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Malak Kabbani

AZEEMA is the UK zine pushing to put their community in sci-fi stories

The publication explores women’s voices from the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, and the diaspora – for their SELF PUBLISHED zine they went to new worlds

Jameela Elfaki, Sunayah Arshad, Nooriyah Qais, Evar Hussayni, Ella Lucia and Shayma Bakht are AZEEMA, a London-based print publication, digital platform, and now a creative agency telling the stories of women within the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, and the diaspora. What’s crucial to them is their community, and how those within it are represented, which is why they headed to the future for their zine IV MOONS, created as part of the Dazed and Calvin Klein SELF PUBLISHED project.

Despite Hollywood using Middle Eastern locations to shoot high-budget science-fiction films, AZEEMA noticed a lack of representation when it came to their community being included in popular culture’s imaginations of the future. This omission was the inspiration for IV MOONS, a zine that they describe as “an imagined utopia built on peace, fearlessness and strength.”

We spoke to four of the AZEEMA crew about IV MOONS and how they were coping in the COVID era. “We’ve got an Issue Four coming out this year. And we're really excited because this is the next chapter of AZEEMA and it's going to be different,” says Jameela Elfaki. “We're evolving as a team and as creatives, so this next chapter of AZEEMA is going to be super special.”


Jameela Elfaki: “We wanted to do something that was going to be different for our community, as I think we’ve heard a lot of the same narrative over the last year with COVID. We wanted to do something that was exploring the beyond part of Azeema, looking at different genres, and bringing our community into these different genres. So we wanted to look at something that was a bit more futuristic, and sci-fi in some ways, as we don’t see a lot of our community represented there.”

Nooriyah Qais: “You really don’t see a lot of women from our community represented in that medium whatsoever. I’ve never seen that growing up. So it’s really nice to see us featured in such a space, and especially during this time, as Jameela said, because we’re cooped up in the house, and it’s so nice to just imagine another world and have that element of escapism, which I think Azeema does so well and it’s part of its ethos as well.”

Jameela Elfaki: “Yeah. When it came to us coming up with the idea, we all came up with very similar kind of ideas, looking at futuristic elements and bringing our cultures together, fusing that into a concept. It made sense for us to do something that brought all of those things together in a new landscape.”


Sunayah Arshad: “A lot of it was inspired by movies, sci-fi films like Blade Runner.”

Jameela Elfaki: “We were looking at the old Star Wars franchise and how they used areas in the Middle East, shown and used as locations, so it's very relevant in that sense. I know that they used locations in Tunisia for some of the scenes, and we were kind of taking inspiration from some of these films and the way that they've done it stylistically. And also video games were an influence.”

“We wanted to create a dusty moon. And you know, like, yeah, I think it's one of my favorite scenes from the shoot. And I wish we'd had longer to shoot it on the day because it was actually the last thing we shot. Because we like smoked up the room with a diffuser. And it was a lot of fun. And yeah, it was great.”


Jameela Elfaki: “Through and through Azeema wants to be as diverse as possible. When it came to the casting, we were looking for different body sizes, different ethnicities. This is something that’s just comes naturally to us as a team when we’re looking for casting, and there’s just something that Azeema always does. So I think the casting came quite naturally to us for this.”

Sunayah Arshad: “Not only the casting, but the team as well. I think within the community, we have such incredible, talented people. So it was really easy to find a team that was naturally diverse as well as the cast.”


Evar Hussayni: “It was difficult getting hold of the props and trying to figure out where to get hold of things because everything was closed as well. We ended up working with a set designer and there were quite a few funny moments where it was like ‘let's go to the flower market at 4am to pick up all the flowers.’ And then realising the flower market’s closed. So maybe we shouldn't go because we’ll end up on an empty street. It was a lot  who you know, that type of situation, borrowing things from people that we know. Because of COVID it just wasn't possible to get hold of things as easily.”

Sunayah Arshad: “Pretty much all of us have different jobs aside from Azeema, Azeema’s our side hustle. So finding the time and the energy to do all of this was quite difficult. But we're kind of used to it now.”

Nooriyah Qais: “Also the collaborative part of it. Because we had different people that we collaborated with, like for example, DIGI-GXL. So we had to get certain things at a certain point so that we can get it down the streamline, which was a challenge, I think.”

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