Our Collective Practices: Creating Space For Female Creativity, series continues with Sofia Niazi, illustrator and Co-founder of OOMK, (One Of My Kind), zine. Sofia’s illustrations are poignant and insightful, her series WOT, (Women Of Terror), highlights how injustices brought on by the war on terror affect women and families. Another series, for the Museum of London, is focused on the idea ‘What Muslims Wear’. Her work also delves into questions regarding the Internet, exploring just how much imagery we can encounter whilst being online.
Having co-founded the ‘DIY Cultures’ festival in East London, along with OOMK, Sofia understands the need for collective practices more than most. Starting OOMK with her two friends meant that they were able to create a landscape for work centred on the creativity, spirituality, faith and activism, also focusing on creating a space for Muslim women. Here Sofia explores the different ideas of communities, tells us about her getting to interview The Guerrilla Girls, and shares her feelings on Capitalism.
How important is the idea of the collective or community in the work that you do?
Community is a really interesting idea and I’m sure it means different things to a lot of different people. For me, I think of it in terms of a natural organisation of people around common values, interests or beliefs. I’m aware that my experience of community and identifying as part of various ones has largely been one of choice, willingness and belonging. I can think of many instances where the idea of community is used as a smokescreen to impose values on others and draw lines between ‘us’ and ‘them’ in order to control people. For example, the way that the idea of a ‘British community’ is often used to undermine and encroach on the values and freedoms of people who are not English, not that all English people would even claim to have a common set of values! I find that the idea of the Nation in itself is pretty wild. I’ve lived in Pakistan, a country that was invented in my father’s lifetime, so I realise how political and powerful the idea of community can be. But having said that, the idea of fluid communities as a place of gathering, sharing and living is one that we definitely celebrate.
The idea of OOMK actually came about when me, Rose and Sabba got talking at a zine fair. We bonded over the fact that we were all Muslim women and were all into drawing and making things; we kept bumping into each other at different self-publishing events and became friends. We had a lot in common, and when Rose said that she was keen for us to make a zine together we thought it was a really great idea. OOMK came about because we were all part of a fluid zine community, which meant we saw each other frequently and we were all part of a broader Muslim religious community which meant we shared a lot of values. I think the main driving force behind OOMK was the need to develop a space for our friends and us. Some where we could share work, ideas, art and knowledge in an open, inquisitive and encouraging space, and also use it as a way of inviting other women to bring themselves and their work and broaden the discussion.
What impact do collective practices have on a movement such as feminism? How important is the collective?
We interviewed two amazing feminist collectives, The Guerrilla Girls and See Red Women’s Workshop, who really demonstrated the importance of collective practices in feminism and other social justice movements. Collective practices, such as campaigning and demonstrating, are at the heart of most social justice movements and it’s interesting to see the different roles that collectives within the same movement play.
See Red Women’s Workshop made some of the most powerful and iconic posters to come out of the 70s feminist movement in London, and they produced them with an incredible communal ethos. This was probably why they were so successful in communicating the issues of the time. They produced the screen-printed posters in a workshop in South London and members would come and go. One of the things I found most inspiring was the fact that all the posters are owned by the collective, no one took sole credit for any poster or any part of the work, it was something that they said their male peers couldn’t understand!
The Guerrilla Girls have been instrumental in calling for equal representation of female artists in art galleries around the world, and they have come up with lots of inventive and in-your-face ways of making themselves heard. I think creative collectives have a really important role in furthering the work and articulating the demands of various social justice movements. For instance, right now there are so many artists and creative groups working as part of the wider movement against police brutality and structural racism in America, and across the globe. They have an important role to play, but they are one link in a chain of so many other people and groups trying to bring about change. I think in order to make a real impact, it’s important for collectives to recognise the common goals they share within other communities and work together to compliment wider movements.
In the past collectives have often been used to bring local communities together or connect them. How has the Internet changed this idea of the collective? Has it changed for the better?
I’m still really grappling with what the Internet is and the incredibly complex way in which it’s changing how many of us organise. I used to think of it as one thing, but now increasingly I think there is no single internet, that everyone has their own personal internet because the way we use it is so unique. We each have our own window and everyone has a different view. I’m also aware that despite the millions of people who are online, there are still lots of people out there who don’t use the internet at all. If being in a collective is as easy as following a Tumblr then I suppose there are a lot more people in collectives these days, but if being in a collective is about active participation and commitment to a cause, vision or value then I think it still takes as much effort as it used to. Meetings might happen over email or video chat, but people still need to do their part to make things happen and it can still take a long time to grow, nurture and articulate a collective voice. I think the Internet can make people feel more included and offer the possibility of being part of a community, which you can’t find near by. Having said that, I’m concerned that younger people are less inclined to go out and actually meet the people they connect with online; this might just be because I watched a lot of Catfish though.
In many ways the Internet has enabled us to produce OOMK in the shape it has taken. On the other hand however, most of the actual OOMK work we do is from our office at South Kilburn Studios. Me, Heiba and Rose see each other every week and we talk and get stuff done. We’re able to bounce ideas off of each other; it would be ultimately dry if we had to do all of that online instead.
In a western society, within Capitalism and Neo Liberalism, the individual rules, where it is about personal gain and power. How do you feel about this? What impact does this have on collective practices? Can collectives do something to change this problem?
I think it’s messing up the whole world. Capitalism is so insane, I try not to think about it too much, and it’s making everything worse all the time and I know I’m probably contributing to it. I think this idea that ‘the individual rules’ is toxic for individual peace and collective harmony. I’m really glad I have so many points of reference and guidance in Islam, and from other religious and spiritual teachings, that encourage a more considerate way of living with the planet, people and animals. Capitalism is still pretty new, so I’m not sure why people have so much faith in it. There are lots of other more natural and healthy ways of looking at life that don’t involve exponential growth. Collectives and community action are probably the only way of bringing corporations to account, even governments are complicit now. There are lots of movements happening right now relating to trade, food production and the environment, and a lot of them started off as small collectives or groups of friends.
What advice would you give someone who maybe wants to start a collective or be involved with them?
Go for it. If you want to start a collective do some research, find out if there are any groups you could get advice from, and figure out how they work. Also I think having a good reason for starting a collective is important. If you don’t have a good enough reason, cause or vision, then when things get difficult it will be hard to keep it together. Find people who share your passion. Don’t feel as though you can only be in one collective or community, if you like the sounds of a project or collective always get in contact with the person or people behind it, chances are they’d love for you to be involved!
Words by Ella Sweeney