The Sudanese-American artist’s new project aims to “empower and depict unity, love, and positivity for those who are underrepresented through visual art”
Business student by day and creative director by night, Aaraf Adam is on a mission. The 20-year-old Sudanese-American is the founder of KanSuda, a new multimedia platform putting Black Muslim women and POC femmes on an overdue pedestall. Adam moved from Washington DC to Wellington, New Zealand as part of a semester abroad scheme at her university in 2020, weeks before the world was hit with a global pandemic. Her experience there, combined with her identity, inspired her project, which she debuts today with a beautiful photo series titled Unity. Black Unity and the equally breathtaking film, Finding your LIGHT.
“My aim was to bring together Black Muslim women in the diaspora, specifically in New Zealand, because Afro-Kiwis exist,” Adam tells AnOther. “When I got there I noticed that despite the lack of Black faces in the fashion scene, there was an amazing community of Black creatives in the country – many of whom were Muslim women. I wanted to create something that highlighted their visibility.” At the time, the Black Lives Matter movement was gaining momentum in the US and Europe, but Adam felt far removed from what was unfolding back home as the echoing chants of her fellow Black Americans and allies hadn’t quite made their way down under. “In New Zealand, most Black people are migrants or first-generation Afro-Kiwis so it’s very different to the African-American experience. The indigenous Māori people are very much the ones who are oppressed by the government, so the Black Lives Matter movement didn’t have as much agency there as it did in other parts of the world.” This didn’t stop Adam from fighting the fight from the other side of the world. She joined the Black community in Wellington in protests and began collaborating with Afro-Kiwi creatives on visuals for the civil rights movement when she had her lightbulb moment.
“I noticed that most projects and collaborations I was being approached about always had the Black struggle and our fight for freedom at the centre of it because I’m Black and I’m American,” she explains. “I wanted to do something different, I wanted something that embraced my Blackness rather than focusing on how difficult it is to be a Black person. I wanted to create a beautiful shoot that said ‘this is who we are’ and so I just decided to do it.” As a Muslim woman who wears the hijab, Adam’s faith is as much part of her identity as her race. She knows first-hand the damaging effects of Islamophobia and racism combined, reiterating the importance of her vision for KanSuda. “Hijabi women are not at the forefront at all in New Zealand. A lot of people I came across had never even seen a Black Muslim woman before even though they do exist within their country. So that, and news of the implementation of France’s hijab ban, fuelled this passion that I had for the importance of us being visible and being heard.”
Using her initiative, Adam utilised social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter to start recruiting a team to execute her vision. A few direct message conversations with local strangers soon led to a location shoot at Piha Beach in Auckland, New Zealand. “My favourite thing is that I hand-picked all the people featured in both the film and the photoshoot. One of the girls is an artist, the other is a painter and another works in the mental health department of a hospital, so they each have their own stories outside of their visual identity.” For Adam, Finding your LIGHT represents unapologetic authenticity and the idea of a multifaceted identity. “I wanted to show that we’re creatives. Our brand isn’t that we’re hijabis or Black Muslims, it just so happens that we are those things too and we want to embrace that as well as everything else that makes up who we are. People need to see Black women in beautiful locations and ethereal environments. Those spaces aren’t just reserved for our white counterparts.”
The first of many projects to come, Adam hopes that her work inspires a new perspective. “My initiative is to always empower and depict unity, love, and positivity for those who are underrepresented through visual art.”
Film: Created and written by Aaraf Adam. Directed by Aaraf Adam and Vogue Ponini-Pilisi. Cinematography and editing: Jarem Cabamongan. Voiceover: Rosa Fihla. Styling: Aaraf Adam. Make-up: Victoria Asi. Talent: Nimo Mohammed, Naawie Tutugoro and Vogue Ponini-Pilisi. Music produced by Felix Tanyi. Music mixed and mastered by Max Giesecke.
Photo series: Creative direction: Aaraf Adam. Photography by Maegan McDowell. Styling by Courtney Joe. Make-up: Liv King. Models: Aaraf Adam, Merhawit.