Jaffat Elaqlam is a website and an e-magazine that is rapidly establishing itself as a major hub and safe space for Middle Eastern talent, whether that talent lie in writing, photography, spoken poetry, glitch art, painting, sketching, or music. It was started by the wonderful Sarah Ahmed as a blog where she displayed a curated selection of her favorite artworks from the region every Friday.
Can you tell us a little about yourself? Why do you do what you do?
My name is Sarah Ahmed, I’m 24 years old and I have a bachelors degree in Info Tech Networking and Security. Well, in my major, we were limited in terms of creativity and I guess that’s why I do what I do?
Can you give us some of your time management skills (mashAllah)? Or at least some pointers because we are a mess.
Time management is tricky because it solely depends on me emotionally beating myself up to meet the deadlines I set for myself. I can take a really long break from all, but in one GOOD day, get so many things done. Sleep a lot and stay hydrated, you’ll be surprised by how much you get done when your soul is well rested and hydrated. Being a morning person helps, a lot. When you wake up early, fix yourself some Turkish coffee, and put iTunes on shuffle, you finish huge chunks of work. Also, reward yourself. When I’m done with the stuff I promised myself I’d do, I reward myself with stuff that range from ice cream to buying a new video game.
How did you first get into blogging?
Oh man. I think I was a teenager? It was definitely way before Tumblr was a thing. It started as participating in forums, then wanting my own space. I’ve been through a lot of “spaces”, most of them still exist to make current and future selves cringe. I loved the idea of sharing parts of my life, because I enjoyed reading parts of others’ lives. Specially back then, as someone who never travelled, it was an easy way to experience & discover other countries through the world wiLD web. There’s something beautifully human about it. Anyway, not that anyone read my blogs, but I fancied the thought.
Why did you choose the name Jaffat Elaqlam? (We love it, by the way.)
I want to start by saying that I absolutely love how open to interpretation it is. I’ve had people tell me what they thought it meant and every explanation is better than the other, to the point that I would nod and say, “if that’s what you think it means, then that’s what it is”.
To the real reason I chose this name: I tweeted about a blog I wanted to create, to serve as a database for artists in MENA, and how I needed a nice name for it. My best mate Meshari suggested different names (that I don’t even remember) but Jaffat El Aqlam stood out. It had a nice ring to it, open for interpretation and looked nice in both Arabic & English.
What does Jaffat Elaqlam mean to you?
As cliché as this is going to sound, it means everything to me. Everything I do/learn, and all the money I save up is to better this lil e-magazine. Creatives complimenting other creatives and sometimes contacting each other to collaborate and create something completely new and different through Jaffat El Aqlam or for Jaffat El Aqlam, means the world to me and makes all of this worth it.
You've helped create a space for middle eastern artists to feel validated and appreciated, which is an amazing thing. Do you think it's important for platforms like yours to be available in the region? If yes, why so?
Back in 2013, I noticed that I was friends with so many talented people in the Middle East. Writers, artists, photographers and musicians. It’s also the time when I started coming across the concept of e-magazines/zines. There were so many e-mags from around the world, but rarely from the Middle East. The ones I did find, were mostly based outside the Middle East and were more serious (mostly politics).
Do you have certain criteria for the pieces you choose for a jaffat issue?
As long as we can post it digitally, and what you’re trying to covey is clear to us/our readers, it’s qualified to be in Jaffat El Aqlam. We try to sway away from heavy issues, and keep it light but if a heavy message is presented in a very clever way, sure, why not!
What is your advice to an artist who'd like to submit?
I’ll put these in bullet points, because it’s not only for Jaffat El Aqlam, it’s for any future submissions to any e-magazine.
- Go through the website. Get a feel of the vibe, every e-mag has it’s own ~vibe~ and do things a certain way.
- Read the guidelines. Always.
- If your piece gets declined, don’t be disheartened. The editors don’t know who you are and it’s never personal. We’re usually looking for a certain vibe (refer to the first point). In Jaffat el Aqlam, we aim to present fresh ideas in fresh ways. In every issue, pieces are carefully curated to give you a range of different emotions (some you may have names for & others you may experience for the first time).
- Experiment Experiment Experiment! Try new things, collaborate with others, write down your ideas, share them! Experimenting will help you find your own style (if you’re not sure what you can submit), experimenting will also help you add more to what you already have. Win-win.
As Sarah Ahmed, you're an artist in your own right. Do you find it difficult to curate your own work? (We love your watercolors and film photography, btw.)
It truly is difficult and a very long agonizing process. I like sharing progress because it’s usually me trying new things, but when it comes to final results, I share the ones I 100% like.
You've recently acquired two editors to work with you on the website. How does it feel like to expand? And where would you like to take it next?
Amna & Deena have been incredible. Since we’re already friends IRL, it’s easier to meet up, discuss and plan. Having two editors is definitely a great start to what we have stored for Jaffat El Aqlam. This year is going to be LIT.
Once we have our zines and merchandise ready, we’ll have someone handle shipping nice things to nice humans. If everything goes according to THE plan, we’ll have a distributor in different MENA countries.
Bring zine-culture to MENA. Yes, we might be a little late, but it can still happen. Organize events across MENA, art workshops, exhibitions etc. This will take a lot of time, and a larger team, but it’s definitely happening. People will come back to this interview and say “whoa, they actually made it”.
If you had an infinite amount of funds right now, what would you do with it?
I’d print piles of the 6 different zines we have ready. I’d also start working on postcards, pins and patches featuring different artists who submit to Jaffat El Aqlam. The ultimate goal is to be financially stable, or at least enough to pay our contributors at some point. We’re getting there!