart of the project, though, was creative understanding and trust: “We completely trusted their creative approach,” says Jameela, speaking about this collaborative effort.
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Sisters #3: Rishy & Sana
When it came to designing the spreads of the zine, the first thing to do was select the final images to use, which, Jameela explains, “is often the hardest part, especially if there are lots of great options”. To help make this decision, the creatives experimented with varying layouts in an attempt to work out the most interesting composition. Considering colour combinations, typographic layouts and the story of each pair of sisters, eventually the zine came together.
With accessible communication in mind at all times, Azeema was sure to constantly question what each image was saying to the audience. “We wanted to make sure the girls’ personalities came through and their different relationships were represented authentically,” Jameela says. That being said, fun also remains an essential aspect of Azeema’s process, too. Its DIY approach to the zine is all about freedom of expression, using collage and handwritten visuals – an apt hint to the history and roots of the zine form.
Though it’s been an industry-wide challenge to stay creative and motivated over the past few months, Evar Hussayni, culture editor says of this project: “Our zine is just one example of how creative you can get with the people around you and the equipment you already have at home. Have fun with it!” For anyone looking to get involved and try out creating a zine, Sunayah has one top tip. “Having a strong subject matter that you are passionate about is definitely a good starting point,” she says. “There are a lot of incredible platforms out there already, so finding a niche narrative which you believe in and can show through your work is important.”
Creativity is beneficial to all aspects of our wellbeing, both physically and mentally, and it’s going to be crucial to helping us get through this difficult year. So with that in mind, Azeema will continue to create across its diverse outputs with thought-provoking flare. “Wanna get involved?” the founder prompts. “Get in touch and show us what you can create!” So, what are you waiting for?
This project is the third in a series of activations this summer created by It’s Nice That in collaboration with Converse. Keep an eye out for more articles and creative commissions over the next few weeks, each one designed to inspire and encourage everyone to get creating, even through the lockdown.