Somali writer Safy-Hallan Farah is a believer in the vivacity of cultures and storytelling. A journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Vogue, Nylon, and Paper, she decided to start a new project dedicated to re-presenting contemporary Somali culture through coverage of the writing and images of the country’s diaspora artists and intellectuals. The magazine, 1991, is co-founded with Vietnamese writer Mia Nguyen (“Even though she’s Vietnamese, she’s really passionate about the project,” Farah explained to VICE), and has seen Farah working with writer Sarah Hagi, model Miski Muse, and Hadiya Shire, all of whom are Somali.
Somalia has produced some of contemporary African literature’s best-known figures: from Nuruddin Farah, whose 14th novel North of Dawn is out this year, and Nadifa Mohamed, whose novel Black Mamba Boy was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, to Diriye Osman, the fabulously gay author of the Polaris Award-winning story collection Fairytales for Lost Children, and Warsan Shire, who won the inaugural Brunel Prize and went on to collaborate with Beyonce. The prospect of 1991 building on this and opening new grounds for Somali literature and visual art is an enticing one.
“The name comes from how 1991 was the year the civil war broke out in Somalia, ushering a new beginning for Somalis everywhere,” Farah continues in her interview with VICE. “My collaborators and I would like to curate and edit work that plays with time and memory. From collage art that explores forgotten vestiges to writing by modern storytellers, 1991 will be at once a time capsule and an exploration of a Somali futurism that reconciles with the tumult of its past all while highlighting the creativity, style, resilience, and tenacity of Somali youth across the diaspora.”
The 1991 team is a large one: editorial director Maryama Dahir; art director Mika Albornoz; design lead Michael Felder; assistant editor Abdirahman Nur Ali; photo editors Ridwan Omar and Abdi Ibrahim; contributing editors Aamna Mohdin, Liban Mahamoud, Mohamed Sahid, and Yasin Osman; editorial assistant Khin Oo; editorial intern Alex Brown; production assistant Nasteha Mohamed; engagement editor Diana Salah; and brand and marketing manager Hibo Bile.
Here is an excerpt from Safy-Hallan Farah’s interview with VICE.
Why is it important for you to have a zine that represents Somali voices?
It’s about [Somali] images. There aren’t images of Somali people that I want out there in the world. A magazine project can help create the images I want to see. Something I’m always thinking is, “Where are the Somali photographers who shoot in the particular styles that I happen to gravitate toward?” Through 1991, I’ve been able to connect with really amazing photographers I didn’t know existed and models. I’m interested in putting more diverse images out there of Somali people, particularly women and youths.
Tell me a little about your personal journey. How did you reach the point where you decided to create 1991 and felt the need to boost the voices of other Somali writers and artists?
I always felt like it was in my best interest to keep my head down and do my work and not create anything of my own, and keep doing what I have been doing, which is publishing articles at different publications, mostly because I felt like I didn’t necessarily know if it was the right time in my life to helm a project like that. I was inspired by my friend Kinsi Abdulleh who runs an organization in London called NUMBI Arts. She started this amazing Somali zine in 2010 called Scarf and she gave me a bunch of issues when I met her in Wales in 2015. Had I not been introduced to her work, I would not be doing this kind of project. It really got me thinking about creating community and creating spaces for Somali people and through just thinking about that over the course of the last three, four years, it’s gotten to the point where I am now, where I can focus on a project like [ 1991].
Read the full interview HERE.