x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Oomk magazine founders harvest the power of imagination

A new publication by and for women is eschewing celebrities, body-shape obsession and all things frivolous to focus on what is important.

Oomk's highly visual style makes it
Oomk's highly visual style makes it "a place for female artists to express their creativity", says the cofounder Rose Nordin. Courtesy Oomk Zine

Rose Nordin, Sofia Niazi and Sabba Khan could be called illustrators and craftivists.

They believe that craft, creativity and art have the power to stimulate change and trigger debate - and get people thinking about real issues.

The three of them draw comics, characters and statement posters, and their drawings are often polemic. Niazi's latest illustration is in response to the Delhi gang rape of a 23-year-old medical student who died from her injuries. In it, three Indian schoolgirls hold a placard that says: "Don't (get) Rape(d)." It's a cutting comment aimed at those who place blame on the victims of rape rather than on the rapists.

"Art is so powerful," says Niazi. "If you write an essay to make a point, you block off so many people: people who can't read that language, people who aren't academic. But as soon as you turn to illustration, barriers are broken. People are drawn in. They ask questions. They start debating. That's a really powerful connection. People are exploring issues in creative ways."

Among them, the three illustrators from London have created a magazine for women that is the antithesis of the typical glossy. Called Oomk, which stands for One of My Kind, it features illustrations and comics by female artists.

There are no features on dieting or celebrity style. Instead, there's a cut-out-and-keep poster of baggy harem pants that proudly proclaims that it's time for an "Elastic Revolution" ("Escape the fat race"). In place of Hollywood celebrities, there's an illustrated tribute to Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl shot in the head by a Taliban gunman on her way home from school, or a sketch of Gareth Peirce, the solicitor representing Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan, the two British Muslim men who were accused of terrorism but never charged, and extradited to the US last year.

"One of My Kind is about us trying to find our voice," explains Nordin, who came up with the idea of creating an art-led magazine made by women for women last year. "It's a place for women, a place for female artists to express their creativity and thoughts, and also a place for people who don't consider themselves artists to be inspired."

Nordin, Niazi and Khan all happen to be Muslim, and as such want to make Oomk inclusive of Muslim women without being specifically for them. It's worked - there are credits and bylines from women with names reflecting various diversities.

There are illustrations by the Syrian artist Rama Masrisada, who depicts heroines from Arab folklore, an essay by the craftivist Betsy Gree and a profile of the British fashion designer Hana Tajima, whose artistically shot tutorials have found success on YouTube. The British Muslim convert Hannah Habibi, who is known for her tongue-in-cheek, pop-art style paintings of women wearing the burqa, contributes an essay from a feminist perspective on what it means to be an artist.

"My work has always had a ... feminist vein running through it," she writes. "That challenged my audience and especially those men who believe that, as a woman, I shouldn't have an audience at all."

Nordin, whose father is Malaysian and mother is English, says she particularly wants to make sure women of all kinds of ethnicities are included: "Growing up, I didn't see myself or mixed races represented in the mainstream media. I wanted to be able to create that here."

Khan and Niazi, who are both of Pakistani origin, say the magazine won't ignore the fact that its three editors are Muslim but it won't be defined purely by that, either.

"This isn't a Muslim-only club," says Niazi. "One of My Kind doesn't have to be about Islam just because we're Muslim, but at the same time, it's somewhere where we could explore spirituality through a creative way. It's about our ideas and what matters to us, not about preaching or getting defensive."

There is plenty that's unrelated to faith: a comic strip on the banality of social media, a craft project for making envelopes and a piece on how to keep a visual diary.

The end result is a magazine that is beautifully packaged and pretty to look at but powerful inside. It may be quirky, but it isn't twee. "We are about the art of the everyday," says Khan. "That's what makes it so magical."

Oomk is available to buy for Dh30 (£5) at www.oomk.net and www.facebook.com/oomkzine