Interview Zara Fayaz (Zara's Comics)
Zara Fayaz is a South-Asian artist and activist. She creates colourful illustrations - often with an activistic message - under the name Zara’s Comics. She’s a young feminist using her art to share her ideas. In this interview I talk with Zara about her work and activism.
- TRIGGER WARNING -
This article discusses sexual violence which may be triggering to read/see for survivors.
What do you do and what do you believe in?
Zara: “I started making comics last year as a way to raise awareness to many issues surrounding problems faced by women in our community. I believe we must all work to achieve gender equality, fight for women’s rights and fight all forms of violence against women.”
What’s your educational journey to where you are now as an artist?
Zara: “I studied graphic design, but to be very honest a lot of the things that I learnt, I learnt on my own by watching tutorials online. But it was only three years after graduating that I started to get the hang of what I have always wanted to do which is design and illustration. I have also slowly started mastering the art of videography and editing. I love learning new things, I think improving my skill set is very important for my own self development.”
Can you tell us more about your pad illustration?
Zara: “The pad illustration was around the time a campaign called #FreeThePad by @KeevveMV was being criticised by a lot of people, especially Maldivian men. Men were making fun of companies and organisations for making pads freely available at their bathrooms for women. They said that this was supposed to be a matter handled by women on their own. Some men went as far as to say that keeping a pack of pads in a toilet is unhygienic because they did not realise that each pad is parcelled separately. It was a really good laugh overall. After seeing a lot of the comments by men I was inspired to draw a pad monster chasing a man.”
What’s the story behind your series ‘16 Days Of Activism’?
Zara: “My 16 Days of Activism illustrations series started during the year when I was working as a Graphic Designer at Gender Ministry of Maldives. They wanted to make something that would highlight a lot of issues about Violence Against Women for the public. #16DaysOfActivism is marked worldwide and organisations such as UN are heavily involved in spreading awareness as well.”
As an activist you fight against sexual violence. Do you have experience with abuse?
Zara: “I was trapped in an abusive relationship when I was a young teenager. He emotionally abused me and always made me feel like everything he did was my fault when it wasn’t. For a year I endured that, and came out of it with many mental issues and have never been the same since. I have become stronger in many ways but it’s something that haunts me wherever I go. After I ended it, he still stalked me for a while and I would get paranoid wherever I went. He still stalks me online and he goes around telling people false stories about me. Everyone around him and me enabled his abuse and no one did anything to support me except my parents. Even after I changed my phone number, some girl gave it to him without my permission and when I got angry with her she replied with “What’s the big deal?” She’s personally seen him abusing me in public and even one instance were he was nearly physically violent. A few years later a girl reached out to me and wanted to go to court with his case because he was constantly abusing other girls. Back then there was really no #MeToo movement and we didn’t feel empowered enough to go through with it because we had no proof but just each other’s word against his. I still think of her every now and then and all the women he has abused, and sometimes uncomfortable situations trigger my PTSD and anxiety, which can incapacitate me.”
Has this man sexually abused girls?
Zara: “Yes. He forces them to perform sexual acts and shit.”
And the worst part was dealing with it later. He continues to stalk me, talk to my old friends asking where I am. It’s been 8 years. And not to mention all the women he abused popping up one after the other to talk to me about it, just crushes me every time I hear their stories https://t.co/WAzyDD5o8d— Zara‘s Comics 🍊 (@zarascomics) June 23, 2018
I have never spoken about my abuse before like this & whenever I tried to civilly discuss it, was dismissed as “I’m just overreacting and time will heal.” NO!— Zara‘s Comics 🍊 (@zarascomics) June 23, 2018
We’ve tried talking about our problems “nicely” but I’m sick and tired of not being heard. Stop with the tone policing.
You identify as a feminist. What does feminism mean to you, and what are your thoughts on the anti-feminism movements or some of the nasty things people say about feminists?
Zara: “I think I’ve always been a feminist but there was really no word for it before. People seem to be hung up over calling it something other than “feminism” because the word is too “feminine.” It’s like women can’t even have the one thing they want: to claim their rights back, without the movement being questioned by men, and sometimes even women. Feminism is about reclaiming our rights to our body, to occupy public spaces without being harassed, to feel empowered about anything that we choose to do and most importantly, achieving gender equality.”
Zara: “My thoughts on the nasty things people say to feminists always bring me back to the same idea - there will always be people who question things that they don’t understand, but some of them don’t mean well at all. A lot of the people I’ve noticed who make fun or mock feminists in my experience have later been exposed as complete trash, and completely ignorant. When Terry Crews opened up about his #MeToo story people mocked him and we all noticed there were a lot of men doing it. The only people speaking out and supporting him were mostly feminists. It was really sad to see that, but I’m really glad he chose to come out and shed light to very important issues and inspired more men to come forward.”
There are men 'going their own way' and try to address female privilege and denounce feminism. How do you feel about some of these men? Do you think women have certain privileges men don't have, or that they are favoured?
Zara: “I really think there’s way more gender bias against women, I do not think women are as privileged as men. We literally can’t walk on the road without fearing something happening to us, whereas my male friends tell me all the time that they can walk in public without thinking much about it. There’s a really fun podcast called The Guilty Feminist and they described “male privilege” and they said “talking to men about male privilege is like talking to a fish about water.” I guess it’s sort of like how we breathe air every day and we don’t really notice it at every waking moment. Male privilege is so normalized people don’t even see it most of the time. Gender bias in the workplace needs to be taken more seriously, I have heard of male employees being suspended or warned over discriminating female employees during board meetings or general work-related situations.”
If there’s something you could tell everyone reading this, what would it be?
If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.— Zara‘s Comics 🍊 (@zarascomics) January 21, 2019
—Desmond Tutu#zarascomics pic.twitter.com/XbIaQsW3HQ
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