I met Deema at a coffee shop in Venice. We met to talk about the effects of the election (and the outcome) on the Muslim community, from her point of view. When she walked in, I was immediately taken by her infectious smile. She has a very calming and soothing energy about her, and the more she talks, the more you want it to never end, like a maze you don’t want to get out of. She is breathtakingly beautiful but more importantly she has a beautiful, complex mind, filled with creative and artistic ideas she puts to use as an Art Director. Some things she said further instilled how I had been already been feeling: it’s not them vs us. There is no such thing when this country is made up of people from all over the world with different cultures and background with all one thing is common: trying to live their most authentic selves in the land of the free. We are more alike than different, and Deema proved just that during our two hour conversation; we both obsessed over the Disney channel while growing up, share a love for live music and are just trying to manage our 20s the best way we know how, while trying to make a impact in our communities. Below is a snippet of our conversation that day.
Let’s start with a fire round:
– spirit animal?
“imma keep running cuz a winner don’t quit on themselves.” – Beyonce
-what would you tell yourself at 20?
It’s gonna be okay.
-where do you feel most at peace?
When I’m lost in thought. Though sometimes that’s also where I’m the least peaceful.
-best advice you’ve been given?
“beyond every answer awaits a larger question, and beyond every arrival awaits an unforeseen beginning.” I read this in a book recently and it resonated with me as a reminder to never stop growing.
You came to the States from Saudi Arabia to continue your education with the intention to return home. What made you decide to stay?
What has surprised you the most about Americans?
Every immigrant has a different version of this (myself included) but what does “the American Dream” mean to you?
It’s exciting to live in a place where I feel that if I work hard enough I can build a life that fully represents my values. I don’t think that’s exclusively American, but I’ve certainly found it in LA.
-What are you currently struggling with?
To be completely honest, myself. I work a high stress job, I’m an immigrant who’s still trying to figure out how to make a life for myself so far away from home, and I’m very ambitious in a lot of areas in my life. It gets overwhelming sometimes trying to balance everything, and I’ve fallen into depression many times. Disconnecting from myself and not having myself on my side makes it hard to get anything done.
-What aspect of your current role as an Art Director gives you the most joy?
The most important part in my opinion, and it happens to be my favorite part, is coming up with concepts. I work with different clients, usually film studios, but I also work with musicians. Concepting to me means connection. It means looking at a TV series or a musician or a movie and giving the world a unique and cool way to latch onto it. I think that’s very powerful, the ability to facilitate connection. Passion projects give me purpose and help me tell my own story. I recently produced a photoshoot for an incredible woman named Sonita, an Afghani rapper and activist that boldly created music protesting her family’s decision to have her marry for money and tradition at the age of 16. To be able to create art that promoted her freedom feels like promoting my own individual freedom. It’s an honor, and its when art matters most to me.
What would you like people to know about Muslims, and specifically Muslim women?
I grew up in Saudi Arabia with 3 sisters. We were very adventurous kids, always outside exploring on our bicycles. We also all loved arts and crafts, our mom got hand made gifts every mothers day. When I was 14 my favorite show was Boy Meets World. This one time the Disney Channel changed the airtime to 9pm, which was past my curfew, and I started emailing them incessantly begging them to change it back, till they did! For my sisters and I growing up, Islam was our moral compass to being a good person, it continues to mean that to me today.
Muslims have been talked about a lot during this election, specifically in Trump’s campaign – how do you handle the negative chatter in the media towards your religion?
It makes me sad. It scares me sometimes. But ultimately it motivates me to work and represent the reality of the muslim identity. I think the western world needs more examples to redefine and better understand what that means. Just recently, I was surprised by a conversation with one of my coworkers, he was asking me questions about Islam, and I was answering from my own perspective. And he said, “well you’re not like them, you’re not really muslim..” The fact that he was more ready to strip me of Islam than to correct his own bias about it inspired me to get to work. I believe this is the time for artists to speak out and tell stories. I feel it is our responsibility as Nina Simone would say to “ reflect the times.” She said “an artist’s duty is to reflect the times… I don’t think you have a choice. How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?”