Interview with Jaffat El Aqlam: A Haven for Middle Eastern Writers and Artists

jaffat el aqlam

Self-described as “a haven for middle eastern writers and artists”, Jaffat El Aqlam is one of many new initiative by creative artists to build and develop community-based publishing outlets.

Essentially, Jaffat El Aqlam, (which means “the pens have dried” in Arabic) is a conglomerate of different artists, writers, photographers and poets, who come together to publish their work on a single platform in a magazine blog-style.

But more than that, Jaffat El Aqlam differs from other publishing outlets in that it is run and supported by a group of friends, all making efforts towards the goal of creating an environment of free expression for Middle Eastern creative artists.

When you first open up the website’s homepage, users will immediately get a feel for the tone of the magazine.

With fusions of Arabic and English, words and pictures come together to create an experience not unlike ones you see featured in major international publications. But more so than that, the work featured in Jaffat El Aqlam is intimate and personal, but also speaks directly to the greater Middle Eastern experience.

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Source: Basma Amin

How did Jaffat El Aqlam start out?

Jaffat El Aqlam: Last year, my friends and I parked the car and went exploring my old neighbourhood. We were so amazed by the places and the abundance of underrated charm and we wanted to share that. That’s when I started ‘hathi 7aratna’. The idea of the website was for people to go exploring their city, neighbourhood etc. places, restaurants, tiny cafeterias, underrated and hidden stores.

I posted the idea on twitter and got positive feedback. Of course, I used the opportunity to ask people to brainstorm a good (fitting) name for this project and one of the coolest human beings, Meshari, suggested Jaffat El Aqlam, amongst other things (but I don’t remember any of them because i knew it was the perfect name for this project).

Are there any particular issues you look for to feature in Jaffat El Aqlam?

I don’t really look for particular issues. As long as these issues, feelings, memories, photographs, art pieces and thoughts provoke something in me (and the readers), then they’re an instant feature…

The reality is, I can’t post everything I receive because I try curating Jaffat El Aqlam to be an experience and not just a website that happens to have cool pieces by cool Middle Eastern writers. I want readers to experience a range of different emotions, not only ones they know, but mostly emotions they never knew existed.

I do try making the posts as diverse as possible though. You can think of Jaffat El Aqlam as a teaser and clicking on the source is where it’s all at, your window to all the ‘woah’.

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Source: Hayat & Meshari

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Source: Hayat & Meshari

Is Jaffat El Aqlam your only project? Or do you work on others?

Oh heavens, I wish. Jaffat El Aqlam is my latest project and probably my most serious one. My other projects are:

Where do you see Jaffat El Aqlam going in the future?

Ah, the plan is to start publishing zines/chapbooks (specific writers, artists etc) and anthologies (collaborations, themes etc). There will be Jaffat El Aqlam books and people will be able to purchase the paperbacks online and/or download the pdfs too…Jaffat El Aqlam will be an Independent Middle Eastern publishing place. InshaAllah.

Source: Magda Magdy

Source: Magda Magdy

You said you wanted to remain anonymous for this interview. Why choose anonymity when you can make a name for yourself with Jaffat El Aqlam?

I come from a very traditional & religious family; some of them are very active on the world wiLD web. My website celebrates the existence of art and literature (no matter what the subject was). They don’t know about this project and if they did, I don’t think they’d approve of some of the pieces I choose to publish (political, anti-religion, NSFW or touches upon LGBT)… This is only temporary, till I figure some personal things out.

When you said you started to explore your neighborhoods and then encouraged others to do the same, what did you and your friends find? What did you learn?

It’s less of what we found, and more of what we experienced. Nostalgia, good (really cheap) food and conversations with strangers.

One of the saddest ones was a cafe that was closing because the owner couldn’t afford it. She told us that it’s all Allah’s will and she can’t wait to go back to her family, since she had nothing here.

Source: Nada J

Source: Nada J

For any writers/creative artists who might read this interview, what advice do you have for them?

Write and create whatever feels true to you.

Forget what your parents might have told you, or what your friends didn’t tell you, or what you could never tell yourself. Just write and create what feels true to you. Explore different mediums and styles, dive into things you may not be comfortable with, step out of your comfortable zone, then step back in, jump between both zones and then wander and explore other zones. Remember that even though cloudy skies are pretty darn beautiful, but they’re not the limit.


 

If it’s possible, I’d like to include a shout-out to the people who supported this project from the very beginning; Hayat, Meshari, Noura, Layla and Najla. Thank you for your unconditional and never-ending support/love. To all my other writer-friends who trusted me with their pieces, thank you.

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Source: Meshari

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