Follow the Halo, a zine dedicated to the art scene in the region, was the result of Darah Ghanem’s quest to create a sphere for artists and support their work, she said:

I’ve always been surrounded by artists (my sister is a practicing fine artist!) [so] I’ve always understood the challenges they face. I also know this from personal experience, being a trained filmmaker and aspiring visual storyteller myself.
Fighting back the idea of art being a “recreational” activity, as to what is it supposed to be: a meaningful work with a message, therefore, being seen as a recreational act does not do it justice, whether it was through support, having a critical dialogue, or expressing artists freely, in addition to the lack of financial support.
To me, art is a form of cultural production and a way for communities to flourish. The arts help us to cultivate tolerance, understanding, empathy and provokes freedom of thought. These things matter and therefore artists should be supported
[and so] I decided to create a publication that supports the arts as authentically and in the most grassroots way possible!

artmejo team has conducted an interview recently with the founder of the monthly-issued zine to find out more about this art-driven online platform.

Titled “Deal With It” by Saudi/Egyptian artist Shahad Nazer for follow the halo issue #5

Who are the founders of the platform? How does it operate?

I founded follow the halo in mid-2017 and did all the outreach and connected with artists myself. My sister Rama is my co-curator, she is a practicing artist and student of Fine Arts at Goldsmiths College in London. Basically, how the zine works is that we contact a number of artists whom we feel produce works that we need more of in the region and who’s works would be an interesting point of discussion. Each artist is given an issue and is allowed to create literally anything they want – they are given total creative freedom over that issue and their work is then used as a springboard for that issue’s theme.

The self-funded zine, she said, pays the artists to create their pieces, adding that the zine is currently working on the production of art, in collaboration with artists, to be able to fund more commissions. “All the funds we make go back into the zine or go to a charity in the region.”

Titled ‘Halo” by Sudanese artist and illustrator Dar Al Naim for follow the halo issue #1

When did you launch the publication? What was the thing that inspired you to start it? 

I launched follow the halo in January 2018, although the idea was brewing for quite a while. I always knew that I wanted to contribute to the rapidly growing cultural economy of the region, but I didn’t know how. It didn’t dawn on me to start an online zine that funds the arts until I came across the archives of feminist zines from the 90s and 80s that I found online. I was so enamored by these DIY zines that challenged mainstream media and became influential independent feminist publications in their own right.  I loved the grassroots aspect, and how basic they were. I took the concept of the zine, decided to release our issues via e-mail (in line with the old-school vibe of original zines), and to ensure that each issue financially benefited one artist every month. That was my inspiration, I wanted to start a project does good and brings everything back to basics.
The funding aspect of the project came when I realized how many publications featured the works of artists but didn’t intend on paying them or challenging them critically. I wanted follow the halo to become a publication that not only exposes the work of emerging artists, but gave them an opportunity to create new works, be paid to create, and to be challenged. In my eyes, it was the most effective and grassroots way to contribute to the cultural economy.
Titled “Working Together/Growing Together” by Syrian artist Rama Duwaji for follow the halo issue #3

Which aspects do you focus on in your issues?

The theme of each issue is inspired by the works that our artists create for it. So, for example, our most recent commission was done by Dubai-based Filipino artist Kimmy Elliot. Kimmy created a work that sheds light on what it’s like to grow up between two different cultures – and specifically what it feels like to be an outsider in your own culture. Her work inspired the issue, and we decided to focus the issue on the arts coming out of South East Asia, especially since we are a Middle Eastern publication, and to explore the nuances of being an artist from that part of the world especially knowing the economic ties we have with South Asia. I think follow the halo is often interested in understanding the nuances of identity, gender, culture, history and critical theory and so we focus on themes that relate to those disciplines.

Is there a theme that was dear to your heart? If so, what is it?

I think the Coming of Age issue was very dear to me. As an Arab woman, coming of age in the Middle East can be a very bittersweet experience, for many reasons, so that one hits home for me. Also, the artist we commissioned, Mohammad Nomani, shared a very candid story about growing up Muslim in a Hindu community. The Coming of Age issue was also the moment when I realized that this project wasn’t just a project, it was an entrepreneurial endeavor. So, in a way it was also the coming of age of follow the halo too.
Titled “Shrimati” by Indian artist Mohammed Nomani for follow the halo issue #4

What are the criteria for artworks to be featured on the platform? Is there a specific pattern or standards?

The criteria we follow for commissioning artists is simply their background and the types of themes their works explore. We all know that male artists are more likely to be given a platform and opportunities, and we also know that female artists generally get the shorter end of the stick. So, we try to focus on supporting women and other artists that mainstream platforms forget to champion. After that, it just becomes a matter of how the artist’s interests/themes could help create an interesting dialogue. We often choose artists whose work is compelling and whose themes would be interesting to explore within our publication.

Where do you see your project heading in the next few years?

Hopefully follow the halo will become a full-fledged platform that is a home for emerging artists if the region. We want artists to become part of our family because they see that we truly care about changing the cultural landscape in the region and changing how people perceive and support the arts.
Titled “Arab Girls Wearing Arab Nationalism” by Egyptian artist Beya Khalifa for follow the halo issue #6

What is the change you aim to bring about to the art scene in Jordan and the region?

We want to change how people interact with the arts, how they perceive the arts, how they support the arts. We want to challenge the perception that the arts are a recreational activity, and we want to challenge the way that the cultural economy is run – the cultural economy needs to be more community-based, more accessible and more resources need to go to artists who are marginalized in the mainstream art world. These ambitions apply to the entire region.
With regards to Jordan (I am Jordanian myself!) I hope to work with more Jordanian artists in the future, and to support them. I hope that in the future we can possibly carry out events in Amman, and maybe have a small chapter there. Who knows!
Titled “Moonlight” by Iranian artist and illustrator Tarane Parviani for follow the halo issue #2

Check out Ghanem’s interview with artmejo founder Hind Joucka on follow the halo

All images courtesy of halozine