Inspired by M.I.A, Naomi Campbell, and all the girls with the courage to rebel, Jameela Elfaki – half-British, half-Sudanese – has created a space to celebrate the heritage, beauty and strength of women of colour. This space is Azeema, a magazine displaying empowering words and images that tell the story of a femininity too often buried in silence. Everything behind Jameela’s camera becomes an aesthetic statement of resistance to a world that does not appreciate the power of colours.
At only twenty-three years old you’ve launched the first issue of Azeema Magazine. Can you tell us about your background? Have you ever worked in the publishing or editorial world before?
My background is a very creative one: I’m a photographer. I love making beautiful images. I studied Fashion Communication and Promotion at Central Saint Martins, a course that is creative and that helped me developing my love for photography and publishing. During the placement year on the course, I spent some time working with the photographic team at Dazed and loved every minute of it. I learnt a lot about the behind the scenes production of a magazine, and this helped me a lot when I began making Azeema.
What was your motivation behind the project?
I was really inspired by the lack of representation in the fashion world for women of colour and more specifically the lack of understanding and misrepresentation of women from the Middle East and North Africa. As a young woman who fits into multiple boxes, I’ve always found it difficult to find magazines or images that reflected my heritage. So I made a fashion and culture magazine that was knowledgeable of Islamic faith, Arab and African culture and represented women of colour. I made a magazine that my younger self would have loved to see when growing up.
What has been the biggest challenge during the creation of Azeema?
I would say overcoming my fears of my work not being good enough, and the magazine not being received well. The biggest challenge was taking a risk and being brave.
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Azeema has already had a very positive reception from the fashion editorial world. How do you feel about that?
It’s so amazing! The magazine has achieved so much more than I could have ever anticipated. It’s such a good feeling to be recognised by prestigious magazines. I think that what is even more special to me is the welcoming response from the community it represents and features. I’m so happy it has been received well and that girls are actively reaching me out to get involved with the magazine.
What was the reaction from your family?
My mum is incredibly proud, and so is my dad. I’ve spoken to both a lot about the magazine, and my dad helped me choose the name Azeema. It’s lovely to be supported and encouraged to achieve something!
As a Sudanese-English woman, your story could be featured in the magazine: brave, strong and courageous. How have you selected the portraits and stories for the first issue?
The first issue started with visuals. As a photographer I wanted the magazine to have a strong visual identity. So the shoots in Azeema are very important and have to be the right tone to reflect the words in the magazine. I chose the images that spoke to me the most. The stories and articles in the magazine are equally important; I wanted to include a variety of interviews, honest stories and articles that would be inspiring and empowering to other women.
Through the pages of Azeema, we get to see the empowering stories of Leila, Afghan born in London; Sabah, Pakistani living in the United Kingdom; Nadira Amrani, British-Algerian; Sara Safwan, half-Honduran, half-Emirati as well as a Londoner. How much do you think that living in the United Kingdom or London can have an impact on identity self-acceptance?
London is a vibrant and culturally rich place. I think spending time here amongst accepting communities and like-minded people has impacted me positively on identity and self-acceptance. Speaking from personal experience, having a dual heritage from two very different cultures can be very confusing and hard to understand at times. A lot of communities for women of colour are flourishing in the United Kingdom, especially London, which I think is amazing.
Azeema is an independent DIY magazine. What have you done (or not) yourself?
For the first issue, I photographed the majority of the shoots featured in the magazine. The lovely Hilda Raina also contributed. I collaborated with some amazing creatives. For example, Isna Henna – who is a very talented henna artist – and stylists like Ella Lucia and Valeria Chrampani. It was really amazing to feature words from Sara Safwan of Banat and Nadira Amrani of POC, too.
For the next issue, I want to have a lot more creatives involved and more amazing collaborations.
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Fashion is everywhere in Azeema. Can you define the magazine’s aesthetic in three words?
Beautiful, daring and empowering,
Telling her story, Kiki Azim, Muslim and motor-biker says: “ I dislike the world feminism. I’d like to just call it humanism.” What do you think about this?
I believe in equality of the sexes and genders! Whether we call that feminism or humanism, or just equality for all, titles really do not matter. It’s the meaning that is most important.
Have you thought about spreading the magazine to Middle-Eastern countries? If so, how would you like to do it?
At the moment I’m making small steps forward with the magazine, doing as much as I can with my resources. But I would love to see it available in places in the Middle East. At the moment, our international readers are buying the magazine online.
Where can we find Azeema?
You can currently find the magazine online from our shop, and we ship internationally. You can find it locally in Wardour News Soho (London), Mag Culture London, and Motto Berlin.
What can we expect for the next issue? What would be your dream collaboration?
Work on the next issue has already begun, and you can expect more beautiful imagery, compelling stories and words from very inspiring women. I don’t want to give too much away, but we are very excited! The dream collaboration would have to be working with M.I.A (Maya Arulpragasam); I think she’s incredibly inspiring.
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